New Imprezas seem to arrive with the frequency of buses. But this one really is new, and important. It’s the UK-specification STi, so for us it’s the benchmark new Impreza: it gets the 2457cc, 297bhp flat-four instead of the Japanese-spec 2.0-litre, which CAR Online was the first to test the day after its Tokyo motor show unveiling in November 2007. But it doesn’t have the Prodrive tweakery that is sure to follow and could add another 100bhp and plenty to the price tag. Will the upgrade be worthwhile? Should you buy an Evo, or a quick coupe or a hot hatch instead? This is the car that will tell us.
At leasts the Subaru Impreza WRX STi looks different…
The hatchback bodyshell is new and controversial, and brings increases in track and wheelbase that ought to benefit ride and handling. The mechanicals haven’t made the same quantum leap as the new Evo’s though; the STi’s engine, gearbox and driver-controlled centre differential are largely the same as before, but there’s new variable throttle mapping and new double-wishbone rear suspension. The hatchback boot is more practical than the old saloon’s but space is still constrained by the four-wheel drive hardware it has to package. It's not as roomy as the Focus/Golf/Astra clan.
First impressions of the new Scooby on the road?
Good, with an undercurrent of worry. The Impreza feels a little tinny by comparison with the more upmarket brands it’s now targeting; cabin quality is much better than it was - but still short of the class leaders. The engine still sounds like a boxer, but you now have to strain to hear it. This is a far more refined, grown-up car than before, reflected in the more supple ride and calm, light steering. You get the impression that Subaru is targeting more mature buyers who want comfort as well as mad performance, and also leaving room for the harder, faster variants that will invariably follow.
Click 'Next' to read the rest of our WRX STi Type UK web drive
To see how the Impreza STi Type UK stacks up against our current hot-hatch champion the Honda Civic Type-R make sure you buy the May 2008 issue of CAR Magazine. Click here for a preview
Faster variants? Isn't this thing fast enough?
Oh yes. Subaru claims 4.8 seconds to 60mph and 155mph for the STi. The engine has huge, elastic reserves of torque which mean you can pile on the pace without bothering too much with the slightly awkward gearchange and throttle. The trouble is the refinement, which does a great job of disguising the Impreza’s pace until you’re going way too fast on public roads.
There just isn’t the excitement you hope for from an Impreza; the engine needs to be working hard before it makes its presence felt and the steering never really leaps into focus. You want this car to come alive, but so often it appears to be slumbering.
But it will still take a wet corner at warp speed?
Sure. There’s huge grip and great body control so the Impreza will cope with everything British roads and weather can throw at it, however fast or wet it arrives. Keep on the gas through a bend and the way the Impreza rearranges its torque between all four wheels to keep you nailed on course is frankly eerie.
The brakes are mighty too, but the car doesn’t communicate its abilities clearly enough; the controls don’t give you the confidence they should, and you discover the car’s reserves of talent only by tentatively pushing harder.
'Impressive, but not involving' would sum up the new Impreza STi Type UK. It’s not that Subaru has forgotten how to make a supremely capable, all-weather, all-roads car. It’s just that in dialling up the refinement it has dialled out some of the fun.
It leaves this benchmark Impreza struggling to answer the excitement and tech advances on offer in the Evo X, and the quality, looks and desirability of the premium-brand offerings at the same price.
To see how the Impreza STi Type Uk stacks up against our current hot-hatch champion the Honda Civic Type-R make sure you buy the May 2008 issue of CAR Magazine. Click here for a preview