Friday 8th October 2010

Driven: Subaru WRX STI Type UK

Scooby returns to its saloon roots with the 2011 WRX

Sharp, muscular, agile, eager. This is what a Subaru should feel like - and it's just what made a Scooby, for several years, my favourite car. As a motoring journalist you have the opportunity to drive quite a lot of cars, and picking your favourite is always a bit of a dark art.

Until I drove a Lamborghini Gallardo Balboni late last year, the car that got under my skin the most was a Subaru Impreza long-termer run by a magazine I worked on in pre-PH days. It was only a humble 55-plate WRX with the optional Prodrive performance pack to give it a reasonably healthy 260-ish bhp, but I loved it.

It made a suitably Subaru boxer burble, it was grippy and entertaining, and - crucially - it felt quick even if you weren't going all that fast.

It's a rare talent, that - the ability to mix searing cross-country pace with driver entertainment. It's also a mix that, with the new 2011 model-year WRX STI Type UK (note that the Impreza moniker is no more), Subaru appears to have rediscovered.

I've only had this car for a night and a little more than half a tank of fuel, but already this car has me. Whoever wins their very own WRX STI in this competition will earn my eternal envy.

The new WRX STI's suspension is the key to all the fun. It is essentially an adapted version of the Japanese spec.C suspension, tuned to a slightly softer edge for European roads.

That means a lower ride height, stiffer springs and bushes, and thicker anti-roll bars at both ends. All-new lightweight alloys and upgraded Brembo brakes complete the picture. And what a picture. The WRX STI feels sharp and eager to change direction in a way its predecessors never quite managed without ever feeling flighty.

Switch the still-present intelligent Subaru SI drive unit to its sharpest setting, and the WRX STI reveals that it can provide sharp throttle and chassis response without sacrificing the assured grip of a proper all-wheel drivetrain.

Wind the C. Diff button all the way back you can even convince yourself you're driving a rear-wheel drive sports saloon (though you know that with permanent AWD, those front wheels will always help you out should the occasion arise).

The 296bhp no-nonsense, turbocharged 2.5-litre engine, meanwhile, provides a punchy, broad-shouldered powerband that, along with the solid, positive gearchange, beautifully positioned pedals and confidence-inspiring brakes.

It's not all good news, however. The reintroduction of a four-door model alongside the five-door hatch (a move that will no doubt please Subaru traditionalists), and re-profiled bumpers do bring a spot extra visual interest, but the WRX remains hardly the last word in exciting haute couture.

Inside, the uprated interior gets new soft-touch plastics and an upgraded stereo with Bluetooth connectivity, but qualitatively and in terms of design it still lags some way behind its European super-hatch rivals (Although it can now probably best the Misubishi Evo X). In short, the WRX STI might have a £33k price tag - and dynamically that seems entirely justified - but it looks and feels like a car with a £20k sticker price. And that's a shame.

By far the most significant change to the WRX STI's spec, however, is the fitment as standard of some rather natty Recaro sports seats, which cosset and support in equal measure - and which utterly transform the driving position. Before, the current-generation STi's seats always felt flat, wooden and oddly positioned; not so now.

With cars like the Renault Megane R26 R and the Ford Focus RS firmly embedded in the public's consciousness, the WRX does feel a smidgen old-fashioned, particularly in the showroom. Get it out on the road, however, and you'll forget all about that; you'll be smiling too much.

Want to win your own WRX STI? Click here...

Author: Riggers

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