Subaru Impreza WRX Sti
THE REAL DEAL
It’s fair to say that many were disappointed when the current generation Impreza was unveiled. The WRX STi model seems to have silenced the critics. Andy Enright reports
More muscular, faster and cleverer than ever, the latest Subaru Impreza WRX STi silences the critics who reckoned Subaru had dropped an enormous clanger with the latest generation Impreza. With 295bhp under the bonnet from the 2.5-litre flat-four, the character’s still there but now it’s wrapped up in a better built and more practical body.
Sometimes it’s great to be wrong. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that when I first saw pictures of the current generation Impreza, I thought Subaru had taken their eye off the ball in the worst possible way. While I’m still to be convinced about the aesthetics of the standard car, the WRX STi model just oozes testosterone and, if anything, looks just as aggressive as any of the classic saloon Imprezas that have attracted such a cult following since the early Nineties.
Make no mistake, this is a serious performance car, albeit one that is very hard to pass judgement on in isolation. For many years, the fate of hotter Subaru Imprezas has been inextricably linked with its key rival, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo and fans of each marque are fiercely partisan. Subaru enthusiasts had been looking a little glum until the unveiling of the WRX STi. Now there’s some feverish anticipation.
Although the Japanese market models continue with a 2.0-litre unit, Europe gets the heavier hitting 2.5-litre powerplant good for 295bhp nestling well back in the engine bay of the WRX STi. Couple this with a very clever four wheel drive system and the car will jet off the line as if clouted up the rear by a wrecking ball. Sixty mph comes and goes in just 4.8 seconds on the way to a top speed of just over 155mph. Subaru’s Si-Drive system gives the driver three different throttle response maps at the turn of a switch, with Super Sharp the weapon of choice for aggressive driving.
The throw on the six-speed gearbox has been shortened for a more direct feel and the Driver’s Control Centre Differential has now got even more driver options. This box of tricks allows the driver to select the torque distribution from front to rear, reverting to an auto mode when the ignition is switched off. The steering of the WRX STi feels meaty and aggressive and the electronics assist rather than intrude on the driving experience at the limit.
"Where the Subaru Impreza WRX STi really impresses is in the way it never forgets that its key role is not to serve up outright speed per se, but deliver fun…."
The rather anonymous looks of the standard Impreza hatch have been transformed with the addition of heavily blistered wheel arches, giving the STi a properly macho look. This allows the wheels to be pushed out another 45mm at the front and 40mm at the back, giving the car a pugnacious, foursquare stance. A mesh front grille and a deep bumper design with air vents throwing air at the intercooler also up the ante. Side skirts give the effect of visually lowering the car while a high-mounted spoiler and quad exhaust pipes will leave those who have just been overtaken in little doubt as to what’s just blown by.
Colour choices include the iconic WR Blue, while traditionalists will not want to miss out on the optional gold alloys. There has always been a practical side to the Impreza and this STi is no exception with 95mm extra in the wheelbase compared to the old car. This brings a useful increase in interior space that will go down well with family buyers, as will the more compact rear suspension design which facilitates a 170-litre increase in boot space to 538 litres. At least the interior is a big step forward. The tough plastics and staid design of the old car have finally been axed in favour of the superior quality materials and modern layout in this model.
There’s only one model available and it’s priced to sell at £24,995. This is fully £1,600 less than the old car and makes its key rivals look very expensive indeed. By contrast, the Mitsubishi Evo is a whole stack more expensive and the Audi S3 also looks a bit optimistic at £27,000.
Equipment levels are strong, although an Impreza STi is not the car to buy if you want luxury. Standard gear includes anti lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, Brembo brakes, front, side and curtain airbags, 17-inch alloy wheels, high intensity headlights, Alcantara and leather front bucket seats, a 6-disc CD autochanger, climate controlled air conditioning and cruise control. Bundle that lot with a 295bhp engine and one of the cleverest four-wheel drive systems at any price and that’s quite an achievement for under £25k.
Although the Impreza WRX STi might be quite affordable to buy, it’s never going to be a cheap car to keep on the road. Despite an excellent reliability record, service intervals are short and spares costly. A combined fuel consumption figure of 27.4mpg is, in our experience with this engine, hopelessly optimistic and if you return 20mpg in mixed driving conditions you must have the restraint of a monk. Insurance is Group 20 and some will try to load the cover, knowing the Impreza is such an attractive target to thieves. 243g/km of carbon dioxide will also deter anyone who cheekily thinks they’ll slide the WRX STi past their fleet manager’s beady eye. The one bright spot is that residual values look to be improving as time passes.
Where the Subaru Impreza WRX STi really impresses is in the way it never forgets that its key role is not to serve up outright speed per se, but deliver fun. In this respect at least, it claws a key advantage over its rival from Mitsubishi. It also scores big in terms of value for money, the asking price reading like a misprint for such a formidably equipped car. The third, and most unexpected, plus is that the Impreza WRX STi genuinely looks the part, something we never thought we’d say after cackling like a bunch of Smash robots at the first pictures of this generation Impreza hatchback.
The usual Subaru qualities of brilliant reliability, everyday practicality and a sense of camaraderie with fellow owners go some way to offsetting the dent in the income caused by the WRX STi’s hefty ongoing running costs. Subaru has gambled on this car and the gamble looks to have paid off.