After a long time in a wilderness of exchange rate-induced irrelevance, the Subaru WRX STI is back – and at a price that demands the sort of full appraisal that only an Autocar road test can provide.

Fuji Heavy Industries set up its motorsport division, Subaru Tecnica International, in 1988. The first Impreza WRX STI was launched in 1994, based on the 247bhp Japanese-market ‘GC8B’ Impreza. Power grew to 271bhp later that year.

The most famous STI remains the 22B coupé of 1998, just 16 of which came to the UK officially — although many more were imported via other channels. Highlights since include the UK-only Prodrive-tuned P1 of 2000, the 2004 WR1 and the 2006 RB320.

With a retuned chassis, a new bodyshell, new steering and an improved cabin, this STI is a whole new prospect. And yet it’s so familiar.

To an extent, it’s the same fast 4x4 saloon that won such an enthusiastic following off the back of the WRC success of McRae, Burns and Solberg.

But all that was more than a decade ago, and since then times have been tough for this rally refugee. So can a £4000 price cut and an injection of stiffness, sharpness, plushness and practicality make an ageing performance concept appealing again?

We’ve seen hot hatches grow in stature and sophistication, to the point where some now set a very high standard indeed on performance, handling and value for money.

So what has this renewed and renowned old stager got to say about all that?

Top 5 Hot hatches

  • Renault Mégane Renaultsport
    The Renaultsport 265 is the hot version of Renault's Focus-rivalling hatchback

    Renault Mégane Renaultsport

    1
  • Volkswagen Golf R
    The new Golf R is faster than any production Volkswagen before it

    Volkswagen Golf R

    2
  • This four-cylinder Focus feels lighter at the front than its five-pot predecessor

    Ford Focus ST

    3
  • Seat Leon Cupra
    The new Leon Cupra is offered with a choice of 261bhp or 276bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines

    Seat Leon Cupra

    4
  • M135i is not a full-blooded M car, rather 'powered by M'

    BMW M135i

    5

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