Subaru WRX STI
SUBARU WRX STI
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 so that as much power as possible goes through to the rear wheels and 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 300PS 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.
Aside from the fairly obvious change that is the reintroduction of a four-door model alongside the five-door hatch (a move that will no doubt please Subaru traditionalists) the 2011 WRX STI also gets an uprated interior, with new soft-touch plastics and an upgraded stereo with Bluetooth connectivity.
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.
There are no massive changes to the new WRX STI (apart from the boot, of course), but the raft of small improvements add up to a big difference.