Subaru ditched the hot saloon template for fast Imprezas in favour of a hot hatch version in 2008, but now it’s back. This four-door WRX STI doesn’t replace the hatch but joins it in the range in an effort to boost flagging sales. Does it recapture that old Scooby magic, or is this the last gasp of the Japanese nutter rally rep?
What's led to the return of a Subaru Impreza WRX saloon?
Fast Impreza sales have been sliding like a WRX on a muddy rally stage since it turned its hatchback on the three-box silhouette in 2008. The UK importer’s answer is to bring in the four-door sold elsewhere in the world presumably in the belief that it was the lack of a boot, and not any greater failings of the car or a simple change in social tastes that was the problem. The Impreza hatch continues as well – in fact the STI UK is the only saloon in the WRX range. The saloon also drops the Impreza name.
Subaru WRX STI Type UK 4 Door? Catchy name. You’d think the product planners were being paid by the letter, wouldn’t you?
For those who’ve long since put away their blue-and-gold rally jacket, this is a top-of-the-line WRX, fettled by Subaru Technica International (STI) in Japan and localised for UK tastes. You get an extra 44bhp, 12lb ft of torque and an extra cog in the manual transmission over the regular Impreza WRX hatch. You'll also get the WRX STI hatch's 2010 upgrades, including keyless entry and an excellent set of Recaro seats.
But the big news is the chassis, which is now modified to Japanese Spec-C design on both cars. Stiffer bushes, spring rates upped by 16% front and 53% rear, thicker anti-roll bars and a slightly quicker steering rack transform the driving experience from a slightly roly-poly affair to a much tighter, more engaging experience with better body control and more incisive turn-in.
So does the WRX STI represent a return to form?
Our tastes might have changed, but the Impreza’s ability to plaster a huge grin over our face hasn’t. In fact the Spec-C suspension tweaks mean this latest WRX is even more fun. The steering is precise, if overlight, and you can still hold some proper Sega-Rally-style drifts if you back out of the power on fast corners, provided you’ve disengaged the three-stage stability control. But the on-off power delivery lacks the sophistication of a German V6 and the gearchange, while quick, is notchy and not that pleasant to use.
And design wise, it’s a mixed bag too. The saloon rear is ugly and dominated by a chintzy faux chrome strip on the bootlid instead of just the tasty set of quad pipes below it. And it looks odd without the big wing fitted to US-spec STIs to balance the swollen arches. Still, ugliness has its benefits: the four-door is stiffer, 3mph faster at the top end and provides 119 litres more boot space than the hatch.
The four-door Impreza is still a riot on the right road, but all of these changes manage to completely miss the bigger picture. The Impreza and its ilk always felt low rent, but we forgave that because they were priced so keenly. Today the Impreza still feels horribly cheap, the doors clang shut, the tyres roar and the cabin design and quality is even further behind the European competition. It isn’t cheap though, because it now costs £32,995, £5k more than the previous car, and only £4k less than Audi’s S4 or a BMW 335i M Sport, the very cars probably driven by the people who grew up on those first fast Subarus.
>> Click 'Add your comment' below and let us know what you think of the Subaru WRX STI