Advantages Fast. Handling AND Ride. Performance to £ Value Ratio.
Disadvantages Fuel Consumption. Depreciation. Not Everyone's Cup of Tea!
RICHADA, THE SOFT-CORE ENTHUSIAST!I pondered long and hard over a suitably witty or pithily gripping review title for this particular review and came down to a short-list of two - one appertaining to the Impreza WRX STi, the other to my own personal perception of myself as a car and motoring enthusiast.
It is only right to comment here that, until the launch of the latest Subaru Impreza, I had never felt any inclination to get behind the wheel of a hot Impreza, let alone to actually OWN one!My soft-core enthusiast tendencies may come about partly through age, although, in truth, I always preferred a comfortable riding and quiet, discreet, car to one that either screamed fast - or 'I'm rich' - or both. Please do not get me wrong though, I love speed and have a penchant for big engines - preferably with as many cylinders as possible. In the real world though, one has a budget and an environmental conscience - over the past six months or so, with escalating fuel costs, these two factors have careered towards one another until blurring into one - right before my eyes……
……'what has all this to do with one very fast Japanese five door hatchback?' I hear you ask, well read on and hopefully all will be revealed.I am, and always have been a Subaru World Rally Championship supporter, please do not ask me why, maybe it has something to do with the little guys (Subaru) taking on the might of Ford and winning - very often!
However, in our neck of the woods, the Impreza WRX has a frankly poor reputation, brought about by being driven noisily by chavs with nothing better to do than disturb the populace at large. However good the hot Subaru Impreza may have been, thanks to this image it was never a car that I was interested in.Added to the chav factor is the practical consideration that, fast and reasonably priced as they have always been, these highly strung, very sporting small cars have always been too noisy and hard riding for sensible long distance motoring. How many times have we laughed as we have swept past one on the motorway, being driven at around 65mph because it is simply too noisy to drive much faster? Have I EVER been overtaken by one on a motorway? Don't think so!
With all of these pre-conceived ideas I approached the new Subaru Impreza WRX STi with some sense of trepidation.It should also be declared here that I approached the WRX STi as a soon to be Subaru owner…..that is as in the very different Subaru Legacy, NOT Subaru Impreza, which is the car that everyone automatically associates with this marque.
WHAT IS IT?The Subaru Impreza is the Japanese company's competitor in the "Focus" class, the family hatchback category, which becomes ever more popular as people down-size from larger cars.
The latest model is a five door hatchback, replacing both the four door saloon and rather ungainly five door "Sport-hatch" offered on the previous model. In terms of size it is 4.415 metres long and 1.74 wide, slightly longer, but considerably narrower, than a Ford Focus.The Impreza has certain features, more of which later, unique to the class in which it competes, most notably four wheel drive and a horizontally opposed engine configuration.
All in all though, uninspiring as most would tell you this car looks, it is in so many other ways a very much more well-rounded package than its predecessor. Surprisingly, in our eyes at least, this is one car that actually looks vastly better on the road than on the printed page.WHICH SPECIFIC MODEL?
…….Just thinking out loud, I wonder how many of you saw Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear comparing one of these to a Mitsubishi Evo on Sunday evening, well at least you will know which car I am talking about here! Regrettably, Jeremy was £1,500 shy of Subaru's new asking price……One always finds out most about a brand new model by driving the most basic car in the range, in the Impreza's case we are talking about a £12,995 1.5 litre, 106bhp family hatchback. That model is something of a bargain actually, being equipped with four wheel drive and all the equipment that you would sensibly require in a family car.
RICHADA broke this golden rule however by heading straight for the other end of the range - the very top indeed, the extremely sporting WRX STi, which packs a lot more of everything! Keep in mind, if you will, that this car is a similar size and weight to a top end Ford Focus model and the following statistics look in a sense out of proportion with its' status in life:ENGINE SIZE (cc) - 2457
BHP - 296PULLING POWER (Torque lbs / ft) - 300
WEIGHT (kg) - 1530Subaru's top of the range models are very much sporting cars rather than luxury ones. The old WRX had quite a reputation as a hard core enthusiast's car; winning rally after rally did nothing to harm its provenance either. Indeed Subaru are now rallying this new model and it appears to be popular with those skilled enough to compete in it.
