If there’s one car that’s sure to get performance fans excited, it’s the Subaru Impreza
. The turbocharged, four-wheel-drive model has won a dedicated and passionate following since it was introduced more than 15 years ago. However, the latest five-door version has failed to capture the imagination like previous models.
Competition from the Evo and a new generation of powerful hot hatches has left the Impreza trailing. In an effort to boost its fortunes, bosses have introduced this, the 330S. Based on the hot WRX STi, it gets a 29bhp power boost – which takes the overall output to an Evo-rivalling 325bhp –as well as a longer list of standard kit.
Externally, the 330S is identified by a set of handsome 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels. Elsewhere, it uses the same muscular bodywork as the STi, complete with wide wheelarches and a huge bonnet scoop.
To our eyes, the end result looks dated compared to the distinctive Evo and brutish Focus, although it certainly has presence.
The interior is even more disappointing. With cheap plastics and flimsy build quality, the cabin is underwhelming when you consider the car’s £30,350 price tag. There is plenty of standard kit, though, including sat-nav, keyless entry and xenon headlamps.
It’s also practical, with generous room for occupants and a versatile five-door layout. But the rear differential for the four-wheel-drive system results in a high boot floor and a disappointing 301-litre carrying capacity. Folding the rear seats flat liberates a useful total of 1,216 litres.
On paper, the Subaru’s characterful 2.5-litre boxer engine should be the strongest here, because it develops an Evo-matching 325bhp. Its torque output of 470Nm is also 30Nm higher than the Ford.
However, the unit suffers from turbo lag, and feels very lethargic at low revs. As a result, it takes 9.8 seconds to cover the dash from 50-70mph in top gear – a full 2.8 seconds slower than the Mitsubishi. But don’t think the Subaru is slow.
Selecting the Sport Sharp mode on the Si-Drive control improves throttle response and once the revs rise above 3,500rpm, the 330S is savagely quick. The downside is that to maintain this pace you constantly have to change gear using the clunky manual box.
Turn into a corner and you’ll discover the Impreza’s chassis is equally frustrating. Where the Evo uses hi-tech electronics for its all-wheel-drive system, the Subaru relies on traditional mechanical limited slip differentials. The set-up is effective – there’s bags of traction and grip – but it’s unrefined compared to the Evo. The over-light steering also lacks the feel and sharpness of the Mitsubishi and Ford.
On the plus side, the 330S is still devastatingly quick over twisting back roads, while its soft suspension set-up copes well with poor surfaces.
There’s no doubt the Subaru is feeling old now. But its tuneful motor, surging on-boost performance and secure handling still make it a capable proposition.
Chart position: 3WHY: The Impreza has been at the top of the fast car tree for 15 years. Can the flagship 330S live up to the legend?