SUBARU’S Impreza, like its sparring partner the Mitsubishi Evo, is always associated with flat-out hell-far-leather speed.
Actually it’s the WRX and all its variations which are the speed merchants of the range – the standard Impreza is a modest affair suitable for the family.
When the WRX first hit the streets it made a massive splash, bringing Subaru’s rallying credentials to the roads of the UK.
It had startling pace, great handling and looked the part, too. Gold wheels, rear massive spoiler, spotlights – it was a boy racer’s dream.
This latest version of the Impreza is a much more civilised affair – up to a point.
The gold wheels have been replaced by more sedate darker ones, the spotlights have gone and the Impreza looks more like your average family hatchback than a muscle car, at home on the school run or doing the shopping.
But that’s not the whole story. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing – beneath that unassuming exterior still lurks the heart of a demon.
A look at the statistics sheet gives a hint – I drove the Subaru Impreza WRX S, which notches up 62mph in 5.9 seconds, but the STi knocks a second off that. The ridiculous 330S knocks a further half a second off that, too.
Switch on the ignition and there’s a highpitched growl as all the white needles flick round to the maximum, then back again, and the triple dials on the dash blaze a demonic red.
The Subaru Impreza is, with foot to the floor, off the mark on the B of bang. But equally impressive, if not more so, is the pace the 2.5-litre engine possesses through the gears.
The pick-up is so instant in low revs that you can overtake in any gear. Second gear builds on the slings hot flurry of first gear but in third, fourth and fifth you still get an instant response with a dip of the pedal.
Ease up on the pace for a little while and, bang, the Impreza is up to speed again instantly and effortlessly when it’s needed.
But with great power comes great responsibility and that speed has to be harnessed. The Impreza’s four-wheel drive means that it handles like a dream. Corners come and go with a minimum of fuss. Half way round a tight corner the Impreza feels like it’s on a meandering curve. The steering is tight and you get a good feel of the tarmac.
Although firm, the suspension isn’t uncomfortable in day-to-day driving, and it will absorb all but the deepest ruts in the road. In fact, despite its shuddering power, this Impreza is comfortable as a family car.
Although it will catapult away at speed it’s happy to pull off steadily and you can move through the gears at a leisurely pace. It’s a comfortable drive, with a good driving position and plenty of head and legroom, although the boot is a little on the shallow side.
Inside the cabin things are neat and tidy but in a drab grey and black. The plastics are hard to the touch, and seem to be everywhere you look. The main console which houses the sixCD changer couldn’t be described as subtle, either, but everything is within reach, simply laid out and the heating dials are easy to operate while on the move.
That high-pitched whine is effectively muted at all speeds and it’s a quiet ride, only disturbed by a little wind noise around the big rear mirrors. There’s good visibility front, back and sides, too. The WRX comes with a good selection of goodies and plenty of security and safety measures.
Starting at around £18,000 for the WRX-S rising to £26,000 for the 303S (where you can still get gold and silver wheels – good news for boy racers), the WRX manages to combine the performance of a muscle car with the practicality of a family saloon.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks is going to be fuel economy, though. After weeks of driving green cars with eco in the title, it was strange to be back behind the wheel of a car unashamedly guzzling the gas.
Its official figures are 19.5 mpg on the urban cycle and 29 on extra urban, which makes a combined 24.6mpg, but a burst of power over half a mile can visibly move the petrol gauge. Subaru Impreza WRX S Fuel : There’s not a green illumination on sight on the dashboard. And there are shocking C02 figures of 270glkg. that’s will push road tax up.
But if you’re willing to make a few extra trips to the petrol station – and be the subject of disapproving frowns from anyone driving a car with eco in its name – the Impreza is a brilliant car to drive, with great handling and huge power.
It may be getting more civilised in its old age but it’s still a boy racer at heart.
Subaru Impreza WRX S
Engine : 2.5litre Petrol
Transmission: fice speed manual
0-62: 5.9 seconds
Top Speed: 130mph
Combined MPG: 24.6mpg
OTR Price: £18,000