PH HEROES: SUBARU IMPREZA
It is a B road eater born on the rally stages of the world. Peter Dignan charts the rise of a car that created its own cult.
The Subaru Impreza piloted by Scot Colin McRae.
It was a cold Monte Carlo rally in 1994 where the story of this hero began to take shape. An oversized, overweight Legacy was not competing against the rapid, nimbler Celica so the lighter Impreza was introduced. Its rallying success was immediate but not in the hands of the man that would make the car famous. It was a Spaniard, Carlos Sainz, who put the car on the podium in its very first rally. The event could have been different for the Scot but those pesky French rally fans placed snow on a corner and Colin’s Subaru slid into a snow bank. The British fans would get their own back.
With growing respect for the Impreza, especially in the control of Colin McRae, the British fans flocked the stages for the 1994 Network Q RAC Rally hoping for the first British winner since Roger Clarke in 1976. They were not to be disappointed. A close battle ensued between the two Impreza drivers. Colin always had the edge, but after a few wayward British supporters redressed the balance of the French earlier in the year placing logs in front of Carlos Sainz's car causing the Spaniard to lose concentration and slip off, Colin went on to win.
But its rallying achievements were not the only draw. The sound evoked from the boxer engine through the use of uneven length manifolds gives the countryside B-road an unnatural but satisfyingly unique rumble. The use of the boxer engine also allowed Subaru to fit the engine inline with the transmission creating a lower centre of gravity, along with the balancing effect of pistons operating in cylinder banks opposite each other, the car minimised roll while hooning. All delivered by a cheeky 2.0-litre engine that could power the various guises of the UK models to 60mph in less than six seconds.
The price was also a big selling point. No Ferrari money needed here for your thrills. It was cheap thrills with an initial price of £17,999 and the car never ventured above £30,000 for any of its numerous rallying spin-off editions. The interior quality of the early editions did show this lacking in cost, which the car never really moved on from, and the looks have always been an emotive subject, but when the car is swallowing up the tarmac in front of it you neither care nor give onlookers time to look.
For me, the shopping requirements were long: a tow car; an everyday workhorse; something that could get me to the Nurburgring and then lap it quickly; something to take out on a sunny day for a blast, or even a snowy one; and more. The choice of a WRX with a Prodrive Performance Pack seemed to fit the bill. Do I regret not having an STi? Sometimes, but after 100,000 miles in the car I don't feel cheated. Not many cars with such sporting pedigree would I risk driving to Greece for a summer holiday when 100,000 miles old, but the reliable Impreza didn't put a foot wrong across Alpine passes or 100mph plus Autobahn cruise.
A company that was the reserve of farming folk should never really have succeeded by sticking in a turbo, and then sending it out to play in forests, but it did. As rally fans head off to test their blood circulation in early morning forest fire breaks for Rally GB, who’s to bet against the Impreza winning again. Let’s just hope 13 years after its rallying launch Subaru doesn't forget where it built its fan base - I certainly won't.
PH Hero Rating: 9/10