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Click to view road test review picture gallerySubaru unleashes
  its new 296bhp
  hardcore Impreza WRX
  STI Type UK: 155mph,
  and 0-60mph in 4.8
  seconds for just 25K.
  That’s a lot of poke for
  your pound...”


THE LAUNCH OF THE ALL-NEW, third-generation Subaru Impreza and, in particular, the WRX STI Type UK didn't initially meet with approval from the stalwarts and petrolheads who religiously support, via their many clubs and websites, the 'Scooby heritage'.

When the new Impreza range was announced last year, the fact that the car had gone from a four-door saloon to being a five-door hatch-back didn't meet with approval from the marque's hardcore UK followers. Then, when the first pictures appeared of the range-topping WRX STI (the basis for Subaru's new World Rally Championship car), the loyal dedicated followers of fashion — Scooby fashion — were even more hostile to the new Impreza's design.

However, the Impreza is a 'world car' and so the design had to meet the requirements of retail customers around the globe to increase sales potential. Just as important for Subaru, the new Impreza had to meet the requirements for it to become a leading force again in World Rallying and that, more than anything else, dictates its size and form. Like the Lancer Evolution, the Impreza saloon had become too big and too heavy to compete against the smaller, more compact and lighter Ford Focus and Citroen C4 WRC cars. Unfortunately for Mitsubishi, the new generation Lancer Evolution X is even larger and heavier than their outgoing Evo IX so its motorsport days look numbered.

So, like it or not, the new Impreza is now a five-door hatchback. But the first chunk of good news is that the WRX STI Type UK, for this country, costs around 1,500 less than the old Impreza WRX STI saloon model — and there is more power and torque as well. The new-comer weighed-in originally this year at a realistic 24,995 but that has now increased, fractionally, to 25,090 due to the new VED costs announced in the Budget. Blame the government, not Subaru International Motors UK — who expect to sell 3,400 Imprezas in the UK this year of which 1,200 will be WRX STI Type UK models.

Subaru have now completed the first phase roll-out of the new all-wheel drive Impreza range, with prices starting at 12,990 right through to the 25,090 2.5-litre WRX STI Type UK. Finally, at the end of this year, the Impreza range will receive Subaru's new 'boxer' flat-four diesel engine option.

Like the design of the new all-wheel drive, five-door hatchback over the previous four-door saloon or not, the new Subaru Impreza in its WRX STI Type UK guise (UK sales started in March this year) is still a phenomenal performer. So you may as well look, as they say, 'on the bright side of life': it costs 1,500 less than the old model.

The WRX STI shares the same core body as the run-of-the-mill 1.5 and 2.0-litre Impreza models, but there are significant changes. Due to heavily-blistered wheel arches to house the wider front and rear tracks (45 and 40mm respectively), at 1,795mm wide the STI is 55mm wider than the mainstream models. Incidentally, whilst the wheelbase of the new Impreza is 55mm longer than the old saloon models, overall the car is shorter at 4,415mm. The result is a compact-looking, muscular car with a ground-hugging appearance — and immediately recognisable thanks to the bonnet's distinctive, elongated air intake power bulge.

There are more bodywork changes; these include a mesh grille, deep front bumper with air vents to feed the intercooler as well as more vertical air vents in the wide wheel arches. Side skirts link the front and rear blistered wheel arches. Not being a saloon with a boot means the previous huge tea-tray rear spoiler of the old Impreza WRX STI
has been replaced by a less in-your-face roof spoiler.

Compensation comes in the form of the large wraparound rear bumper with an integrated diffuser to reduce high speed lift. Four exhaust tailpipes — two double pairs — give the new WRX STI a purposeful appearance but they also act to reduce exhaust air-flow resistance by 38 per cent, so increasing power but reducing noise.

Apart from the obvious change in styling and the adoption of a five-door hatchback body, the next most noticeable difference between the new WRX STI and the old is the lack of the traditional exhaust 'burble' and that unmistakable 'flat-four' engine beat. Yes, it still is the same design of engine but the lack of the exhaust note and the more refined engine tone will, perhaps, not be appreciated by red-blooded Scooby enthusiasts.

