Sitting at the wheel of something a bit special – an icon, in fact – the test strip stretches ahead invitingly. Preparing for the acceleration runs, the button to operate the water spray onto the intercooler is pumped, causing a dank smell to pervade the cockpit.
The temperature of the charge air being fed into the turbo may now be low, but the anticipation factor is high – and rising. It’s time to be brutal. Depress the loud pedal to get the engine’s revs and the turbo-charger’s impeller spinning with all their might. Let go the clutch. Concentrate on the cloudy horizon.
No time for mechanical simpatico. A quartet of 225/45×17 Bridgestone Potenzas breaks traction for a brief moment before getting to grips with the tarmac and, with a shuddering jolt, launches the Impreza off the mark. The time and speed numbers on the test computer’s digital read-out blur in escalating rapidity as the WRoXy gets up and g-o-e-s…
At 7 000, a small red light on the facia illuminates, accompanied by a warning buzzer, to indicate ‘time to change up,’but you hang in there just a fraction longer until the tacho needle kisses the red line and – vitally – before the rev limiter kicks in. The light and buzzer repeat their warnings with alarming rapidity as each higher ratio is engaged with the meaty, precise gearshift. The 60, 80, 100 and 120 km/h points come and go in a flash, but the super Sub keeps charging relentlessly. As the kilometre post is reached, you hang on to fifth, as a shift into sixth might take a fraction off the time.
Back off the accelerator, take a breath, punch the computer button to recall the times.
Wow! The benchmark zero to 100 km/h sprint has taken just 5,36 seconds, just over a tenth quicker than a BMW M3 and a fraction – a teeny weeny fraction – better than a Mercedes-Benz SLK32 AMG. This is serious performance. Faith has been restored.
Why? Well, when CAR scoop-tested the latest WRX in November 2000, we were
left feeling short changed: expectations were higher than the reality of the test results. Enter Subaru Technica International – simplified to STi – the company’s go-faster division. STi, along with other outfits such as Prodrive (which runs Subaru’s rally team programme) have, over time, developed a number of high-performance models to satisfy specific market demands. This is the latest and, while not the ultimate, probably the most practical version yet.
Only around 20 per cent of the standard WRX’s engine parts have been retained. The cylinder heads are all-new, along with the valvegear that incorporates AVCS variable valve timing. Block and con-rods are stronger, and forged pistons are used to handle the quad-cam 16-valve flat four’s greater outputs: 195 kW at 6 000 r/min and 343 N.m at 4 000. When cold, the motor idles lumpily,
menacingly even, but once warm it smoothes out without ever losing its characteristic beat. Different, certainly, and enticing. Below 3 500 r/min not much happens. Thereafter, as Buzz Lightyear would attest, progress stretches “to infinity and beyond”.
The chassis, too, has had a makeover and, although permanent 4wd is inherently safe and sure-footed (Suretrac limited-slip diffs are fitted to both axles), the STi can be understeered, oversteered and drifted with calm assurance. Dial in your personal steering, braking and acceleration demands, and the car responds faithfully. Entertaining beyond expectations, this must rank as one of the finest handling cars available anywhere. Broken road surfaces do, however, make themselves felt. Very noticeably…
Giant ventilated discs, visible through the STi’s trademark gold painted (17-inch) wheels, are reassuringly effective. As for the rest, apart from the superb torso-hugging seats, the seemingly large but superb-to-hold Momo steering wheel, the drilled metal pedals and the super-slick gearshift action, the Impreza is more run-of-the-mill Japanese family saloon, which is not to say bad, but merely, well, unimpressive.