The farty rally lout is back.
Day one: The Scooberoo is here. It is not an Impreza. I mean, it is. But they don’t call it that. This is the Subaru WRX STi. On first impressions, it feels very Impreza-ish.
– Things it has that Imprezas have always had: That budda-budda-budda boxer engine noise; a stout and sturdy feel to all the major controls.
– Things it does not have that Imprezas should: Frameless side windows; an inexplicable switch on the dashboard that makes the digital clock slightly brighter.
In other news, the ride is so firm that within the first 10 yards of driving cresting a pointy car park speed bump has caused me to make an involuntary OOOF noise. This could be an worry. Almost as much of a worry as the lack of a switch that can make the clock a little bit brighter.
Day two: In the great traditional of sporty Spoobaroos, my test Impreza is bright blue. The whole thing is rather strident. It’s sort of handsome, but also sort of moronic, what with its bonnet scoop and big arches and a boot spoiler so tall you can’t even see its top bar in the rear view mirror. There’s more traditional Scabaroo stuff inside. By which I mean the interior is a bit cack. The central dash is plastered in vile mock carbon fibre trim, the displays are all a bit rinky dink, the steering wheel seems to have too many things on it, the plastics would make an Audi engineer howl with derisive laughter and there’s a comically shite STi badge in front of the gearlever that lights up at night. A few years ago a nice Japanese man from Subaru told me that they couldn’t afford to benchmark lots of cars from rival companies. It seems they still can’t. Seriously chaps, all you need to buy is, oh I don’t know, a Skoda Octavia. You’ll be staggered. Mind you, a Skoda Octavia doesn’t have a fantastically hefty and appealingly mechanical feel to the way it drives. So mechanical, in fact, that if you’re using a lot of lock at parking speeds there seems to be some transmission wind-up that threatens to snuff the engine. I don’t mind that. It feels honest, like there’s just cogs and oil down there, not computers massaging out all the imperfections. Actually, the diffs are electronically controlled. But they don’t feel like it. They feel like Victorian engineering. In a good way. Not because they were built by orphans under the watch of a stern man in a stovepipe hat. At least, I assume not.
Day three: Right. A proper drive in the Rexsti. It’s very boosty this engine. By which I mean, there’s not a lot, then suddenly there’s quite a lot indeed. If you like old school turbos, you’ll be amused by this. The handling is interesting. You turn in, it seems initially gentle in its reactions but as you keep turning the wheel it suddenly darts into the corner and that in turn makes the back end feel like it’s going to come unstuck. It’s a bit alarming at first but you get used to it. Then you come into a corner too quickly and discover a rich seam of understeer. Your mission, then, is to drive within these two extremes. Which is perfectly possible, and extremely amusing. There’s actually quite a lot of grip as long as you don’t tit it up on the way into a bend. Make no mistake, it’s a quick car. Even the bollock bursting ride doesn’t really get in the way, unless you hit a nasty bump in the middle of a corner. All in all, good fun. With an amusing noise thrown in.
Day four: In the UK, all new Subarus come with a five year warranty. Except this one. It gets three years. Do they think it’s going to get thrashed and then break, or are they assuming that five years is a waste since you’ll have got carried away and stuffed it up a silver birch before then?
Day five: Everything about this car, from the cack-arsed dash to the weight and feel of the gear shift, makes it feel like it was made by and for people who care about driving. Nothing gives that away as much as the pedals which are completely bob-on for the helmsmannish act of heel and toeing. Between the layout and the lovely, sharp throttle it’s a piece of piss to give it a satisfying wham of revs on a down change. In fact, the car needs it. Clearly this is deliberate on Subaru’s part. You like driving? Hey, WE like driving too! We don’t like designing dashboards though. Will this do?
Day six: By any reasonable definition, the Subaru’s ride is idiotically stiff. But I’ve been driving around London today and I haven’t really noticed it. I think it’s because it doesn’t crash into bumps. It just twats them into submission. The suspension feels tough. Rally car tough. The whole car does.
Goodbye: The not-Impreza is going. I liked it a lot. But I’ve always liked fast Imprezas. And the REX Sexually Transmitted Infection feels much like its predecessors. Which, strangely, is its biggest failing. It’s brilliant fun, but it feels like Subaru hasn’t moved on from the 1990s. If you want a fast, practical, four-wheel drive car you could use everyday and still get a kick from on a winding back road, you’d be better off copying everyone else on the internet and buying a Volkswagen Golf R. I’d recommend the VW to everyone, except people who really like Subarus. I wouldn’t recommend the WRX to anyone, except people who really like Subarus. If you want a lairy, laggy, hefty, speedy and hilariously old school slice of rally yobbery, you’ll love it.
The car talked about here is the Subaru WRX STi. It’s has a 2.5-litre turbocharged four cylinder boxer engine making 296 horsepower. 0-62 takes 5.2 seconds, top speed is 159mph. It costs £28,995.