Subaru Impreza

One of the most hotly anticipated performance cars in the UK returns, and we're first behind the wheel!

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The new STI is a significant improvement over the outgoing car, and is certainly the most convincing model in the Impreza range. Cabin quality has moved forward, but it still can’t quite match the standards found in premium rivals. However, the STI’s aggressive styling updates and sharp handling are sure to appeal to diehard Subaru fans, as well as drivers after a performance car with a practical edge.

A former World Rally Champion has returned! While Subaru’s new Impreza range made its debut earlier this year with an entry-level 1.5-litre model, this is the version that everyone has been waiting to drive.

The rally-inspired STI is one of the most hotly anticipated performance cars in the UK, and with sales due to start early next year, Auto Express is first behind the wheel.

It certainly has a lot to prove. The outgoing Impreza had legions of fans, but so far the newcomer has met with a rather lukewarm reception, thanks to its bland looks and modest performance. However, Subaru says the STI is designed to rival models such as the BMW M3 with increased comfort and refinement, while still delivering the performance the legen­dary badge is renowned for.

And there’s no doubt that the Impreza has been transformed. At 55mm wider than the standard car, it has heavily flared wheelarches to accommodate the wider track, while a deep rear diffuser with quad exhaust pipes and trademark bonnet scoop complete the look.

Little details such as the vertical vents behind the front wheelarches confirm its billing as a rally car for the road, and this purposeful appearance is likely to make it a hit with Subaru fans. Under the bonnet of the car we drove lies a 2.0-litre flat-four turbocharged unit that delivers 296bhp and around 480Nm of torque. A mildly reworked 2.5-litre engine will come to the UK, although the rest of the car remains identical.

That means British buyers will get the revised six-speed gearbox, which offers shorter, easier shifts. It also features the Si-Drive system that was first seen on the Legacy 3.0R Spec B. This allows the driver to switch between throttle settings for sporty or normal driving.

The cabin has been improved, too, thanks to sporty Alcantara-trimmed bucket seats, a leather-lined three-spoke steering wheel and STI badges dotted around the interior. However, while it’s a step up from the standard Impreza, it can’t match the quality found in premium opposition.

The steering is reach and rake adjustable, and there’s decent head and legroom in the front. Passengers in the back lose some leg space due to the bigger front seats, but the Impreza still passes muster as a family car. Refinement is also improved over the last STi, partly due to reduced wind and tyre noise.

Exploring the car’s performance is easy, thanks to the short-throw gearshift, and the 2.0-litre unit works best at higher revs when the turbo is spinning. At low speeds the engine is a little sluggish, but the well spaced ratios help to keep the engine on song. With four-wheel-drive traction, the STI can blast from 0-60mph in less than six seconds and reach more than 150mph, putting it in on a par with more costly rivals.

Subaru also claims a better balance between handling and ride, and although it’s firmer than many of its rivals, the damping has certainly improved over the outgoing car. Road imperfections can still be felt in the cabin, but only big potholes and ruts will upset passengers.

Yet the STI still delivers the roadholding and handling that is such a big part of the car’s appeal. The steering is light but responds sharply, while the stiff suspension allows the Impreza to remain flat during hard cornering. The various electronic systems work well to keep the Subaru on course, although the Vehicle Dynamics set-up can be switched off to fully exploit the STI’s chassis.

The Impreza has always traded on its performance, and the new STI is undoubtedly a fine driver’s car, but the competition in this sector of the market is fierce. The champion is certainly going to have its work cut out to retain its crown.

Rival: Volkswagen Golf R32 The Golf is down on power, but it combines a sporty edge with attractive styling, a characterful V6 engine and a high-quality cabin.

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