Subaru Impreza

You cannot criticise Subaru's designers for lacking a sense of adventure... Who could forget the radical bug-eyed Impreza facelift of August 2000? Now, the company is doing it again, with an interpretation of the model that's proving just as controversial among fans of the marque.

The Impreza is still one of the most entertaining drivers' cars money can buy - and it's likely to remain at the top for years to come. On sale in Japan this month, the new-look machine is expected in UK showrooms by the end of the year. And with an all-new 2.5-litre turbo engine on the horizon, Mitsubishi Evo drivers had better look out.

You cannot criticise Subaru's designers for lacking a sense of adventure... Who could forget the radical bug-eyed Impreza facelift of August 2000? Now, the company is doing it again, with an interpretation of the model that's proving just as controversial among fans of the marque.

The car is due on sale in December, and the origins of the styling can be traced to the B11S concept, unveiled at 2002's Geneva Motor Show. It has appeared more recently on the new B9 Tribeca SUV, and on Japan-only superminis such as the R1 and R2. The future face of Subaru is certainly causing a stir.

Still, we feel the unusually shaped new corporate grille works better on this than any of the other new Subarus we have seen so far - and it is helped by the fact that the cosmetic upgrades to the Impreza do not stop with the nose.

As well as reworking the tail-lamps, the firm has developed a fresh set of aerodynamic wings, including a new roof-mounted vane that channels air more efficiently to improve downforce.

Under the skin, the modifications continue. While the fresh Impreza sits on the current platform, it gets a range of new engines, including an eagerly anticipated 2.5-litre turbo for the STi.

Our early drive didn't allow us to try that evolution of the car, so we stuck to the basic 2.0-litre version of the STi, on sale now in Japan. Torque is up from 412Nm to 422Nm at 4,400rpm, outdoing the Mitsubishi Evo IX's 400Nm to make it among the most powerful 2.0-litre turbo cars on the planet.

And while the 280bhp output is the same, a remapped ECU has improved throttle response, so between 3,000rpm and 5,000rpm it feels more urgent than the figures suggest. Once the turbo is blowing, the Impreza delivers explosive pace, with 0-60mph in a claimed 4.6 seconds. Progress is aided by the six-speed gearbox, which now has greater rigidity, and has a carbon synchromesh for quicker, smoother shifts.

One main area of revision was the Impreza's driver's control centre differential (DCCD), introduced on the existing model. As a result, the DCCD now delivers torque evenly between axles. While the original's pronounced oversteer is not as obvious, the Subaru still corners quickly and accurately, and the modified suspension improves handling.

Inside, the new interior, shared with Saab's US-only 9-2X, really does pull the car upmarket. So it looks radically different, and is more user friendly - whatever you think of the fresh face, the Impreza has lost none of its charm.

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