UK Subaru Impreza STi
Subaru's awesome WRX too tame for you? Then this could be the car you have been waiting for. The high-performance STi edition of Britain's favourite sporting machine is ready to jet into UK Subaru showrooms next month, and Auto Express has driven it first.
Aiming to rival Mitsubishi's EVO VII and BMW's M3, the bewinged Impreza WRX STi has an army of fans inspired by the car's remarkable World Rally Championship achievements.
The excitement that surrounds the launch of this road-going edition of the car that recently carried Richard Burns to his first World Rally Championship title is understandable. Exclusivity is guaranteed, as well, because only two versions of the newcomer will be available; an entry-level Type UK priced at £25,995, and the dramatic-looking £27,495 Prodrive edition tested here.
When you fire up the turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, a deep growl from the exhaust washes through the Alcantara-trimmed cabin. Around 80 per cent of the engine is all-new, and, as a result, the note is more aggressive than the standard model's. In fact, it seems to boast about its 261bhp potential.
A quick twist of the wheel reveals that the power-assisted steering still feels light, but when you glance over the instruments and down the bonnet you'll notice that Subaru's engineers have added an even bigger air-scoop to remind you of the STi's credentials. Reach down to engage first gear, and you'll find Subaru's first six-speed gearbox. The gearlever stands tall in the transmission tunnel, but the shift itself is short and has an indestructible feel.
With such a sporty introduction to the machine, you could be forgiven for imagining that the Subaru would prove awkward to drive in heavy traffic. But as you head out onto a main road, it soon becomes clear that nothing could be further from the truth. The clutch is light, the Brembo brakes feel crisp and responsive, and the slick-shifting gearbox glides without effort between its neatly stacked ratios.
The suspension, though, immediately feels harder than that of the standard Impreza WRX. Because of this, cruising on motorways is less comfortable, and there is more road noise transmitted into the cabin. However, as the road becomes more demanding, this tougher suspension set-up offers even greater grip from the front wheels. Turn-in is incredibly sharp, and even on rough surfaces there seems to be no limit to the Subaru's grip levels. There is now less understeer - and body roll - than before. On the test track, this meant we could set the STi lunging towards a corner, leave our braking until the last second, hitting the Brembos to wipe off amazing amounts of speed in a very short distance. Then it's time to get the weight forward, turn in to the bend and get back on the gas for a lightning-fast exit. Yet all the while the Impreza does nothing but inspire confidence as the reshaped racing seats hold you firmly in place.
And when you get the chance to really rev the engine hard there seems to be no end to its rate of acceleration, and an adjustable shift warning light flashes when it's time to change gear. Maximum power is developed at a ground-shaking 6,000rpm, and even though the engine will rev harder, there's little point. It's much better to make use of the boxer engine's torque, which, at 343Nm, rivals that of BMW's new M3. Against the clock, the STi leaps from 0-60mph in only 5.2 seconds, hitting a top speed of 148mph.
That's impressive when you consider the STi has put on more than 100kg of weight. This is because of the all-new manual transmission and reinforced crash protection.
And we can't help feeling that some of those extra kilograms are the result of an effort to make the Impreza more refined. Although we noticed greater road noise from the tyres and suspension, few other machines match the STi's devastating cross-country pace. We also suggest that no other car can do it with such incredible ease.
Faster than the WRX, more competent on winding roads and as dramatic to look at as Richard Burns's rally machine, the STi is an incredibly exciting driver's car. It's also great value for money and offers real innovation. Enthusiasts will be queuing at Subaru dealerships now.
At a glance
*All-new Subaru Impreza WRX STi Type UK on sale next month
*£25,995 for the entry-level car, £27,495 for Prodrive edition
*Powered by 261bhp turbo-charged flat-four engine