Please, please tell me the WRX STi is more impressive than the standard Impreza...
It is, though the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre Scooby isn’t without merit. It provides a decent base for the WRX STi, which has always been the best of the breed since the first version appeared in 1994. But Subaru has tried to go mainstream with the latest Impreza, and we've been fretting that this WRX STi would be a dull-as-ditchwater limp-wristed five-door. Now the wait is over - and we can confirm that Subaru hasn't made a dog's dinner of it. We should have guessed once we found out that the mechanicals are largely carried from the previous car, albeit improved… To read Ben Oliver's full eight-page first drive, read the new December 2007 issue of CAR Magazine on sale now
So what exactly is carried over?
The six-speed manual ‘box is pretty much the same, though Subaru claims there’s a 30 percent reduction in shift effort. Unfortunately the looks are radically different from the distinctive outgoing Scooby, and even the huge front spoiler and aggressively blistered wheelarches can’t disguise the car’s ungainly looks. Never fear though, because you can still spec that distinct WRC blue hue, and get gold BBS wheels too. UK cars will still come with a 2.5-litre engine, but for now the only test cars are the Japanese-spec Imprezas with 1994cc engines. The major changes over the old car are the addition of a twin-scroll turbocharger, a bigger intercooler and the variable valve timing now on both inlet and exhaust sides. There are minor changes to the block for improved strength and cooling, and Subaru claims better economy and emissions. The engine also sits 22mm lower for a better centre of gravity. What we’re interested in though is the 304bhp and 311lb ft…
Despite being more refined and having more kit than the old car, the new STi is fractionally lighter than the one it replaces. Subaru is remaining tightlipped over performance figures, but away from the lights this car is still devastatingly quick and distinctively Subaru, with its trademark flat-four burble. However, even with Subaru Intelligent Drive – a three-stage, driver-controlled engine map – the response under 3000rpm can feel rather flat. Once you cross 3k though there’s an intoxicating rush of power that is sustained until close to that 8000rpm redline.
Anything else fancy on the new WRX STI?
Behind the gearbox is Subaru’s DCCD (Driver Controlled Centre Differential), which now gets three automatic modes, controlled by a panel next to the gearlever. As well as a standard setting, the two other modes are designed to either maximise grip or improve handling. The manual mode is still there, with six stages allowing the torque going to the rear wheels to be varied between 50 and 59 percent. The helical front and Torsen torque-sensing rear differentials also remain. Net result? Peerless traction in all weathers.
If the new Scooby is supposed to be more mainstream, is it more refined?
Yes, the chassis is more refined, as is the engine, which is also quieter, while the extra length in the wheelbase makes the ride calmer too. Your first impression of the new STi is that the same genes are all present, but that the car has matured slightly. Just like its rival the Mitsubishi Evolution X, launched the month before, this car needs to appeal to a broader group of buyers, many of whom would previously have rejected the rough, raw STi, despite its huge pace.
Has it gone all soft then?
Far from it. It’s still distinctively an Impreza, especially in the steering department: it’s light, alert and accurate, largely free of kickback but could use more feel. The ride has improved and body control is still tight, while traction and grip remain near-unbreakable; if you keep your nerve and keep your foot on the gas, the Impreza will pull itself through almost anything. The VDC (Vehicle Dynamics Control) can be switched off in two stages; the first stops the system cutting torque and limits its use of the brakes to keep the car on course, allowing you to drift the car. It’s worth switching the system off, but not to get the car sideways in typical road tester hooligan mode. Instead, you can feel the all-wheel drive system doing its work mechanically, without electronic interference, which is way more satisfying. When you run out of road, the brakes offer plenty of feel and progression and show little fade under heavy use. Brembo provides the braking, with four-piston callipers at the front, two-pots at the rear. The discs the callipers clamp are 316mm front and 326mm rear.
What’s this more refined, more mainstream Scooby like inside?
Leather and Alcantara trim is standard, while Recaro buckets will be an option in most markets. They look great and give a superb driving position, but aren’t so extreme as to be a pain in day-to-day use – we’d have them. To make the Scooby feel upmarket there is a hard-disc satellite navigation, keyless entry, a starter button and a premium sound system. However, the cabin is still filled with the cheaper plastics found in lesser Imprezas. Whether the sat-nav will be standard-fit in UK Imprezas is yet to be confirmed, and although the STi trim lifts the cabin, and is much better than previous STi models, it can’t disguise the Impreza’s economy origins.
The shape of the new Impreza might be radically different, but underneath the new car is much the same, but improved. So the car is more refined but still feels unique, and virtually uncatchable in real-world conditions. Our only worry is that while the Evo X has an all-new engine and twin-clutch ‘box (and looks better to our eyes), the Impreza doesn’t innovate. But if you can live with the looks and live without the clever gearbox, you won’t be disappointed with the Subaru's scalpel-sharp dynamics. And for the power-hungry people out there, Subaru UK has let slip that Prodrive is working on performance kits offering up to 395bhp. Let the power races begin...