Subaru’s best efforts, three years ago, to move the Impreza away from boy-racer types, towards a more premium customer, failed. A radical restyle, a suspension common to ocean liners and their retreat from WRC risked losing their core fans forever.
Its fair criticism of the much loved Impreza, but Subaru, to their credit, had already anticipated the problem. And not moments after the dung-beetle hatchback faded from fleeting popular consciousness, Subaru took, once again, to the Nürburgring.
Testing a high performance car on the Nürburgring is de rigueur, as we know, but the Impreza WRX STI, at the hands of a Herculean talent, four time world rally champion, Tommi Makinen, set Subaru’s fastest lap ever of the circuit, and the fastest lap ever for a four-door sedan: 7 minutes and 55 seconds. One second quicker than the Porsche Panamera and four quicker than the Cadillac CTS-V. To a chorus of “we told you so,” from hatchback be-moaners no doubt.
That lap time got it some street cred back, along with the enormous wing from Imprezas of old. And for most fans that’s enough to make amends. But life isn’t all racetracks and rally games on PS3 — what’s the comeback kid like as an everyday proposition?
With 221kW and 407Nm from a 2,5-litre, turbocharged boxer engine, channeled through a variable centre differential, all-wheel drive system; Subaru’s intelligent “SI-drive” with three throttle maps; and a three-mode traction control to keep you on the road — it all sounds mouthwatering on paper. But it’s even more mental in the metal.
Top speed: 255km/h. 0-100km/h in 5,2 seconds. And you can do that sort of time in any weather, anywhere. But it’s the purpose and bristling aggression that leaves the biggest impression.
First off, it sounds like Brian Mitchell speed-bag boxing your uvula (that little thing hanging at the back of your throat), it’s particularly garrulous at carpark, idling speeds; though it’s perfect for your arrival at “scooby-club” meets. On the move, as you climb through the gears, the noise builds to a bombastic, metallic crescendo. There’s very little treble pyrotechnics from the turbo or spewing waste gate, which surprised me, but you get the transmission whine from under the car to make you feel like Colin McRae even when you’re in a traffic jam.
The handling is sharper and more athletic than on the previous STI hatch, thanks to tireless work on the chassis and suspension set up at the Nürburgring. Body roll feels better contained and the car feels flatter and more composed, resulting in higher cornering speeds and a more repeatable experience when you’re pointed at a series of corners. In the old car you could take one corner quickly, maybe, and not get another one right for awhile. This new one helps you along by not being such a sissy — the nose darts in nicely, its natural inclination is still to safely understeer, but it plays ball, through a wall of screeching tyres, if you’re up for it with a few flicks on a race circuit. And to help you it has a fun propensity for coming unstuck on the brakes thanks to a rear brake bias.
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The ride comfort isn’t as hard as you’d think. That’s the benefit you gain in making the STI so compliant over those tough, undulating roads. But it’s still flat enough, and flatter than it used, to be quick on a smooth, flowing surface, so a good compromise has been reached.
The fuel consumption is woeful, to be frank (forget the claimed figure), you’ll be lucky to get 300km range per tank. And the interior has a fair share of rattles and drones because you go everywhere in high gear and low revs while trying to keep the consumption down.
If I’m totally honest, I wish it felt a little lighter on its feet. I wish it had a tall six gear for better economy and the drivetrain had some finesse in it. Most of the time it feels inert; like it needs to be muscled around everywhere and that’s fine, you say, because it’s a rally breed. Sure, but in everyday driving situations with slow Opel Estates that can’t overtake and Peugeots with broken taillights, the STI gets wearisome. It takes the discipline of a Tibetan monk not to drop a cog and obliterate everything in a 10km radius.
But honestly, who cares about that either? It’s an Impreza, which means you know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s always a rough-and-ready, steamy sunglasses, white knuckle adrenaline pump. Subaru, consider amends made. The Impreza Turbo is back.
Subaru Impreza WRX STI sedan
Price: R499 000
Engine: 2,5-litre, four cylinder engine
Power: 221kW and 407Nm
Performance: 0-100kph – 5,2sec & 255km/h top speed
Eco: 10.5-litres per 100km (combined/claimed) & 243 g/km CO2