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Subaru Impreza 2.5 WRX STi Type UK

Click to view picture galleryThe old ‘Scooby has gone.
  But don
t mourn its passing.
  Enter the new Scooby — more
  powerful
and featuring some
  new rally-bred toys that make
  it even more appealing than
  its predecessor. And
it costs
  1,600 less than the old one
...”

A WHOLE GENERATION GREW UP LUSTING after a 'Scooby' — in particular the top-of-the-tree B-road master-blaster, the WRX STi. With a rally pedigree, all-wheel drive and a potent turbocharged engine under its gaping trademark bonnet-bulge — and an affordable price — its appeal was obvious. Then, at a stroke, Subaru replaced the iconic, instantly-recognisable (thanks to an OTT 'picnic tray' boot spoiler) three-box Impreza with the latest generation's all-new five-door hatchback-packaged version. Worse than that, the new car is all grown up: roomier, better finished, quieter and more practical than the rapscallion Scooby of old. And it still gets those looks.

Initial shock from the marque's performance-loving 'faithful' at the radically altered look (compared to the previous Impreza) soon gave way to big smiles once they got behind the wheel and discovered that what hadn't changed was the Scooby's competition-honed abilities. Not that the new five-door body lacks presence: a gaping air scoop still crowns and defines the bonnet; still doing its real-world job of forcing air into the turbocharger. Blistered front wings stretch out over the WRX STi Type UK's widened track (45mm front and 40mm rear wider than the standard Impreza models) and house wider 17 x 8-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels shod with 235/45 Dunlop Sport rubber, and there's a mesh grille and deep front bumper design with sporty vertical air vents at either side to help cool the intercooler.

There's still a substantial rear spoiler but now — thankfully — it's roof-mounted instead of boot-mounted; and no longer a hindrance to rear-view visibility but a genuine aerodynamic component. The distinctive clear tail lights are LED units. And don't worry — no-one will mistake your range-topping Impreza WRX STi Type UK for an everyday Subaru Impreza. Especially overtaken drivers, who are treated to a view of four large exhaust tailpipes twinned at either side of the body poking out from under the lower rear apron and a large red 'STi' badge.

Swing open the new model's driver's door and you'll see that the interior has come in for a redesign, too. The fascia is now curvy but the focus is definitely on the driver with a set of blood red on black dials that glow intensely when you fire-up the engine — this is still a 'working' cockpit. The three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel is hard but feels good in your hands and sports a bold STi logo along with audio and cruise control buttons located on the horizontal spokes. It also adjusts for both height and reach, with plenty of adjustment in both planes.

The rally-style bucket seats, upholstered in leather and Alcantara, look inviting and provide comfort and grippy support during long trips and during seriously committed driving. The driver's seat gets height adjustment. Also on the comfort front, the climate control dials are simple and effective and, when you're in the mood for some non-mechanical entertainment, the hi-fi sounds good.

It may be a driving-oriented machine but that doesn't mean the range-topping WRX STI lacks for goodies — the previously mentioned climate control AirCon, cruise control, leather and Alcantara seats, four electric windows (the driver's has one-shot auto up/down facility) and door mirrors (with powered fold-back), a decent sound system with a 6-disc in-dash CD autochanger and MPS input, 17-inch alloys, Brembo brakes and HID headlamps are all standard equipment.

This new Impreza's wheelbase is actually 95mm longer than the old car, despite being 50mm shorter nose-to-tail which contributes significantly to its new-found 'practical hatch' identity. Consequently there's plenty of room up front along with decent room in the back — helped by a comfortable backrest angle, although there's no centre armrest. Four near-six-footer adults can travel in this new hatchback; and for long trips, too. Behind the rear seats there's large boot capable of taking 301 litres of luggage, and the cabin has numerous storage cubbies and cup-holders dotted around — sufficient to suit most drivers' needs. Fold down the rear seats and the boot turns into a 1,216-litre load bay.

First 'imprezzions' are all favourable, starting with the ride quality which in turn makes the new Scooby a much, much easier car to live with on a daily basis. Given its sanitised new image the most important question, at least for marque enthusiasts is, How does it handle?

No worries here, guys. The Scooby has long been revered as a 'giant slayer' that for not much money (comparatively speaking) could give almost any supercar a hard run for its money getting from A to B, in particular on B-roads. Not forgetting, of course, its successes on the world's most demanding rally stages. As we said — no worries.

The STi sits on a well-honed chassis that makes excellent use of rally-derived know-how, including a centre viscous-coupling and limited-slip differentials front and rear to share grip front-to-rear and side-to-side, constantly adjusting for maximum road-holding.

Like its predecessor, the new generation Scooby also features some 'trick' features — principally the now-improved Driver's Control Centre Differential (DCCD) that, via a switch, allows the driver to manually select the torque distribution front to rear. For example, you can choose between having sharper cornering turn-in or more stable straight-line running. The system reverts to automatic mode every time the ignition is switched off.

