Im­pres­sive Im­preza hits the spot

Subaru Im­preza. Fred­eric Manby tries one and finds it an en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence.

Yorkshire Post - Motoring - - FEATURES -

THE Im­preza turbo is one of the world’s all-time su­pe­rior high-per­for­mance cars. The com­bi­na­tion of power, the ag­ile four-wheel-drive chas­sis and com­pact, light body has few equals at any price for ul­tra-rapid cross-coun­try driv­ing with al­most fool-proof han­dling. That’s why the lo­cal po­lice use them.

The model goes way back with hatch and saloon bod­ies but the defin­ing high­est­pow­ered model has al­ways been the saloon. This is the one that Pro­drive de­vel­oped to cre­ate the P1, a two-door su­per­car at fam­ily-man prices.

So, when Subaru brought in the lat­est Im­preza as a five­door hatch­back only, there was dis­may. True, it had the req­ui­site 300 horse power, whipped out by a 2.5-litre flat-four en­gine – a hor­i­zon­tal de­sign that keeps the cen­tre of grav­ity lower. The 0-60 time is 5.2 sec­onds and prices start at £33,000.

What’s the prob­lem with a hot hatch? Well, it’s per­son­al­ity is of just an­other hot hatch­back – al­beit one that would leave its peers wal­low­ing.

Good for Subaru, then, to pro­duce the WRX as a saloon, a four-door, with most of the req­ui­site looks that the Subaru Turbo man de­sires. OK, the boot is a bit stubby, rather like a notch back, but a boot it is with a hinged lid – and, of course, not as prac­ti­cal as the hatch­back ver­sion for car­ry­ing things like prams and bikes.

So, lets look at that boot. What is it about boots? (or “trunks” if you are an Amer­i­can reader). Well, they look sportier. The Nis­san Sky­line had a boot be­fore it got messed about and be­came a su­per-coupé and far too pow­er­ful and lost its in­trigue.

The Mit­subishi Evo is a saloon – and will be on your mind if you are con­sid­er­ing the Subaru. Its mod­els range from the FQ300 to FQ 330 to FQ360. The FQ is trans­lat­able. The lads in the Camshaft Arms know what it means. The num­bers are the power rat­ings in ps. The 0-60 times are, re­spec­tively, 4.7, 4.4 and 4.1 sec­onds for the FQ360 – this lat­ter reg­is­ter­ing 19.9mpg and 328g/km CO2. Prices: £26,999 through £32,699 to £36,799.

Which one? Well, I’ve al­ways been an Evo sort of per­son and the sen­si­ble choice must be the FQ300. Evo FQ or WRX STI?

Ac­tu­ally, I was a Sky­line sort of per­son be­fore they went su­per-coop with the GT-R.

Now I am wa­ver­ing back to­wards the Subaru saloon, ob­tusely guided by a body that, as pre­sented to me in dark blue, is mar­vel­lously anony­mous.

You may huff, and point to the bil­low­ing wheel arches over 18-inch­ers and that cooler in­take on the bon­net and four fat ex­haust pipes, but in a dark colour, it just blends into the scenery.

It is a “what’s that y’re driv­ing?” shape – rather like those early Sky­lines, al­most sub­lim­i­nally badged, which caught ama­teur watch­ers on the hop.

In re-cre­at­ing the hot saloon, Subaru has not lost sight of prac­ti­cal­ity. The rear seats’ back­rests fold for­ward to ex­tend the boot – per­haps for golf clubs or a bike or pram. The deck rises over the hump of the rear axle.

What’s it like to drive? Mar­vel­lously en­joy­able, with a rapid de­par­ture and a steady blast of ac­cel­er­a­tion. It has lovely light han­dling. It is a driver’s car, with enough com­fort at lower speeds for pas­sen­gers.

I took my mother for a brisk spin, both of us hus­tled down in the Re­caros. She never com­plained.

There are lots of user op­tions to reg­u­late how the cen­tral dif­fer­en­tial lock, trac­tion con­trol and throt­tle re­sponses em­ploy. These are for se­ri­ous fine-tun­ing, and be­yond my needs. Ver­dict: A cracker. Subaru brought its range of cars to Crathorne Hall, near Mid­dles­brough, for a press drive, hosted by its MD, Paul Tun­ni­cliffe, a hill-climb com­peti­tor in his real car, a blown Lea Fran­cis Hy­per TT from 1929.

There was a chance to try the Cos­worth Im­preza hatch, pre­sented to Subaru UK as a ready-to-go pro­ject by Cos­worth.

“We or­dered a run of 75, but wish we’d got more,” says Tun­ni­cliffe, aware of the “halo” ef­fect of the £50,000 car which looks gor­geously wicked in all-black liv­ery with 400 horse power and 0-60mph in 3.7 sec­onds.

It is des­per­ately quick, too, yet re­fined. The old Evo FQ-400 had the same pace but a graunch­ing from the dif­fer­en­tial lock in first gear. The Cos­worth Im­preza is docile enough when set­ting off, and then ex­plodes if you slap down the pedal. Even grown women ex­ult­ing in the noise from the ex­hausts.

Subaru in Bri­tain is a small seller (fewer than 4,000 last year) in a niche mar­ket for, mostly, ev­ery­day cars with all-wheel-drive and the boxer en­gine, which gives a low cen­tre of grav­ity and a quaint noise.

Its es­tate cars, the Forester and Legacy/Out­back, are of­ten used for “life­style” choices such as tow­ing a horse­box or a car­a­van, or go­ing off into the hills with climb­ing kit or a moun­tain bike.

The once-75 per cent share of Subaru sales for the Im­preza Turbo has dropped away as the core AWD and util­ity val­ues be­come more im­por­tant. In the De­cem­ber snows, there were stranded BMW own­ers go­ing out and buy­ing a Subaru the next day, just to get mov­ing.

My choice from the day’s driv­ing was the Legacy Tourer with the 2-litre diesel, giv­ing 148bhp and 258 lb ft. It is quick enough, quiet and smooth, and, on pa­per at least, rated at 46mpg and 161g/km. The trip­me­ter sug­gested 38mpg.

Com­ing soon is a re­vised petrol en­gine for the Forester, listed at 37.7mpg and 173g/km. In a year, the joint sports coupé car with Toy­ota (a stake­holder in Subaru) will ar­rive. It has a 200bhp Subaru en­gine with rear-wheel-drive.

A new Im­preza is com­ing and a Subaru-badged ver­sion of the new Toy­ota Verso S is mooted for UK im­port.

More: 08446 626 612.

QUICK LOOK: The very im­pres­sive Subaru WRX STI.

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