More modern rivals claim more sophistication but none of the thrills they deliver are quite the same as those you’ll get at the wheel of this Subaru.
So. What’s it like? Are we reprising the old Impreza legend here? First impressions certainly make it seem that way. The focused rally-bred sense of purpose is as strong as ever. Firing the distinctive Boxer engine delivers a further throw-back, its characteristic flat-four throb certain to twang the heart strings of WRX devotees across the land. In other words, any fears that this car might have become slick and, well, different in its old age are very firmly groundless.
For a start, it’s very, very quick. The 2. 5-litre turbo engine’s 300PS of power and 407Nm of torque will do that for you. It doesn’t initially feel that way when first you put your foot down, but that’s because the car delivers turbolag at a level you might have mentally consigned to cars of the Nineties. Subaru reckons this tweaked Euro6-compliant engine has improved in this respect. Get beyond three and a half thousand revs though and the thing starts to really fly, 62mph flashing by in 5. 2s as the horizon spools towards you as if on fast-forward. It’s just as well that the Brembo brakes are mighty.
On a straight road, it’d keep going all the way to 159mph, but you won’t want to drive the STi on a straight road. No, as every rally-derived machine should be, it’s at its best on the twisty stuff, preferably in the wet, preferably on a slippery surface. There’s certainly a lot to be said for a car that can make 60mph on a country lane feel ridiculously exciting. In the Subaru, you’re always absolutely hardwired into the experience of keeping the thing on the island.
You’d know it was a WRX wouldn’t you? Certainly almost everything else you expect the car to visually deliver is present and correct. Tick off deep front spoiler, huge gaping bonnet scoop, ground-hugging side skirts and enormous rear wing. It might not be pretty but it definitely has presence, especially when painted in the iconic WR Blue Pearl colour scheme and fitted with the gold wheels so beloved by the STi faithful.
Up front, the trademark hexagonal grille is now gloss black and flanked by smarter ‘hawk eye’-style LED headlamps and lower placed front foglights that together aim to emphasise the car’s wide, low stance.
It’s easier to get in up front too, thanks to wider door openings and lower side sills. Once you do, you’ll need to manage your expectations, for no attempt has really been made to match the slush-moulded sophistication you’d find in a rival Golf R or Audi S3. This is a cabin for driving, not one for relaxing in. Drivers of the previous generation model will understand that and people of that sort are likely to be very happy with the improvements Subaru has been minded to make.
You’ll love the superbly supportive sculpted ‘STi’-embossed front sports seats that, beautifully trimmed in leather and alcantara, position you perfectly in front of the small-diameter flat-bottomed leather-stitched sports steering wheel. Through it, you glimpse a dual-dial display that’s bathed in evocative red lighting and headlined by a 3. 5-inch LCD screen flanked by white-needled gauges that are finished with smart aluminium rings.
The German brands think they’ve plagiarised the formula that for so long has made this car so special. True enough, if you’re in search of something relatively affordable with 300PS, turbo power and four wheel drive, there’ll be easier, more accessible options for you than the one Subaru provides. Don’t expect them to give you a unique experience though. Don’t expect a car that in standard production form is capable of shattering the Isle of Man TT road course record. Don’t expect a Subaru WRX STi.
Get beyond the surface irritations and for the real enthusiast, there’s an addiction that’s hard to resist. The rush of the turbo when it comes on song. The way the wheel writhes in your hands as you stamp on the brake pedal and throw the car into a bend. The astonishing traction that pins you to the road surface like an unseen hand. For the WRX faithful, it'll all be quite magical. If you’re among their number and think the best and fastest modern hot hatches are just that bit too civilised and boring, well, you know what to do.