Subaru Impreza 2004 review

The pursuit of power has kept the battle between Mitsubishi's Evo and Subaru's Impreza boiling for over a decade.

Expect the WR1 to move the Impreza on by a significant step and you might feel let down. It is brutally fast and the Driver's Controlled Centre Differential offers more polished handling than before, but in everyday driving few buyers will appreciate the improvements. Most people will be just as satisfied by a cheaper Impreza.

The pursuit of power has kept the battle between Mitsubishi's Evo and Subaru's Impreza boiling for over a decade. But while the Evo VIII has edged ahead recently with ever more muscular FQ specials, Subaru is ready to fight back with a car that it claims is the fastest Impreza yet - the 316bhp WR1.

Built to celebrate the firm's victory in the 2003 World Rally Championship, the car is covered with badges that chart its considerable heritage as a class-leading road and rally car.

However, there are some surprises. Although Subaru's sporting flagships have always followed the 'works' rally colours - deep blue with gold wheels - the WR1 is only available with Ice Blue metallic paint and the grey 18-inch alloy wheels seen here.

The front end has also been freshened with the addition of a mesh grille and new foglamps, while a 25mm drop in ride height makes this Impreza look even more imposing than normal.

But this is much more than a cosmetic makeover - the aim of the WR1 is to be the ultimate driver's car. Until now, the most powerful Impreza available in the UK has been the 301bhp Prodrive Performance Pack (PPP) edition. With the aid of a remapped ECU and new exhaust system, engineers have managed to squeeze 316bhp out of the WR1's turbocharged 2.0-litre flat four-cylinder engine, with stunning results. Once on boost, the car accelerates at a breathtaking rate. Launched from a standing start, Subaru says it will reach 60mph in 4.25 seconds - that's 0.35 seconds quicker than the PPP - and hit a top speed of 155mph.

WR1 drivers also experience the benefit of an adjustable centre differential, which alters the torque distribution between the front and rear wheels via a switch by the handbrake.

The system is dubbed Driver's Control Centre Differential, and allows the handling characteristics to be set up to the driver's taste and driving style. With sensational turn-in and immense cornering stability it works brilliantly, but most buyers will probably allow the electronics to select the optimum set-up automatically. In everyday conditions, the WR1 is as easy to live with as any Impreza, thanks to a relatively supple ride and slick six-speed manual gearbox. Few cars are more rewarding over a challenging B-road, but it's only when pushed to its limit that the WR1 shows real benefits over a standard STi.

With only 500 examples coming to the UK, Subaru hopes the WR1, which also features special badging inside and out and a centre console plaque marking Petter Solberg's WRC win, will become a real collector's item. But the £3,000 rise over the PPP seems steep. So is it the best UK Impreza yet? Well, it's certainly one of the most capable on the limit and has one of the most exclusive badges, but the near- £30,000 price tag is hard to justify.

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