"Famous for winning several World Rally Championships and following a four year absence, the Subaru Impreza WRX STI saloon is back"
The rally legend returns! The introduction of the Impreza STI hatchback in 2008 saw a brief end to the famous Impreza WRX/STI saloons and even though Subaru insist this model is simply called the WRX STI, it's clearly the latest evolution of the formula -albeit without the huge rear wing! Both models are now available in this range-topping, high performance spec. Competitiion comes in the shape of Volkswagen's Golf R and the Renaultsport Megane hot hatches. Considerably more expensive than the outgoing model, the WRX STI now features a range of electrical gadgets including keyless go and entry plus a very impressive stereo. As before, power is provided by a 2.5-litre turbocharged engine producing 296bhp- enough for a 0-62mph time of 5.2 seconds. It's very impressive and involving to drive but the ride can feel harsh on anything but perfectly smooth roads. Due to exchange rates between the Pound and the Yen, the price is now considerably higher and whilst the STI feels fast, it now faces high-quality competition from the likes of Volkswagen and BMW.
Driven enthusiastically on a well known, poorly surfaced back road, few cars inspire such confidence as Subaru's four-wheel drive Impreza saloon. Improving with pace, the ride is firm at slower speeds and suits a slightly manic driving style. The 0-62mph sprint is despatched in 5.2 seconds and top speed is limited to 158mph- three mph faster than the five-door hatchback model. Despite slightly vague steering, grip levels are very high and the brakes offer impressive stopping power.
With firm suspension and a hunger for fuel the STI isn't very well suited to longer journeys despite hugely comfortable front seats. The cabin is also poorly insulated against wind and road noise. There are many more comfortable options from Audi, Volkswagen and Mercedes.
Subaru's reliability record is impressive- the new shape Impreza has experienced very few major breakdown issues. Interior materials feel cheap however and the cabin lacks the slightly more upmarket feel of the Mitsubishi Evo. Crash tested in 2009 by Euro NCAP the Impreza body scored four stars, offering a good level of protection but with room for improvement. Both driver and passenger airbags are fitted as standard.
The four-door saloon is a well tested formula but the rear seats offer little in the way of comfort. Taller adults will find that rear leg room is quite limited too. The front cabin lacks useful storage areas but the controls are well laid-out and easy to reach.
Value for money
Following a price-hike of around £5,000 over its predecessor, the latest Impreza WRX STI remains a competent performance car but is now priced in-line with more upmarket competition. Similarly priced BMWs, Audis and performance VWs offer much higher quality cabins and should also hold their value better. Sporty Recaro seats are fitted as standard as well as automatic air conditioning, Bluetooth, Hill Start Assist and a USB/iPod socket.
Driven conservatively the WRX STI is capable of 27mpg but in real world situations will struggle to achieve 25mpg. High emissions also result in an annual tax bill of £445-the UK's second highest bracket. Short service intervals and high insurance premiums add to the annual outgoings, all combining in making the range-topping Impreza a costly car to run.