ROAD TEST REPORT AND REVIEW: SUBARU IMPREZA
New models and a new stance for the brand are afoot at Subaru. Motoring writer KEITH WARD drives some of the latest models.
FOR a decade, the Subaru Impreza WRX STI, with its beefy, turbocharged boxer engine and specific 4WD system honed on motorsport success, has been the stuff of boy racers’ dreams.
Changes have been made for 2011. It is quicker than ever, with an upgrade in handling, a posher interior and the re-introduction, after a three-year absence, of this four-door saloon version to sit alongside the hatchback at the same price, a whisker under £33,000.
What is more, the Impreza name has been chopped from this pair, although retained elsewhere for non-turbo variants. Subaru’s thinking is that the six letters WRX STI are so revered they can stand alone. Fans may prefer in their own minds to stick to the swashbuckling old style moniker.
On the road, the STI is as exciting as ever, bursting to 60 in around five seconds with that familiar spirit of raw-boned exuberance. Brief drives recently on a mix of public roads were hardly long enough to fully gauge effects of the newly-stiffened body, lower ride height and wider 245/40 tyres.
But there was nothing to contradict Subaru’s assertion that the more rigid bodyshell, allowing increased suspension travel, has given benefits in ride comfort as well as handling as you sit back in the newly-introduced Recaro bucket seat and enjoy the phenomenal road grip and the go-kart character of the direct steering.
The old virtues are there: the “flat four” engine, of horizontally opposed cylinders for a low centre of gravity pumping via a turbocharger to all four wheels in Subaru’s newly uprated “symmetrical AWD” system, employing front, centre and rear differentials.
Normal torque distribution is 41 per cent to the front wheels and 59 per cent rear. But the driver can manually modify this, also the suspension and transmission settings, to taste.
And here’s a bonus for the hearty Impezarati out there: A new, fatter exhaust system enhances the engine’s “iconic boxer burble”.
If all this is not exotic enough, also briefly tried is an even zestier, limited edition, £50,000 Cosworth Impreza STI CS400 (“only a handful left”), modified by the specialist tuner to produce 400PS and rocket to 62 mph in a dizzying 3.7 seconds.
All this means you as an owner leaving far behind whatever “green” conscience, speed-camera shyness or tax aversions you may have.
So while proud of them, the personable Paul Tunnicliffe, boss of Subaru UK, is keen to assert: “Performance models no longer define our brand. Impreza used to be three-quarters of our sales. Our model range is much broader (Forester, Legacy and the best-selling Outback) and we had a real upsurge in sales in recent bad winters. Going forward, turbo will be fringe.”
He rejoices in the Japanese company’s continuing commitment to “unique” boxer engine technology, quality engineering and “real driving pleasure.” Subaru now offers the world’s first boxer diesel linked to their AWD transmission. A third generation boxer unit, reducing CO2 emissions from 199 to 173 g/km, was on display at this year’s Geneva motor show.
He adds: “Ours is a niche product and we are proud to be like that. Our customers are passionate about their cars. They love us and they love their dealer.”
Subaru UK sales last year at 3,900 were up 4.5 per cent. Tunnicliffe is looking for a further rise to between 4,000 and 4,500 this year and an eventual annual target of 10,000.
New models in the pipeline include an updated Impreza in the new four-door body this autumn, a cross-over version to follow and, early in 2012, a 200 bhp 2+2, rear-wheel-drive Boxer sports car developed jointly with Toyota and set to compete with the VW Scirocco.
THE VITAL STATISTICS
Model: Subaru WRX STI
Body: 4-door saloon; length 4,580 mm; boot 420 litres; kerb wt 1,505 kg
Engine: Petrol; 2.5 turbo; 4-cyl in flat “boxer” layout; 6-speed manual; 4WD
Power: 300PS (296 bhp) @6,000 rpm; max torque 300 lb ft @ 4,000 rpm
Pace: 158 mph; 0-62 in 5.8 secs
MPG: Official combined 26.9 mpg
CO2: 243 g/km
Tyres: 245/40 R18 on alloys