The instructions were simple: ‘Leave the hotel, turn right and follow the road to the coast.’ Yet I’m lost already, trying to retrace my tracks and get back on course. Then I spot a sign I recognise – Col de Vence – a plateaux 963 metres above sea level and accessed via a phenomenal twisting mountain road, at times used in the Monte Carlo rally. Subaru’s recommended route notes are jettisoned to the back seat as quickly as the throttle hits its stop.Having updated the STi’s suspension only last year, Subaru has left the dampers as is, instead tweaking the drivetrain with faster-acting centre and front differentials, and a second yaw sensor. Over the route’s many left-right flicks there is now more directness to the turn-in and the STi feels lighter and more agile.But passing the summit something’s missing from the typical Impreza experience. The signature off-beat engine rumble is noticeably muted; a casualty of new equal-length manifolds fitted for better economy and emissions. There is some compensation, as the new STi gets a larger 2.5-litre four-cam flat-four engine producing 19bhp more than the outgoing 2.0 litre. Although the increase in outright punch is not staggering, pick-up from lower revs is improved and the transition between on- and off-boost now less sudden.Fifty rapid miles on and the STi sits cooling in the car park. No question, it remains a magnificent device, especially on roads like this, but when the driving is done cracks soon appear in its appeal. This facelift, the third for the Impreza, adds an aggressive new nose, which works on the STi but sits rather oddly on the less-extreme models. And the new WRC details – roof spoiler, rear diffuser and crystal rear lights – look somewhat crass, leaving the Impreza missing the purity of its original design.The car’s mechanicals may feel robust and technically advanced, but despite this latest update, the rest of the car is dated and outclassed. The cabin design, packaging, materials and finish are simply not good enough for a car at this price.The STi remains one of the great driver’s cars, now even better than before, but viewed outside this narrow remit the picture is less rosy. The Impreza architecture is now five years old and the game has moved on. For Subaru, 2007 – when the all-new model is expected – can’t come soon enough.Jamie Corstorphine
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.