In Manual mode the driver can adjust the front to rear torque distribution through varying degrees to suit different road conditions such as loose gravel or soft snow. The upgraded system fitted to the new Impreza WRX STi also allows the selection of three different 'Auto' modes. Auto mode is selected when the engine is started and is fine for most road conditions.

To improve traction on slippery roads the driver can use the Auto+ (plus) mode, which shares out the torque more evenly between all four driven wheels to enhance straight-line stability. Alternatively, the driver can use Auto- (minus) to increase agility, which it does by enhancing steering response by way of less torque-split interference.

Despite its much more pliant ride — courtesy of the new set-up featuring a multi-link double wishbone rear suspension — the STi has an astonishing ability to maintain handling composure in the face of quite extreme provocation. There's a tad of body roll in corners but in no way enough to compromise the car's amazing grip when attacking fast bends and second gear corners. This new STi also favours the less skilled: just about anybody can drive this new Scooby easily at a very hard pace indeed.

Also new to the WRX STi is Subaru's Si-Drive system. This gives the driver three different engine-response programmes at the turn of a switch, with 'Super-Sharp' mode giving the ultimate in throttle response.

The rack-and-pinion speed-sensitive power steering is reassuringly accurate and more than good enough for flowing 'no-fear' entry and exits through quick bends and corners — and the more speed you feed in, the more committed its tracking feels through the chosen line.

You'll be glad of all the commitment you can get with this new Scooby because the 2,457cc turbocharged all-alloy flat-four 'boxer' engine has been heavily revised — aimed at providing more flexibility alongside the increased 'wallop'. Installed lower in the chassis (to be precise: the front of the engine is 22mm lower than before with the differential centre down by 10mm) to improve the centre of gravity is a revised version of the previous model's 2.5-litre turbocharged powerplant. A larger intercooler has been fitted to force more cold air through the turbo and increases power. The new STi's bhp and torque are both better: up by 19bhp and 11lb ft respectively to 296bhp and 300lb ft at 4,000rpm.

The performance figures speak for themselves: 0-60mph in 4.8 seconds and a 155mph top speed. The terms 'hot' and 'hatch' are very much in sync here. However, the first time you drive the STi it doesn't actually feel as potent as you expect close to 300bhp to feel. The culprit turned out to be the standard 'sport' throttle response setting of the Si-Drive system. What you really want is the 'Super-Sharp' setting. Select that, and when your right foot goes down hard the turbo will wind up like a tornado while keeping you firmly on the ground.

You'll also be glad of the STi's powerful Brembo brakes — four-pot callipers at the front and two-pot at the rear; with ventilated discs all round. Initial pedal feel is hard; but then they're scrubbing off the speed in a manner that leaves you in no doubt as to their ability to ensure the Scooby stops as quickly as it goes.

Pottering around amongst the other traffic this flat-four's 296bhp can feel almost lazy. However, spool up the engine to around 4,000rpm and its character changes radically; be warned — at that point you'll need your hand ready on the gearknob if you're to change up and maintain your linear charge before the rev-limiter cuts in sharply at 6,700rpm. Talking of gear changing, the six-speed manual 'box benefits from a shorter throw and lighter action.

No doubt there will be a few who will bemoan the STi's 24,995 price tag. But only until they realise that at a fiver under 25K it's actually a substantial 1,600 less than the previous model, making this latest-generation Scooby a genuine performance bargain. Even when you find out that insurance is Group 19 and the 243g/km CO2 emissions will cost you 400 a year road tax, it won't cool your ardour.

Given the performance available, fuel consumption is no way as bad as you may have expected: during our week's road test the WRX STi averaged 23.6mpg — although hardcore driving bouts will cost you at the pumps. For the record, the official fuel consumption figures are 20.5, 27.4 and 34.4mpg respectively for urban, combined and extra-urban.

Nice to know in a car that 'flies' that there's plenty to keep you safe in an accident. It goes without saying that the full-time all-wheel drive is a major plus factor in the safety stakes — as, too, is the ABS with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution. And Subaru's Vehicle Dynamics Control system that allows the driver to select the best settings for the prevailing road conditions. You'll be pleased to know that, if the worst should ever happen, there are front, side and curtain airbags to cushion the blow.

Sure, there are other desirable hot hatches on the market but when it comes to delivering more pace and grip for your money, the World Rally Championship look-alike WRX STi Type UK is sure to satisfy both Subaru traditionalists and also new converts to the brand. — MotorBar

Subaru impreza 2.5 WRX STi Type UK
| 24,995
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-60mph: 4.8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 23.6mpg | Power: 296bhp | Torque: 300lb ft
CO2 243g/km | VED Band G 400 | Insurance group 19