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Click for pictures“It’s fast, discreet and
  has an extra door.
  But this very practical
  WRX is as much fun to
  drive as its even-faster
  big brother”

WHILE IT'S NOT as wickedly fast as its iconic four-door brother, the five-door Impreza WRX is still a pretty exciting package. We tested it almost back-to-back with the WRX STi PPP. They share very similar driving dynamics and so to save a lot of repetition, we've concentrated here on the aspects of the WRX pertinent to the
5-door. By all means read the WRX STi review if you want the
full, in-depth facts.

In some ways, despite being slower than its indecently rapid four-door stablemate — that's not a criticism as it's still fast — the five-door WRX makes for a more intriguing drive. The 'shooting brake' styling is nice-looking and extremely functional. It's also excellent camouflage. The five-door is as close as you can get to a 'plain clothes' Impreza WRX. Where the four-door saloon stands out a mile, the more laid-back five-door simply blends in. It's also quite fun storming past someone who's holding things up just to see the look of surprise on their face at the — perfectly safe — overtaking velocity of what appears to be nothing more threatening than an ordinary estate car.

Talking of speed, the five-door is certainly not sluggish and you'll see what we mean when we say that top speed is more than twice the legal limit. With 221bhp and 221lb ft of torque at 4,000rpm, it will accelerate to 60mph in a very brisk 5.8 seconds. Power comes from the same basic turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-litre aluminium-alloy four-cylinder boxer engine that powers the WRX STi.

Body styling is less extreme than the hell-for-leather look of the four-door, softened by a wrap-around rear three-quarter glasshouse and non-obtrusive satin black roof rails. The nose is less aggressive too. Although the prominent bonnet scoop for the intercooler, rear spoiler fitted to the top of the tailgate and double-spoked 17-inch titanium-coloured alloy wheels — shod with 215/45 Bridgestone Potenzas — and the red brake callipers front and rear do tend to give the game away.

From a practical point of view the one-piece, top-hinged 'fifth door' is neatly efficient, opening right down to the bumper. Lift the boot floor panel and there's a very handy, multi-segmented and lined storage tray. We always seem to be involved in helping friends move house and it happened again while we were testing the five-door WRX. What an amazingly capacious assistant!

The interior, like that of the four-door, is single-mindedly uncluttered with an attractive aluminium effect centre stack. A cluster of three dials is sited immediately ahead of the driver in a single nacelle All are clearly visible through the top arc of the four-spoke leather-wrapped Momo steering wheel. Good switchgear ergonomics and positive major controls tell you that it's business as usual. There's a good sprinkling
of useful pockets and cubby-holes — sufficient to make the cabin a perfectly practical day-to-day proposition. Despite an all-black cabin, the large glass areas and frameless doors make for a light and airy cabin and there's first class all-round visibility. A sliding glass electric sunroof features a foolproof 'don't look' open/close switch.

Trim fit is in apple-pie order and materials of good quality. And — should your passengers forget what manner of machine it is in which they're 'cruising' — the tailored overmats are emblazoned with stitched 'WRX' logos. The bolstered, heated, sport seats with integral headrests are upholstered in perforated leather that holds you firmly in place. Which is reassuring, because the five-door can zip around bends almost as fast as it can blitz the straights.

Speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion power steering is standard and, although the steering wheel only 'tilt' adjusts, height adjustment on the driver's seat more than compensates. Head and legroom are generous and a secure, business-like driving position is easily attained. There's good space around the three non-slip alloy pedals and a five-speed manual 'box is standard with a positive shift action that is enhanced by a light and clean-acting clutch. The gear knob falls easily to hand.

Handling and roadholding are much on a par with the four-door. Both have the same inverted suspension struts for more precise handling. They also share the same full-time all-wheel drive transmission, limited slip rear differential and centre differential with viscous coupling. For normal, dry-road motoring, torque is distributed fairly equally (50:50) between front and rear axles. In wet, muddy or icy conditions how-ever, the centre diff's viscous coupling senses which axle has the better grip and distributes torque accordingly to minimise the risk of wheelspin. The limited slip differential located in the rear axle is there to share available grip between each rear wheel after it has already been divided between the front and rear axles.

