Impressive Impreza hits the spot
Subaru Impreza. Frederic Manby tries one and finds it an enjoyable experience.
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.