Having read the motoring press, almost universally, slate the new WRX STi as having gone "soft" and seeing it loose comparative test after comparative test to its' arch rival the Mitsubishi EVO, I was starting to wonder if this could actually be MORE the car for me than the old one.IN WHAT CAPACITY AM I REVIEWING THIS CAR?
I am reviewing this car with my fleet manager's hat on. Thanks to my invitation to the Millbrook Testing Ground from Fleet News Magazine to their Company Car In Action event, I have this year been able to compare many cars back to back, using two test tracks that simulate driving conditions that you would be hard pressed to encounter during many thousands of miles of ordinary motoring.Millbrook is a venue, that having attended for years, I am thoroughly familiar with. It allows direct comparison between various models. Being "closed circuits", the facilities there also allow you to drive at speeds which would, on public roads, be highly irresponsible. The importance of testing cars in this way is to find out just how a car behaves in extreme conditions i.e. on the limit, for instance in an emergency braking situation on the road, or perhaps a rapid and not anticipated lane changing manoeuvre.
OK, that is the official line at least! I am driving this car purely as an enthusiast and for the experience of it; is it fun? Is it a tiresome brute to drive? Indeed, can ANY car this size be worth as much as £26,500?COSTS
If you have to ask, you are probably not in the position, financially, to be able to run a WRX STi - settle for a more humble 2.0 version and have 80% of the ability and 50% of the thrills.Having decided that yes, you are seriously looking at purchasing this car, or a car of this type (almost certainly comparing it to the Mitsubishi), then running costs are going to be in line with the £26,500 asking price.
Insurance is an expectedly steep group 19 of 20. Cars such as this scare the living excrement out of insurance brokers - especially when driven by the ownership profile to whom they appeal most!Unfortunately I was unable to discover a monthly leasing cost figure for the STi, an intelligent guess would indicate a figure in the region of £500 - £530 per month, no bargain certainly, but class competitive.
What is going to hit a private motorist, or company car driver alike, is the inevitably high CO2 level of 243g/kg. You are going to pay the maximum in tax on every aspect of motoring in this Subaru.Have I put you off yet? I hope not!
PURCHASE COST 8 / 10This is SO difficult! £26,595 on the road is a lot of money for a Focus class car. However, that same £26.5K is actually peanuts for a car providing this level of performance and handling prowess. I guess that it all depends on your priorities. VXR8 recently reviewed.
THE OPTIONS GAME: 10 / 10 or "How much do I need to spend to make it habitable?"As always, well done Subaru on this score. A very reasonable £360 for metallic paint and this fully equipped car (hands free telephone wiring at £135 is the only other option) is yours.
DEPRECIATION 4 / 10 - Always the biggest running cost.This is a brand new model and as such this is going to be tricky to evaluate. So much depends on it "catching on" with the young enthusiasts who buy a second hand one after two or three years use.
The last model, particularly the saloon, is still very much sought after and perceived as a hard core enthusiast's car. This new hatchback, partly thanks to the lacklustre press reviews (and Jeremy's two-pennyworth) is going to have a harder time of it on the second hand market - that and the £26.5K new asking price is, I think, going to hit second hand values quite hard.Those statisticians "in the know" are predicting a very poor 31% value of new cost at three years and 36,000 miles. If that indeed turns out to be reality, your £26,500 WRX STi is only going to be worth £8250 when you have finished with it - that figure alone is going to make this one VERY expensive car to run.
The best advice that I can give here is that if you really fancy one of these - and I wouldn't blame you - then letting someone else take the initial depreciation is the way to go - drive a hard bargain on an ex-dealer demonstrator, probably you would pay around £20,000 for a nine month old / 6,000 mile example.FUEL ECONOMY 3 / 10
Firstly I should mention that this engine likes a diet of the more expensive 98 Octane "super-unleaded". It will run on the ordinary petrol, but fuel consumption will be higher and the car will not perform to its highly strung best.A 13.2 gallon tankful of expensive Super is going to take you less than 300 miles in the WRX STi. Subaru's own claimed combined average consumption figure is 27.4mpg. Knowing how much fuel petrol engine Subarus like to drink, realistically I think you would need to accept anything over 22mpg as a bonus.
In a proper road test, under gentle touring conditions Autocar magazine achieved a figure of 23.5mpg, during testing - indeed the way that I was driving it at Millbrook - your £6 gallon is going to transport you a mere 6.3 miles!Cars with much larger and even more powerful engines offer much better real world fuel economy. In terms of fuel consumption this is going to be one VERY expensive car to run.
