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Click to view road test picture gallery“Popular cutey nick-
  names for Subaru’s
  much-loved Impreza
  are ‘Scooby’ and
  ‘Scooby-Doo’ in the UK
  and ‘Subie’ and ‘Subie-
  Doo’ in America. The
  WRX STi PPP is as
  quick to 60mph as an
  Aston Martin Vanquish
  — no wonder it’s also
  known as ‘The Rex’...”

EVERY TIME WE TEST another new Impreza there's a queue
in the editorial office. This time the competition for the keys was more intense because scuttlebutt has it that Subaru
's iconic 4x4 saloon will soon be superseded by a new hatchback model, so all the more urgency to get behind the Impreza's trademark Momo wheel before the change. Since we last tested one of the faster WRX STi models, Subaru's engineers have moved the game on.

Despite looking similar to its predecessor, this latest incarnation WRX STi is marked out by a new nose fronting a comprehensive facelift. Most noticeable is the 'spread-wings' grille and 'hawk-eye' headlamps, but the front wings, bonnet and front and rear bumpers have also been redesigned and there are three-dimensional tail lamps.

Appropriately, under the new aluminium bonnet there's also a more potent powerplant: a 2.5 turbocharged 277bhp 'boxer' engine has replaced the previous incumbent, a 2.0-litre turbocharged four. More exciting is that our road test car wasn't the very quick (158mph and
0-60mph in 5 seconds) 277bhp model, but the even faster Prodrive performance-packaged road-burner that pumps out a hearty 316bhp that is backed up by a muscular 332lb ft of torque.

Something that hasn't changed, however, is the colour. Our test WRX STi PPP was finished in the ubiquitous brassy Impreza blue keen drivers everywhere have come to recognise. Blue, it seems, is to the Japanese super-saloon what red is to Ferraris. The by now traditional gold finish spoked alloy wheels are joined by a rear roof vane and unmissably massive rear wing to complete the 'just so you know I'm flaming fast' image.

And it doesn't stop there. Most things — from the suspension and gearbox to the Impreza's symmetrical all-wheel drive system — have been improved. Briefly, the suspension mods take in retuned spring
and damper rates, bigger anti-roll bars to reduce body roll and some additional stiffening around the suspension mounting points.

The steering, too, has been fettled for greater precision and feedback, and the Driver's Control Centre Differential (DCCD) has been improved for easier control of the driving dynamics — DCCD allows the driver to manually select the front-to-rear torque distribution. For example, he or she can choose between having a sharper cornering turn-in or more stable straight-line running. Somewhat surprisingly, quite a number of females drive these full-blown Imprezas but, interestingly, other road users do tend to treat the Scooby with respect) For the record, with the DCCD set to the default 'auto', the front:rear drive split is now 41:59 whereas previously it was 35:65.

All of these enhancements have been carried out to provide Impreza drivers with more interactive handling pleasure. If you've driven one, then you'll know that central to the Prezza's enduring appeal is its abil-ity to play the role of daily commuter with as much proficiency as it does hard-core 'trakkie'. Don't worry; Subaru hasn't harmed its appeal one jot — it will still tear up the tarmac along winding B-roads for as long as you have the stomach for the game.

Like a gun, you don't buy a sharp driving tool unless you intend to use it. And used properly there can be few cars capable of staying with
a well-driven Impreza WRX PPP. Not only is this PPP version quicker
(0-100mph in 12.2 seconds) but on real-world roads the extra mid-range punch over the standard 277bhp version (torque is up 20 per cent with availability across a wider rev range from 3,000 to 5,500rpm) is enjoyably complemented by a grippy all-wheel drive chassis and 'sticky' 225/45 17-inch Bridgestone Potenza RE070 rubber. Just to keep things in perspective, Aston Martin's 520bhp Vanquish S also requires 4.8 seconds to get to 60mph from rest. And that costs 197,000+.
As the Americans say: Go figure.

Work it hard and the 2.5-litre four-cam flat-four engine feels robust. Shaving a fifth of a second off the 0-60mph time may not, of itself, appear to be that extraordinary. However, the increase in available torque — there's 15 per cent more than the 277bhp car's maximum torque in the PPP's 3,000 to 5,500rpm band — means it's more seriously responsive. Pick-up, even from as low down as 2,000rpm in fifth gear, is immediate; with bags of power on hand for rapid mid-range over-taking — accompanied by a satisfying 'whoosh' as the turbo spools-up. It's not a noisy engine — despite the throbby 'boxer' tickover — and while the real slingshot acceleration starts at 3,500rpm, the boxer engine doesn't audibly growl until you pass 4,000rpm. Cruising at 70 mph is pretty relaxing and thanks to an easy-going 26.2mph/1,000rpm in top, calls for just 2,500rpm in 6th gear.