While this provides even more roadholding and accident avoidance capability, it also means more driver fun. The WRX can easily be steered half-way through a tight corner purely on throttle input!

The WRX's throttle response is crisp and, once the revs start to climb, pulling power in the low to mid-range is 'imprezzzive', making it a safe, strong overtaker. Drop down a cog, stamp the throttle and enjoy the free-spinning, high-revving nature of the boxer engine. But take care. Forty blurs into seventy all too quickly, and once given its head the WRX can whisk you up to three figure speeds even before you can double-check the speedometer.

Drive sensibly however and you'll get your reward at the pumps. Over-all, we achieved 30mpg. Pretty good given the official touring and combined figures are 39.8 and 30.7mpg respectively. Motorways are consumed with a quiet, civilised gait — 70mph in fifth gear calls for an unruffled 2,800rpm.

The five-door shell delivers a compliant ride, with only the worst bumps making themselves known. Even then, the WRX remains unruffled, holding its line unless you tell it otherwise with a flick of the wheel or a dab of the well-weighted brakes. The four-sensor, four-channel ABS system employs ventilated discs to make light work of hard stopping. Excellent light from both the dipped and main beams ensure safe night-time driving. Big buttons on the hi-fi are another safety feature, making for minimal distraction when driving.

Don't be misled by the five-door's veneer of refinement. Hustle it hard through a series of tricky bends and you'll discover that hand-in-glove with its tenacious grip goes a surefootedness that trumps any trickery Britain's patchy, rippled and potholed blacktop can throw at it.

Roadholding is leech-like. But unlike some high-powered machines, there isn't a suggestion of guile lurking anywhere in the superbly balanced chassis. Lift off at speed mid-bend, and the WRX just tucks in tidily. No fear. Brilliant, accurate steering is a key ingredient of the delicious driving cocktail that the Impreza WRX serves up on demand.

The five-door WRX tackles practicality as effectively as it does pace. At 14 feet 8 inches long by a smidgen under 4 feet 9 inches wide, there's more than enough room to consider the WRX five-door an ideal lifestyle 'sportswagon'. The boot has a cargo cover and split/fold rear seats that fold completely flat. Load capacity with the seat up is 349 litres and will accommodate a large bicycle with a 26-inch wheel and a large shopping basket!

Standard equipment levels are adequate and include air conditioning,
a radio/cassette/CD player, electric windows and mirrors, power steer-ing, a rear wash/wipe, aluminium pedals and an umbrella compart-ment. Yes, so does the Rolls-Royce Phantom — but at 255,000 do you really want to pay twelve times as much?

Safety kit includes front airbags (the passenger gets a dual-stage 'bag) and side airbags, adjustable front seat belt shoulder anchorages with pre-tensioners, side protection beams, ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution and, of course, permanent FWD that makes every journey safer and more enjoyable regardless of road and
weather conditions.

Thanks to its idiosyncratic charm and user-friendly dynamics, the five-door WRX delivers excellent 'real world' driveability and makes an ideal all-weather everyday car — whether you're a diehard driving enthusiast or a dedicated homemaker. To put it in perspective, all we can say is that while we were testing it we were also reviewing some very fast and far more expensive performance cars which we loved. But when-ever we jumped back into the WRX and added a score or two more miles to the trip we always came back laughing. Judged on a fun-per-pound basis, the five-door WRX most definitely punches well above its weight. May the force be with you!
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Subaru Impreza 2.0 WRX AWD 5-door | 20,800
Maximum speed: 143mph | 0-60mph: 5.8 seconds
Test MPG: 30mpg | Power: 221bhp | Torque: 221lb ft

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