Subaru Impreza 2005 review

Subaru and its tuning arm STi have launched more special versions of the Impreza than Michael Schumacher has won races.

Arguably the best and most dramatic demonstration of the value of Subaru's STi performance division, the S203 mixes huge agility and massive performance with a new level of luxury. This might just be the best Impreza yet, which fans of the marque will confirm is no small honour.

Look back at the last decade, and you will see Subaru and its tuning arm STi have launched more special versions of the Impreza than Michael Schumacher has won races.

In fact, Japanese fans only have to wait six months to see an Impreza upgraded or tweaked in some subtle way. Every couple of years, though, STi goes crazy - developing a car that pools the latest performance technology.

But the results are always memorable. The firm's first effort, the 2000 Impreza S201, was the most radical-looking STi ever. Then, in 2002, the tuning arm leaned towards speed and produced the fast and loud S202. Now, STi has set its sights on BMW's M-badged models, combining luxury, quality and comfort with inspired handling.

The S203 might not be the fastest-accelerating Impreza ever, but it is without doubt the most agile. This machine is interesting to UK drivers because it gives clues to what we can expect of next year's facelifted model, revealed in Issue 838. However, this car still wears the 2002 look, and only a revised front bumper, new rear wing and special BBS wheels set it apart from the standard version. It's what's under the skin that makes all the difference.

Engineers at STi took the WRX's 280bhp flat-four and fitted a larger turbo, a unique titanium exhaust, a retuned ECU and precision-balanced engine internals. These enhancements boost power to 320bhp at 6,400rpm, while torque has jumped to 422Nm at 4,400rpm. You can expect a 0-60mph time of less than 4.5 seconds.

On the road, the unit feels smooth. Power delivery isn't as explosive as in the S202, or Mitsubishi's Evo VIII for that matter, but it's still impressive - as is the deep exhaust note that fills the cabin.

The suspension is equally well tuned. Upgrades include adjustable damping, reinforced coil springs, thicker anti-roll bars and larger brakes, modified to improve airflow and reduce fading. STi engineers enlisted the help of former world rally champ Petter Solberg when tuning the suspension, and his suggestions enabled the firm to produce its most stable set-up yet. However, what impressed Solberg most were the Pirelli PZero Corsa tyres. Specially developed for the S203 by Pirelli and STi, the 18-inch rubber has been constructed in a softer compound with two grooves designed to improve wet weather grip. The results are simply phenomenal. The S203 turns in quicker than any Impreza before it.

On a track, it allows you to brake late and enter corners at incredible speeds. But at the same time, the S203 has the best ride quality of any WRX to date, absorbing road imperfections with ease.

As well as the sticky rubber, STi's designers focused on driver comfort. The firm turned to Recaro to produce competition-style chairs that offer support at high cornering speeds, but are also comfortable for daily use. Recaro put together the first fully reclining competition seat, with each chair costing £2,700. But while the driving position might be just right for rally champ Solberg, the seats start to feel uncomfortable for taller drivers. A 260km/h (165mph) speedo lets you know the S203 means business, while a leather steering wheel and gearshifter finished off with pink stitching completes the interior. STi will produce only 555 S203s, each priced around £23,000. Bearing in mind that this includes £5,400 worth of Recaro seats and limitless grip, don't be surprised if the S203 sells out fast - just like its predecessor did.

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