First drive: Subaru's Superhero

06 November 2007

At last, Subaru's mundane new Impreza has had an adrenaline shot.

The mild-mannered standard car has been for a whiz through a revolving door and come out as a superhero. Or should that be Subahero?

Meet the impressive new Impreza WRX STi - you'll be able to buy it for around £25,000 in the spring.

From bland to grand
Blistered wheel arches, bulges on the bonnet, big wheels, special side skirts, an exaggerated roof spoiler and meaty twin exhausts have transformed the mundane into the banzai.

Inside, there's no end of STi badges, grippy seats and a more luxurious level of equipment than ever before.

Sadly, the iconic four-door Impreza is a thing of the past. You'll only be able to buy a five-door version of this new car, but Subaru hopes that the new body style will have wider appeal than the old model - and therefore sell better.

The tech
As with Imprezas of old, the technology under the skin is a gadget-lover's dream.

Some of the toys let you adjust the engine power and how it's delivered, or you can play with the level of grip from the four-wheel drive system to entertaining effect.

The Si-Drive system gives you three levels of engine response from 'intelligent mode', which second guesses your needs in every day driving, to 'super-sharp mode' offering the quickest of throttle responses.

Then there's the DCCD (Driver's Control Centre Differential, of course), which can vary the torque distribution of the four-wheel drive system between the front and rear wheels.

This changes the handling characteristics to suit road conditions and driving style.

There are also plenty of more familiar luxury toys, including keyless go and an uprated stereo system.

The drive
The new STi has a longer wheelbase and wider track than the standard car and has been tuned to be more usable everyday.

The ride remains firm, as it should in a car with such performance potential, but it's no longer the boneshaker it was.

We drove the Japanese-specification 2.0-litre turbo cars, although the UK gets a beefier 2.5-litre engine with 297bhp.

If it's anything like the 2.0-litre, it won't disappoint - it'll be punch-in-the-back fast with an enticing engine growl.

There's plenty of grip available and turn-in is extremely sharp (get used to it first).

Playing with the DCCD can give you a more pointy feel to the front end and can leave the back end feeling a little loose, but left in automatic mode it feels incredibly safe and surefooted.

There's also plenty of stopping power with brakes from Italian braking specialists Brembo.

The deal
Prices will remain pretty similar to the old model when the new car goes on sale in the spring, so expect to pay around £25,000. For that you're getting a more grown-up, but no less fun, car.

However, for that money we're disappointed that the quality of the cabin isn't better - we'd go so far as to say you're unlikely to find harsher plastics on any other car at that sort of price.

That said, although it doesn't have the tactility of other £25,000 sports cars, we wouldn't expect a Subaru to let you down - reliability tends to be excellent.

There's also no more than average space in the back for this class of car, and, if we were being picky, we'd say that the new look is less distinguished than that of the old model - it could be a body-kitted version of no end of Japanese or Korean models.

If you want more power (and to spend more), tuning specialists Prodrive will once again be offering Subaru-approved (and fitted) performance packs that'll boost power to almost 400bhp.

Other performance accessories will be available from Prodrive, which will also be covered by Subaru's three-year warranty.

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