Subaru Impreza

Do you get confused by all the different Subaru Imprezas that are available? If so, then you won't be pleased to hear that there's a new one - but this version is important, because it's the official, UK-spec STi. What's more, the range-topper is now more hardcore than ever.

Subaru's latest Impreza STi is a full-on driving experience, far removed from the insulating ease of most modern cars. Everyone should try a car like this at least once. But which to choose, the STi or Evo? Now that is a tough call.

Do you get confused by all the different Subaru Imprezas that are available? If so, then you won't be pleased to hear that there's a new one - but this version is important, because it's the official, UK-spec STi. What's more, the range-topper is now more hardcore than ever.

Although it looks almost identical to the current car, mechanically it is very different. Even if you didn't know what the changes were, you'd feel them within seconds of driving off. Those who said the STi had gone soft under the challenge of successive Mitsubishi Evos will see Subaru is back and fighting.

Essentially, this car features suspension changes and electronic aids first seen on the Japan-only Impreza Spec C. The first thing you notice is the drone from the new Bridgestone Potenza tyres and wider wheels, with the sparse treads almost like those of racing rubber. It sounds as if the wheel bearings have worn out, although they have also been enlarged to cope with higher cornering forces. Then you feel how pin-sharp the steering is, how the wheels climb up grooves in the road like an eager puppy, and how the tail steps out the instant you back off in a corner. Only a tiny step out, mind!

We can thank a new yaw-rate sensor, which detects the rate of drift in a corner 50 times per second, for this control. Using the sensor's data, the STi adjusts the torque split between front and rear axles between 35/65 per cent to 50/50. The adjustment is ultra-quick, too, thanks to a limited-slip front differential which reacts faster and more progressively. So the STi can both turn into a bend as if its life depends on it, and feel stable once in it.

The newcomer's other piece of electronic trickery is the Driver Controlled Centre Differential, or DCCD for short. This overrides the yaw sensor and lets you set your own drive split, using a thumbwheel mounted next to the handbrake. Other changes include a slightly longer wheelbase, discreet lips on the rear arches covering a 15mm-wider rear track, stiffened steering and front suspension mounts and new aluminium suspension arms. These revisions help provide stronger steering self- centring and a better feel of the road.

The wheels are still gold, though, and the vast bonnet scoop and huge rear wing are the same as introduced at the 2003 model-year facelift.

Inside, there's more cloth and a smoother centre console with neater air-conditioning controls, but the ambience remains that of a rally car fresh from the special stages. The car's pace hasn't changed either, with 265bhp of thrust from the turbo flat-four.

A revised gearshift makes for a smoother drive, thanks to shorter, more precise movements, and the brakes bite as firmly as ever. But the new-found ability in bends is this STi's key appeal.

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