Inside, the effective and workmanlike cabin is as reassuring as ever. There's a fresh set of instruments featuring electro-luminescent dials that light up red on turning on the ignition before arcing to their maximum readings and returning to zero. Once this happens the 'STi' logo also lights up in red — as in 'all systems are go'. Also of a new design is the simple three-spoke steering wheel and gearlever. Three large knobs on the metal-look centre stack take care of all heating, cooling and A/C functions. The DCCD, incidentally, is operated by a switch mounted next to the handbrake and reverts to automatic every time the ignition is turned off.

The active setting is clearly shown between the fuel and temperature displays. The rev-counter is sited dead ahead of the driver and flanked on the right by a smaller 160mph (not an exaggeration) speedometer and on the left by a combined fuel/temperature gauge. Drivers can also set a rev warning as a change-up reminder anywhere in the range from 2,000 to the red-line at 7,000rpm. When the chosen engine speed is reached, a buzzer sounds and a red light in the rev-counter flashes.

You sit in blue suede-effect bucket seats with red 'STi' logos, although the black cloth covering the side bolsters is now of a richer, more grippy material. The driver has a tilt-adjustable 'STi'-branded Momo steering wheel, wrapped in both smooth and perforated leather, along with height and tilt seat adjustment. So, overall, it's a case of business as usual. Useful touches include heated, anti-raindrop door mirrors which stay clean and Xenon headlights. One small grumble about the high rise rear spoiler — on motorways, some drivers will find the top edge to be right in the middle of the rear-view mirror, where it obstr-ucts the view of traffic following 100 yards behind but we did find we could adjust for it. Our only other gripe is with the rather weak horn — it could do with a PPP makeover too!

To make sure you don't lose track of where you left your Impreza, a RAC Trackstar satellite tracking system is fitted. Other standard-fit equipment not already mentioned includes automatic air conditioning, speed sensitive power steering, pop-up headlamp washers, four elect-ric windows (one-shot auto up/down for the driver) and tinted glass, heated and powered door mirrors, Radio/CD, Momo wheel, aluminium accelerator, brake and clutch pedals and 17-inch gold painted, multi-spoke alloys.

These days, Impreza drivers and their front passenger are protected
by side as well as front airbags, and the front seat belts are height adjustable. Access to the rear via the frameless doors is as easy as it ever was. Thanks to the just-right angle of the rear backrest and large centre armrest, the back seats still offer cosy accommodation for two adults. The same goes for the boot. It provides 395 litres of space
and will take four adults' luggage. A large ski-hatch adds a dash more functionality, especially as the rear seatback cannot be folded.

Despite the tremendous support offered by the seats, the first thing you notice on the move is the firm ride quality. That said, comfort on long motorway trips was perfectly okay and the non-stop physical feedback about the quality of the road surface passing below nothing more than a reminder that the STi PPP is, above all, a performance machine. Nevertheless, its firmness doesn't compromise the Impreza's suitability as everyday transport — although rear seat passengers do feel it a bit more on poorer roads. You'll be pleased to note, however, that it's actually surprisingly good to travel in over long distances and the short-throw gear lever adds to the driving pleasure. The 6-speed gate is compact and the action 'click-click' direct, like the clutch, but you do need to be firm with the lever.

Given the stunning performance it would be churlish to complain too loudly about the fuel consumption. We averaged 24.3mpg over close
to 500 miles. There are no official consumption figures for the PPP, but the 277bhp model returns 18.5, 25.9 and 34mpg respectively on the urban, combined and extra urban cycles. Considering the extra 39bhp, our PPP's 24.3mpg combined figure and best cruising of 33.6mpg will ensure that not too many owners will be crying into their beer. Sedate cruising is not a problem — this isn't one of those cars that goads you into going faster than a speed you're comfortable with.

Shedding speed is something the PPP does as effectively as it piles it on. The big Brembo brakes packed inside the 17-inch rims — ventilated discs and four-pot gold painted callipers at the front; two-pot at the rear — are backed up by ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution and provide firm pedal feel with first-rate stopping power.

Thanks to the sharpened steering, the Impreza's new nose faithfully follows your chosen line through fast corners. Other improvements to the differentials, and the addition of a second yaw sensor (for steering wheel angle), have made a difference. Turn-in is more direct and the STi feels a degree more exploitable and more in tune with the driver's intentions. It helps, too, that the Impreza's footprint is of the 'com-pact' kind — useful not only on track and country lanes, but also when parking. We didn't get a chance to check out its bad weather capab-ility, although the Bridgestones' wet-road grip promises to prove as impressive as it is said to be.

If your budget only stretches to one car and that has to be stunningly quick, unarguably practical and dependable; offering a satisfyingly good drive and the ability to be thrashed on the track but still drive home, then the Impreza WRX STi PPP is probably one of the best all-rounders you can buy for the money. Before you go ahead, though, just a word of warning: check with your dentist and make sure that your fillings are very secure!

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Subaru Impreza WRX STi PPP | 28,297
Maximum speed: 158mph | 0-60mph: 4.8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 24.3mpg | Power: 316bhp | Torque: 332lb ft

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