SERVICE & MAINTENANCE COSTS 6 / 10: are you going to make the dealer rich?A visit to the Subaru dealer will be required every 12,000 miles, or each year - whichever comes first. From our own experience, at two out of three dealers you will get an enthusiastic and knowledgeable reception……expect problems at the third dealership where all the staff only started "last week" and do not know a very complex Subaru from a saucepan.
These are very tough and reliable cars, no matter how highly tuned the engines. Regular servicing will be cheap compared to anything else with this level of performance. Budget on around £250 - £300 for routine services, but far more for new tyres, which if driven enthusiastically your Impreza can wear out very quickly indeed, 5000 mile tyre replacements are not unknown on this car. Brake pads may also be a regular maintenance expense, especially if you intend taking part in track days, as many owners do.Let the "fun" begin! You want to know what this car is like to live with and to drive and be driven in…….
THE EXTERIOR:STYLING 7 /10: A very subjective category here.
Personally I have a strange love / hate relationship with the appearance of this car. I detest "blinged" cars - big rear wings, huge front air dams and caricature wheels and tyres. The old Impreza WRX overstepped the mark as far as I am concerned and in sheer styling terms will forever - in my eyes - be a blingmobile.On initial sighting in the motoring press, I disliked this Impreza equally much, but for a totally different reason. Subaru had, on the printed page at least, designed a car so dull that I could not imagine who they were trying to make it appeal to - certainly the boy racers were no longer going to be interested!
However, a rather odd thing happened. Visiting three English and then a Polish Subaru dealer, all of whom had both demonstrators and showroom stock, I found that this is one car that looks so unbelievably better in the metal that I really wondered if those photographs had been of the same car.Please do not get me wrong, this five door hatch is no great beauty, but it is neat and far more discreet looking than any WRX has been before. The electric blue STi into which we stepped I actually thought looked pretty cool, the widened front wheel arches and open radiator hole in the bonnet lending it a decidedly muscular character - which actually turns out to be 100% in character with its driving characteristics.
Compared to other similar hatches though, the Impreza remains no beauty - we had just stepped out of a stunning looking metallic black Civic Type-R, the new sporting Focus too will be a much better looking car, so too, dare I say, the Mitsubishi Evo.One unmistakeable styling cue in this hot Impreza model are the four exhaust pipes sticking out from under the rear bumper. On a black STi they simply scream "Thunderbirds are GO!".
OVERALL BUILD QUALITY AND FINISH 9 / 10 Does it look as though it was slung together?Always solidly built, Subaru have spent the last few years applying the top gloss to their range of cars, and with this model, that now applies to the Impreza too. I have looked at around half a dozen of these cars, in various colours and trim specifications, all have been impressive.
SAFETY 9 /10 If it comes to the worst, how well are you and your family going to come out of it.This is one car that is very definitely only as safe as the person behind the wheel. Driven irresponsibly all the fancy technology in the world is not going to stop the STi having one almighty high speed crash.
I actually felt entirely safe in this car, as did my wife in the passenger seat. Other very fast cars were driven on the same routes at Millbrook, but this one felt the safest negotiating twists and turns at speeds eight out of ten other cars driven would have rolled off the track.This is a highly specialised car, a direct result of Subaru's many years of success in rallying, at ordinary road speeds it feels 200% safe, at all times you are aware of what huge extra safety margins are built into this car. Dynamically it does nothing that you do not expect it to - it simply feels strong and massively solid under ordinary driving conditions.
That last comment very much reflects the operation and "feel" of the brakes too - they are built to take repeated punishment at high speeds - in ordinary UK or continental driving conditions again you will never have less than a huge safety margin in reserve.In terms of passive safety features it has all of the airbags and braking assist devices that you would expect in a modern car.
In truth unless you are suicidal, or a simply irresponsible driver, the Impreza WRX STi, by nature, offers you a margin of safety that no other car that I have driven with this performance can compete with.THE INTERIOR:
ERGONOMICS 9 / 10 Before I can start the engine and drive away I need to feel at home in the "working environment". The relationship between the controls and how I, the driver, am able to instinctively operate those controls is, all important. This for me is make or break, before I drive a car, if it does not instinctively "feel" right in this department then I will never like it or ultimately buy it.Those used to "premium" interiors offered by Audi or BMW for instance, are not going to like it very much in the cabin of an STi Impreza. That is a pity, because in terms of pure ergonomics there is absolutely nothing wrong with this cabin at all.
