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I've had two Subaru Imprezza Turbos now, a 2000 model (x-plate) and the newer-styled WRX from 2001 on a y-plate. Despite the newer model feeling slightly more tame than the old one and being a little easier to drive on a daily basis, one thing remained constant between both of them: you become a different person behind the wheel of this car.
Normal human beings, people who'll buy you a pint when they see you in the pub, stop to say hello to you in the street, be there to help out when you're in trouble, become hooligans behind the wheel of either of these models.
The Imprezza, in either guise, is an easy car to drive hard and fast. The car's performance is simply stunning, bred from world-class rally heritage; in fact, the road going car is made up of almost all the same components as the rally car, and certain derivatives of the road-going car can be purchased with similar performance enhancements on the engine as well. If you're stupid enough to want to go faster than the Imprezza will already let you.
With 0-60mph speeds sub-six seconds there are very few every-day cars you'll come across on the road that can match it for sheer performance. Combine that with simply breath-taking road handling, an ability to just turn into any corner at high speed and come safely out of the other side and you have a car that is worthy of the attentions of young boys and motoring enthusiasts alike; sadly, it is also the type of car that attracts the attention of joy riders and policemen.
My first Imprezza, a dark blue replica of the world rally model, was stolen in a car-jacking episode only to be later returned minus its wheels. Both of them got me pulled to the side of the road by traffic police on more than one occasion, despite not having committed an offence on any of them. In one incident I was followed for fifteen miles southbound on the M5 by an officer very obviously waiting for me to make a mistake; despite maintaining a steady seventy miles per hour and being passed by other traffic clearly breaking the speed limit the officer maintained his vigile on my sports car until he either got bored or was about to move out of his area. Or perhaps he just wanted a doughnut.
So as a driver's car this is undoubtedly a stunning piece of machinery, but let's not forget that such performance has to come from somewhere. My 2000 model replicated most of the designs of its rally kinship, with much of the soundproofing removed from the car; my 2001 model (whilst uglier) did have a little more soundproofing, but not much, though as a result was also about half a second slower to sixty from a standing start.
As a result, both were incredibly noisy to drive around in and after several hours hard graft on British motorways getting from one appointment to the other the wind noise would typically have driven me mad. Handsfree kits for mobile phones - and I tried a few in both of these cars - were next to useless: there was far too much noise for the caller to either here me or be heard unless the mobile phone itself was actually pressed hard to my ear, highly illegal here in the UK these days which meant that for several hours a day I was often unable to be contacted by colleagues or family.
Then there's the ride itself. For sheer fun and handling, the suspension itself is simply unbelievably good, but for long journies the jarring on your spine left you feeling numb and worn out. Even the shortest trip could leave you feeling fatigued.
But here comes the piece d'resistance, the bit that most sports cars fail to live up to: you can put more than two people in it, and their luggage. The Subaru is a full-sized family saloon with an ample boot which can comfortably hold two sets of golf clubs. And even fully loaded, the thing can still move; with five full grown adults in the car it was still difficult to unnerve the car in the corners.
So here we have a car that is approaching Porsche or elderly Ferrari performance, that can fit your entire family, is Japanese (so is ultra-reliable) and costs just a smidgen over £20'000, on the road. Modern versions come with climate control and CD players as standard and all come with one button I never did quite understand: it simply said *bright* and when you flick it the clock goes dimmer or brighter depending on its previous setting. Surely the Japanese could have figured out how to make this operate in conjunction with the main light switch...
If you're a family-person and want an incredible sports car that won't compromise days out with the kids, or if you're simply an overly-social person with lots of friends and the thought of a two-seater is too restrictive, then this is undoubtedly the car for you.
Despite the low fuel economy (roughly 21mpg), the high insurance costs, the attention of the police and other unsavoury characters, the low service intervals (just 7500 miles between visits to the dealer) and the slight image problem that driving such a yobbish car brings, I must confess that I thoroughly loved both of my Imprezzas and don't regret a single day of having them.
These days I'm a little more grown-up and my family travel around in a little more comfort, if perhaps not as much haste, but if I had some money to spend on a weekend car a second-hand Scooby-Doo would be at the top of my wish list.
Now, if you really want to know how fast it can go, you'll have to either buy one yourself or try and imagine just what I got the needle to read on both of them... ;-)