However, for the purists, Subaru's signature 'WR Blue' paint job with gold-coloured wheels is retained, but now other body colours/wheel types are available for lower-profile owners.

Despite the price reduction over the outgoing model the standard equipment is still impressive, and includes the multi-mode Driver Control Centre Differential, Vehicle Dynamics Control system, ABS, cruise control, front, side and curtain airbags, 17-inch alloy wheels, climate control air conditioning, part-leather sports seats and (a rather dated) stereo radio and CD system. Generally, the interior looks acceptable but bland for a car of this reputation and the quality is not the finest on the market, possibly down to the cheaper price.

But enough of the icing on the cake, what do we get under the new skin? Well, the suspension is all-new. It's lighter and offers just as much control; but there's no hard trade-off with the ride, which is neither harsh or rigid. It is more compliant and more comfortable with, praise be, no agility, cornering ability or grip seemingly lost.

The revised flat-four 'boxer' engine is positioned 22mm lower in the new car giving a better centre of gravity than before. Braking is improved thanks to Brembo four-pot callipers at the front and two-pot at the rear, all operating on ventilated discs.

The 2.5-litre, four-cylinder horizontally-opposed 'boxer' engine benefits from revisions which include a more efficient water-spray intercooler for more power. WRX STI Type UK models — the official cars for Europe — have the 2.5-litre engine whereas the Japanese domestic models have a high-revving 2.0-litre unit, so beware of buying an unofficial import.

Variable-valve timing is claimed to produce stronger low- to mid-speed torque. Power is now 296bhp at 6,000rpm with 300lb ft of torque at 4,000rpm (increases of 19bhp and 11lb ft respectively). Top speed is 155mph with 0-60mph taking 4.8 seconds. The official average fuel economy is 27.4mpg but on a long motorway journey with the new high sixth gear ratio, my test car returned a commendable 29.1mpg. However, for normal motoring over A and B roads this droped a tad to 25.6mpg; and some faster cut-and-thrust driving reduced the figure to 22.4mpg. CO2 emissions are relatively high at 243g/km, so Scooby owners will be paying out 400 for a year's road tax. From 2009 onwards, this goes up to 415 and in 2010/11 the government will be asking you to pay 430 for your Scooby's road tax.

The full-time all-wheel-drive system has the normal Subaru gadget whereby the driver can control the amount of centre differential power distribution. Left in its auto setting was best. The driver can also adjust the throttle response settings to make it sharper or softer but again, auto was best — unless the car is being used for competition driving. The good thing is that drivers at least have the option to tune the car to their own requirements although the default handling and grip is so good that very little adjustment is called for.

Where this WRX STI does score over the old model is that it is more sociable and compliant to drive day-in, day-out. It is less frantic, coping easily with congested traffic conditions and, thankfully, the clutch is much lighter to use and the gearchange more precise and slick. When needs be and it's pushed hard, the Scooby responds brilliantly — it is very fast: especially useful for overtaking slow traffic in the minimum of time and road distance.

Ride comfort, too, is impressive. It is not too harsh — as with so many go-faster models — yet it is not too soft to reduce the car's handling qualities. Cornering grip is phenomenal and, being a more compact car than the old Scooby, the vehicle feels more under control when being driven really hard. The steering is precise and although the feedback is limited you can live with it.

It may look different — for some die-hard enthusiasts the new styling may be too understated — and it may handle differently, but under
the skin the new WRX STI is very much true to type. So grieve for the banished Scooby exhaust 'burble', then move on to enjoy the new hatch's performance, massive grip and controlled handling qualities. You also get a roomy cabin and reasonable boot space and, best of all, a good price. In time it will attract a new generation of customers to the Subaru brand and, more importantly, more of them. — David Miles

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Subaru Impreza 2.5 WRX STI Type UK | 25,090
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-60mph: 4.8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 25.7mpg | Power: 296bhp | Torque: 300lb ft

CO2 243g/km | VED Band G 400 | Insurance group 19
subaru.co.uk

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--------------------------------------- Subaru Impreza WRX STI Type UK