In fact, Subaru have vary carefully honed the standard Impreza dashboard and controls to tailor them for the massive performance hike provided by this model.As a first time driver in this car I particularly appreciated the (gear) change up light and buzzer, it revs so quickly and feely that you are watching the road rather than the rev-counter, the light and buzzer actually make the rev-counter redundant!
The relationship between the driver and controls is perfect. The half leather half suede material front seats are supremely comfortable and support in all the right places, they manually adjust very easily too - it took me literally seconds to find my ideal driving position in this car.VISIBILITY: 7 / 10
To the front, and directly to the sides, the Impreza shares the usual Subaru virtue of excellent visibility. Over the shoulder and to the rear it all falls apart a little here though, I particularly disliked the blacked-out rear side windows on the car we drove too.Partly as compensation very large and totally non-sporty door mirrors are fitted to the car which affords excellent rear visibility. I found this a very easy car to reverse park without the aid of any electronic devices.
SPACE: 8 / 10:We were actually very surprised by the amount of space inside the Impreza, however due to the narrower body, this car really qualifies more as a four, rather than five seater, although three children would be comfortably accommodated in the rear. Three rear seat belts and head rests are provided.
The bulky front sports seats in this model take up more space than in the more humble versions too, although generally there appears to be no lack of space, front or rear. The dashboard is cutaway in front of the passenger; this gives the impression of considerable extra front seat space. Wherever you sit in the car headroom is not an issue either.STYLE 7 / 10:
One has to say that the majority of Subaru's budget went on the chassis rather than the interior styling. On the other hand at least it avoids the ever increasingly popular 'styled for the sake of it look'.The interior is workmanlike and practical rather than stylish.
MATERIALS, FIT & FINISH 8 / 10: Aspreys or Ratners?Where the style may be lacking, on the whole, the quality makes up for this.
This is a very firmly sprung car, Millbrook is a very testing arena for interior shakes and rattles, pleasingly the STi exhibited none.As with any other recent Subaru driven, I have to comment that any surfaces your hands make contact with - primarily the gearlever and steering wheel - have a terrific "feel good" quality. This very much enhances the Impreza's likeability factor.
AUDIO & CLIMATE CONTROL SYSTEMS 8 / 10: Strange grouping?Not the last word in high-tech, but the radio and climate controls are well separated here and all the better for it.
The climate control is a simple rotary controlled affair - lacking even a split heat distribution. It is however a reminder of how well a very simple system can work.ON THE ROAD……..
……Time to start it up and to offer you a driving assessment.NOISE, VIBRATION & HARSHNESS 10 / 10 Silk purse or sow's ear?
Frankly this is where the big shock occurred, as soon as, without the slightest drama, I started it up. No lumpy tick-over, no blipping the throttle to keep it ticking-over. It was not half as noisy as I expected either, those four exhausts really are surprisingly muted.I am not going to describe this as a quiet car, the noise it makes is actually quite intoxicating, that lovely very deep, muscular flat four burble - sounds more like a big capacity eight cylinder engine. However, treat it as an ordinary runabout and it really makes no more noise than many 1.6 litre family hatches.
One of the main selling points of a flat four, or horizontally opposed, engine is the lack of vibration. This 2.5 litre, tuned (not quite) to its maximum, is absolutely no exception, it may have 300bhp, but it remains one of the smoothest powerplants that I have sat behind.Harshness? The previous generation Impreza was harsh - from outside or in. This one is not, which, for me, is all to the good.
PERFORMANCE 10 / 10 Sh*t off a shovel or a constipated tortoise?The phantom shovel polisher's been at work again……
……it may be smooth, passably quiet and amazingly refined, but the first time that you put your foot to the floor and head more rapidly than you ever have towards next week, you will be left in no doubt that this is a seriously fast car.Seriously, very fast.
`We are talking about a five door family hatchback here that can reach 60mph in 5.2 seconds. 100mph in 12.9. Top speed is electronically limited to 155mph. (Thanks to Autocar magazine for those figures)To match those figures you are going to need something much more expensive and exotic (there are slower Ferrari's) …… or a Mistubishi EVO!
