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.
What is it?
This is the very last Impreza WRX that UK buyers will see for a while; the all new, five-door-only Impreza arrives in October, and there won’t be a UK WRX version. That’s why Subaru’s doing this high-spec, budget price, last-of-the-line special edition of the outgoing car, the GB270.
It’s a bit of a bargain. Both the saloon, and the sports wagon we tested, are priced at £22,995. For that you get the Prodrive engine tune-up (from 226- to 266bhp), the lower Prodrive suspension, 18in black painted alloy wheels, a quickshift gearchange, a waistline spoiler, tinted privacy glass, a limited slip diff and a black mesh grille. That represents a saving of £7000 against the catalogue price.
What’s it like?
The WRX remains a fast, grippy, agile and stirring car to drive. Even now, a decade after the Impreza Turbo first screamed into the collective imagination, there are few cars that offer so much any-weather performance for the money.
At certain times, in certain conditions, and on certain roads where a two-wheel drive hot hatch would scrabble for purchase, a WRX just grips and flies. There are other fast four-wheel-drivers you can buy for around the same money - cars like the VW Golf R32, Mazda 6 MPS and Volvo S40 T5 - but they tend to feel much heavier and less responsive than the Scooby, and they generally cost more. In short, the WRX remains the most capable and entertaining any-weather performance car available for around £20,000. That’s why it’s such a shame we’re not getting a new one.
Just opening the door on the new GB270 helps you to understand what it’s all about; it’s frameless, the handle’s just about large enough to accommodate your fingers, and the whole door weighs about half as much as the door on a Golf R32.
Settle in behind the wheel; you’ll find a cabin that looks and feels old, thin and cheap in places. Cloth seats that would have looked poorly upholstered in an MG Maestro Turbo, that provide about as much thigh support as a limp pair of boxer shorts, and that make the driver adopt one of the poorest driving positions you’ll find in any new hot hatch. A cassette player as standard (need we say more?). But none of it really matters.
And that’s because the WRX is still an unremitting hoot to drive. You’ve got to drive it fast, mind, on a road or on a track where you can do so responsibly and safely. But when you do, you unearth a car that’s surprisingly delicate, biddable and entertaining – as well as quick.
The WRX’s primary controls are still light and communicative and the handling and ride compromise firm but good (although not quite as sweetly judged as it used to be). You can commit it to a corner with the minimum of understeer, and almost no body control or fuss.
But what characterises the Impreza WRX driving experience even more vividly is how soon you can get back on the throttle mid-corner. The WRX will find grip and traction in places lesser performance cars flounder; flatten the right-hand pedal as you turn into a wet third-gear off-camber corner and you know that the car will just find the traction to channel the power roadwards and spit you out safely on the other side. That kind of knowledge, just like that kind of performance, is almost priceless when the weather closes in.
Should I buy one?
If you want the definitive affordable all-weather performance car, we’d say so. The Impreza’s been around for a long time; we can’t believe there are many people with an WRX-shaped itch still to scratch, but if you’ve got one, this is the way to do it.
It’s cheaper and more usable than an STi, without being noticeably slower and, although modern hot hatches put it in the shade in more ways than we care to mention, the one thing that the WRX still gets right is the drive. In dubious conditions, it would leave any hot hatchback cheaper than an Audi S3 for dead. And long will it be missed.