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Subaru Impreza 2.5 WRX S

Click to view picture gallery“Never driven a Scooby? If you
think Subarus hot-hatch Imprezas
  are only for petrolheads then think
  again. Our advice? G
et behind
the wheel of the quick but user-
  friendly WRX S

WHILE YOU COULD BUY the 155mph road-racer STI 330 S that scorches to 60mph in a gut-wrenching 4.4 seconds, the less hardcore WRX S represents an excellent compromise between seriously fast and enjoyably quick everyday driving.

Based on the WRX, the 21,790 'S' appeals from the off by offering 4,500 worth of extra value for just a 2,500 premium. First up for tweaks — all carried out by Banbury-based Prodrive — has been the 2.5-litre 'boxer' engine's ECU. The result of the ECU reprogramming, along with a Prodrive exhaust system, can be immediately felt once behind the wheel: power has gone up from 226bhp to 252bhp; and torque has also increased — by a substantial 51lb ft, jumping from 236 at 2,800rpm to 288lb ft at 3,000rpm.

Top speed is pegged at 130mph and the 0-60mph time is a more than respectable 5.9 seconds. As you'd expect from the step up in torque, in-gear flexibility is crisp and the unit copes easily in town amongst congested traffic. The WRX S's official fuel consumption figures are Urban 19.5mpg, Combined 24.6 and Extra Urban 29.1mpg. CO2 emissions are 270g/km. Our week's enthusiastically-driven test resulted in an average of 23.6mpg.

Externally the WRX S looks the part, thanks to the distinguishing bonnet air intake-cum-power bulge, black honeycomb STI front grille, STI front lip spoiler, body-coloured STI rear roof spoiler, wraparound rear bumper with integrated diffuser and 18-inch GT1 alloy wheels finished in Anthracite wearing 'rubber band' 225/40 Pirelli P-Zero Nero tyres that not only look good but also enhance turn-in.

Inside the cockpit you'll now find a Momo 'Air-Race' aluminium-and-leather gear knob, leather-wrapped steering wheel and 10-speaker audio system while out of sight there's all-wheel drive and a rear limited-slip differential with Subaru's Vehicle Dynamics Control system.

A driver-friendly
‘working’ environment
with decent soft-touch
plastics; red-on-black
dials glow intensely
when you twist the key
in the ignition
The cabin provides the same driver-friendly 'working' environment with decent soft-touch plastics and the blood red-on-black dials glow intensely when you twist the key in the ignition. The three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel is track-day hard but feels good in your hands and features audio and cruise control buttons on the horizontal spokes.

The bucket-type front sports seats, upholstered in leather and Alcantara, are as grippy and supportive as they look and sport embroidered 'WRX S' motifs. The climate control knobs are large and foolproof and the hi-fi is more than capable of entertaining you when the WRX S's performance is not.

Other standard equipment includes automatic climate control air conditioning, cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls, four electric windows (driver's with one-shot auto up/down), heated, electrically adjustable and power-fold door mirrors, a decent sound system with CD/MP3/WMA RDS Radio, 10 speakers, in-dash autochanger and remote audio steering wheel controls, auxiliary audio input for MP3 player (3.5mm jack), leather/auto suede seat and interior trim with embroidered logos on seatbacks, trip computer, WRX S branded carpet mats, speed-sensitive power steering, 60:40 split/fold rear seat, hill start assist, reach and tilt adjustable steering wheel, height and tilt adjustable driver's seat, height-adjustable front seat belts, Xenon headlamps with automatic levelling and pop-up headlamp washers, rear privacy glass, rear wash/wipe and a windscreen wiper de-icer and, always useful, an illuminated ignition switch.

You also get driver and front passenger airbags, front side airbags and curtain airbags, ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Emergency Brake Assist, a centre differential with viscous LSD, Subaru's Vehicle Dynamics Control and, of course, symmetrical all-wheel drive.

You'll find plenty of space up front along with decent room in the back, made better for those travelling in the rear by a comfortable backrest angle although there's no centre armrest but you do get three rear seat belts and Isofix child seat mountings. Thanks to the high rear roofline the rear cabin is spacious and will just accommodate two six-footers although the middle seat is best for a child. So four adults can travel in the Impreza hatchback — and for long trips. Note that the ride quality in the rear is particularly good for a sporting hatch. The boot will hold 301 litres of luggage; drop down the split rear seats and the boot converts to a 1,216-litre cargo bay with a perfectly level floor.

is no shrinking violet
and its handling
composure, even when
pushed hard,
is consistent and
What makes the zippy WRX S an ideal everyday car is the pliant ride — not too rigid but not too soft either. And it's good enough to make the hatchback Scooby very pleasant everyday transport. That said, neither does the ride degrade the Impreza's handling qualities so getting from A to B — particularly on demanding B-roads — is enjoyable. And all made even more pleasant by the five-speed manual 'box's light, slick and precise change action.

While not as hard-charging as the monstrously quick STi versions, the WRX S is no shrinking violet and its handling composure, even when pushed hard, is consistent and predictable. Body roll is well controlled and grip is always 'sticky' — and most appreciated when tackling fast bends and second-gear corners. Better still, one doesn't need to be a rally ace stay in control. The WRX S is a very easy car to drive quickly and safely — and, Yes, you would let you mother drive it!

Like the harder-charging STi variants, the WRX S is still a committed driver; the speed-sensitive power steering is confidence-inspiringly accurate and nicely in sync with the traction-rich symmetrical all-wheel drive chassis. As a driving machine it all works a treat. Add to that great progressive brakes and the WRX S delivers a tasty brew of 'hot' and 'hatch'.

The WRX S is an affable and competent hot hatch that's both easy and pleasurable to drive, comfortable for four adults and it even rides over speed bumps and our potholed British roads with surprisingly acceptable finesse. For the price and the easily accessible performance, it's perfect for part-time as well as devoted driving enthusiasts. — MotorBar

Subaru Impreza 2.5 WRX S
| 21,790
Maximum speed: 130mph | 0-60mph: 5.9 seconds | Overall test MPG: 23.6mpg
Power: 252bhp | Torque: 288lb ft | CO2 270g/km