Fifteen years ago, you could pick up a brand new Subaru Impreza WRX STI for around £25,000. In today's money that's more like £37,000, but it got me thinking; what car could you buy today for that money that delivers a similar specification and driving experience of my beloved VK53 NCA?
We need to compare apples with apples, so it would have to be 300hp, four-wheel drive, have a manual gearbox, five doors and seat as many people. The obvious choice would be the outgoing WRX STI, although you can't buy one anymore. How about a Volkswagen Golf R? Audi S3 or a Ford Focus RS? I think that's about it.
Every time I get into the Impreza, it feels like an adventure. The little boy comes out in me; hearing the bassy boxer rumble, anticipating the turbo lag, looking out over the bonnet scoop and the sensation of feeling every horsepower being delivered to the road through the four-wheel drive system. There are no piped in induction notes or electronically controlled exhaust farts here; everything you hear is real. There isn't a car on sale today at this price point that can evoke such feelings, and that makes me sad.
Although it's not all doom and gloom. In a sanitised world of numb steering, linear power delivery and the future of electrified cars upon us, there are still manufacturers making great cars. If we forget about four-wheel drive, the FK8 Honda Civic Type R is an absolute belter, ticks most of my boxes and would probably be up there as my top choice. 'My' Peugeot 208 GTI by Peugeot Sport was hilarious good fun at sensible speeds and proves that manufacturers can find their mojo again. Amen to that.
But it doesn't stop me from feeling rather smug that while this isn't my daily car, I can still enjoy just going for a drive in a car that demands to be driven properly and that isn't doing all the work for you. Just as validly, the smile it puts on my face everyday when I look at it has far from worn off.
Determined to release a bit more of that legendary flat four sound, I started researching exhaust options. After hours of reading forum threads and listening to videos on YouTube, I purchased a used Cobra Sport system. I already have a non-resonated centre section so just bolted the back box onto that. While only marginally louder than the standard Prodrive box, it was exactly what I wanted. Bassy enough to be heard at low revs without droning and raucous enough as you climb through the rev range with occasional pops when shifting and on overrun. Perfect.
I'm sure every PHer has a routine when buying a new car; for me it's a good clean, followed by new wiper blades and mats. I do love a fresh set of carpet mats. I had a set saved on my wish list of parts from Scoobyworld, so I ordered a set along with their black mud flaps as I prefer the contrast compared to the OEM blue units. All little touches that would go unnoticed to most, but those things we car enthusiasts can enjoy.
The brakes were starting to judder, so with the front discs well past their best, I fitted a set of new OEM discs and pads all round. Other than that, I'm 3,000 miles in and it's running like a dream. As we're comfortably in those cold, damp and greasy months of the year, I find myself wanting to go for a drive even more to see just how well it holds up. I've never tried Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres before (which were on the car when I bought it) but I have to say I'm very impressed with them and the unrelenting grip, even in the wet. The sidewalls are a bit squidgy but that suits the Subaru's nature and adds to the rally car experience. On a recent run out with a friend we couldn't help but shout pace notes at each other. We can't be the only ones...
I'm yet to set off on a big adventure, but the mountains are calling and I must go. Plus with three PistonHeads Sporting Tours planned for 2019, there'll be plenty of excuses to go for a play.
Car: 2003 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Type UK
Run by: Ben Lowden
On fleet since: July 2018
Last month at a glance: The modifications commence, beginning with an exhaust...
Lifelong Subaru fan Ben finally gets himself an Impreza