Subaru Impreza WRX STi

Test venue: Shropshire

Subaru's Impreza has become one of the most popular cars in Britain with the young, motorsport-orientated generation. But to keep ahead of the chasing pack, Subaru launched a revamped and improved impreza STi at the start of the year. A superb car, just got better.

First unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2001, the updated model was introduced in Paris last September. There are numerous subtle improvements and the good news is a price reduction. The all-singing, all-dancing STi can be yours for an on-the-road price of just 24,995 - that's a 2,500 reduction on the older Prodrive Style it effectively replaces.

In keeping with its World Rally Championship tradition, the Impreza looks even more like a World Rally Car than its predecessor. It has new-look front styling, improved stability at higher speeds and better aerodymanics, following Prodrive's exhaustive wind-tunnel development with the WRC rally car.

Subaru now claims a top speed of 151 mph and you will be catapulted to the legal speed limit in just over five seconds. Subaru's press department claims that 80% of the 265 bhp engine has been revised and cooling has been improved.

Adding to the complete all-round package, the latest STi is equipped with larger Brembo brakes (as big as the 13-inch wheels on an old Mini!), a slicker six-speed manual transmission, stiffer front suspension, sharper steering and front and rear 'Suretec' limited slip differentials. With the possible exception of the much-vaunted Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8, this is the closest you will get to a rally car for the road.

But beware. The huge tail spoiler is sure to attract the attention of the local constabulary if you are doing anything untoward - and in a car that yearns to be driven hard that can be very tempting indeed. In fact, the new spoiler is adopted from the Prodrive car and the new model also features front corner spoilers, new side sill spoilers and a larger bonnet air intake for the intercooler.

Sit behind the wheel of the Impreza and you are greeted by a pretty bland and plasticky dashboard, although all the dials and controls are functional and at hand. Cross-drilled pedals and foot rest are the only real clues to the fact that you are at the wheel of something special. Adjust the steering wheel and turn the key and the flat four fires into life with its characteristic gruff growl.

The WRX STi is horrible to drive in an urban environment. It stutters and coughs at low revs and there is a characteristic flat spot when you pull away from the traffic lights. If you are hoping to win the traffic light grand prix in this car, forget it. You'll be left for dead by the latest hot hatch offerings from Citroen or Renault.

Once the rev limiter climbs above three thousand it is a totally different story. The acceleration can be quite violent for someone not used to driving a turbo-charged car with bags of torque and available horse power. Accelerate rapidly out of a corner and you will find yourself catapulted forwards very quickly indeed. It's then a matter of mastering the close-ratio gearbox for maximum effect. Fourth gear in the new STi has similar ratios to third in the WRX and sixth is ideal for economical motorway driving. But beware of understeer whe you corner hard and the car does have a tendency to skip and weave over bumpy roads.

Once the engine is running above 3000 rpm, the car's motorsport pedigree comes into its own. It corners as if on rails, turns in superbly and is exhilarating to drive. You would be doing something very silly to get into trouble with this car.

Own the STi - developed by Subaru's motor sport division Subaru Technica International - and enjoy driving it in a spirited fashion and you will need a sizeable account with the local fuel station. Fuel economy has been improved, but you will only see around 24 mpg when driven economically and this is reduced dramatically when you lower the right foot.

On the plus side you will gain the admiring and envious glances of just about every motoring enthusiast on the road, but then we come on to the small matter of insurance. Even with a standard satellite anti-theft system, the STi is very fashionable with car thieves and you will pay in insurance terms for the privilege of owning one. But it still leaves you with a broad smile on your face at the end of an exhilarating drive.

For further information or assistance please contact:

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Shropshire TF10 7EN United Kingdom

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