In a car this small, this fast, you really do feel like the fastest thing on four wheels. Depending on your perception, that may be a very good, or a very bad thing.I found it a unique experience.
I am experienced at driving at very high speeds; mostly in de-restricted Germany, I have also driven a fair few very fast cars. Without any shadow of a doubt the Subaru Impreza WRX STi eclipses them all when it comes to sheer seat of the pants performance.It does not have the same kind of massively flexible performance provided by the Vauxhall VXR8, you will need to use the fabulous gear box a little more in the STi, but do so and thanks to its lighter weight its sprinting ability is even greater.
A centre console mounted rotary control operates the SI-DRIVE (Subaru Intelligent Drive) system. This allows you a degree of manual control over the engine management system.Subaru recommend that for most purposes the car be left in Sport mode. Half way around the track I twisted the knob to the right; engaging the incredibly aptly named Sport Sharp Mode. It may not actually boost the already towering performance, but it certainly improves the throttle response, making the car FEEL all the faster…..as if it needed to!
RIDE & HANDLING 10 / 10The WRX STi has a lot of fancy technology built into its four wheel drive system allowing the driver to "set up" the car on the move. The nerve-centre of this is the Driver Control Centre Differential, which at the flick of a switch in the cabin allows you to transfer extra power to the front or rear wheels, depending on just how you prefer the car to handle, or indeed to take account of prevailing road and weather conditions.
To make better use of this, I would need an evening with the handbook and another session at Millbrook, however, I can tell you that pressing the buttons noticeably changed the handling dynamics of the car.The steering feel and precision is about as good as it gets in any mass produced modern car these days, light enough at parking speeds, but reassuringly weighty and full of feel once you pick up speed.
My wife's comment was; 'could you IMAGINE crossing Germany on their (twisty and hilly) autobahn in one of these?' Well actually now, yes I could!......……and I also can imagine wasting an hours' driving time making three extra fuel stops…..
……oh and the round trip costing an extra £310……What, however, left me REALLY impressed with this car was that the massive performance felt in no way manic as I had expected it to, it felt grown up - refined even…….yes the perfect car for the SOFT CORE enthusiast!
FINAL SCORE: 123 / 170 - 72.35%In order to be fair to every car that I review, my scoring system treats all equally and is in no way "weighted". It was originally devised with my own specific requirements in mind, those requirements being a balanced compromise of running costs, every day liveability and performance and dynamic ability. In practice, the resulting percentage scores shown below very much sum up my personal opinions of the cars against which they appear.
The Subaru Impreza's 72.35% score is the first exception to that. I like this particular car 100 times more than I expected to - my comment upon returning the key was that it was a "revelation". I drove it, got out and said "yes, I WANT one". Then I did the sensible thing, looked long and hard at the figures involved. It may well be, for me (not the HARD core enthusiast remember!) the best fun to drive of any car that I have driven, but so also would it in practical terms be the most expensive.Were I rich enough to be able to afford to run one of these, regrettably I would in the first place buy something more in keeping with the running costs - a Porsche 911 at £61,620, would paradoxically, be a much sounder financial investment.
The score of 123 - 72.35% is bang on the money for the Impreza WRX STi, my formula has indeed proven itself wiser than I!Putting that score into perspective are the following cars based on identical scoring criteria:
ALFA ROMEO 147 1.9JTD Lusso (5 Dr) - 67.8%
BMW 320d SE Convertible - 78.8%
FIAT PUNTO GRANDE SPORTING 130 Mjet - 75.9%
HONDA ACCORD i-CTDi Saloon - 80.0%
HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC SE - 78.2%
HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC S i-SHIFT - 68.8%
HONDA CIVIC IMA SE - 73.5%
HONDA JAZZ 1.4 SE CVT-7 (Automatic) - 74.7%
SUBARU OUTBACK 2.0D RE - 85.3%
SAAB 9-3 TiD Vector - 68.2%
SAAB 9-3 TiD Linear CONVERTIBLE (2007 Mondel) - 74.1%
VAUXHALL ASTRA TWINTOP 1.9 CDTi DESIGN - 78.8%
VAUXHALL VXR8 - 84.1 %
VAUXHALL MONARO VXR - 71.1%
VW PASSAT TDi 140 S ESTATE - 71.7%
VOLVO S60 D5 SE - 70.6%
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