First DriveUltimate Impreza STi mixes sharper responses with pleasing usability. Just don’t expect to see too many on UK roads
First DriveIf the WRX STI is already very much your cup of tea then there’s unlikely to be any way of convincing you that the 320R's power boost is a bad idea.
The basic premise for this first drive of the Litchfield Impreza Type 25 was simple: this was surely the Subaru to end all Subarus and a fitting end-point to what has rightly become a legend among performance cars. A 2.5-litre engine, 350bhp and, more importantly, 356lb ft of torque, all bolted into a chassis whose spring and damper rates have been specifically tuned for UK road use. This had to be about as far as the Scooby concept could be carried.
And then you take the car to the middle of Wales on a February afternoon warm enough to add serious credence to the global warming doom-mongerers. And it just rearranges everything. Forces you to accept that, despite no longer being the next big thing, the inherent compatability of a Mondeo-sized four-wheel-drive saloon with a power-to-weight ratio of a 911 and UK roads will probably never change.
The Type 25 isn’t its most outrageous representation, but it is the best I have driven by a convincing margin. It’s the product of some neat lateral thinking by import company owner, Ian Litchfield. Extracting big power from Subaru’s horizontally opposed four has never been a problem: 400bhp has always been on offer if you were willing to play with every aspect of the engine. But honest torque was more of a problem because the higher the state of tune, the more peaky the delivery. A bigger displacement was the obvious answer, but boring out engine blocks is never simple. Nor cheap.
A solution came from the most unlikely of sources: Subaru’s current US market push. Americans are quickly waking up to the rice-rocket experience and the company is shifting plenty of cars, but it has encountered some serious problems squeezing power out of federal-spec unleaded. So it decided to make a 2457cc block to reach the 300bhp required of an STi.
Razor-sharp Mr Litchfield spotted this and bought a few engines. He then had his colleagues at Power Station modify the heads (for fitment, not performance) and turbocharger, but altered none of the internals, fitted it into an STi and stuck it on a notoriously pessimistic dyno. Power was an easy 350bhp and torque 356lb ft. A timely reminder of how potent our petrol is in the UK.
The fact that the latter figure is the one Ian wants to boast about is very reassuring. Torque is the very essence of on-road performance and this car has been specifically designed with that in mind.Same goes for the chassis.
The Type 25 needed to be a rounded performer, so a set of bespoke 14-way adjustable dampers has been fitted, the rear roll-bar has been uprated and the car now runs 5.5 degrees of front castor where a standard UK STi runs just 3 degrees. The cumulative effect is startling and, if the Type 25’s ultimate success is to be assessed on just how similar the car feels to a basic WRX over these moorland roads, then it’s a direct hit.
This is one of the fastest point-to-point cars available at any money, let alone £33,995. And the performance isn’t simply a result of its ability to rocket out of corners. It’s because the damping has been perfectly matched to our road surfaces. It’s not what you’d ever call a smooth-riding car, but if you push it hard through a sequence of turns and choppy surfaces, you that, regardless of speed or lateral load, all four wheels remain in contact with the road at all times.
And it’s mighty fast – dare I say it 911 Turbo-strong out of every second or third-gear turn, because the torque is always there to slap you up the following straight. The biggest problem is that the intermediate gear ratios are now too short. Under full power second gear seems to last no longer than a second or so. We haven’t pulled any performance figures yet, but my money’s on this being the first sub-4.0sec 0-60mph Scooby we’ve ever figured and the 0-100mph time may just duck under 10 seconds.
A standard quick-ratio STi steering rack provides a fine balance of feedback and accuracy and the standard STi brakes are up to the job, but fall short of being sensational. There are all manner of brake upgrades available for Subarus, but the move up in diameter and caliper size requires an 18in rim, and you can’t have an 18in Bridgestone RE 070. It’s the right decision because the tyre (a semi-slick track-day effort that copes with everything but deep standing water) brings incredible levels of dry-weather grip.
Nor does it generate undue road noise. In fact, very little about the Type 25 generates much road-rumble. The suspension is hushed, induction and exhaust noise only intrude under heavy loads and wind noise is well insulated, too. This is a comfortable car in which to cruise: one with enough mechanical refinement to sit in sixth all day and with damping supple enough to not have the driver’s head bobbing about. It has air conditioning and electric windows. It has five seats and a large boot.
But should you contemplate a T25 instead of, say, a one-year-old BMW M3? Most certainly. In fact, definitely, I’d say. Whereas lesser Scoobys don’t quite have the performance repertoire to make you overlook some of the obvious image shortcomings, this car does – and then some. But the bit I really like is this: Litchfield will supply several different types of STi bodykit for no extra cost. How much fun would it be to have this much raw poke and ability sitting under a stock WRX exterior? So much, that he’s even fitted a GPS radar and speed camera detector as standard.