Even 15 years later, it’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for Subaru when it comes to the Impreza hatch debacle. It was always going to be hard to follow the saloon, replacing it a near enough impossible task. If only the five-door could have followed a few years later, when the all-wheel drive hyper hatch had really taken off - think RS3, A45 AMG, the good Golf R and so on - then it might have provided some intriguing opposition. And saved some face.
But then you remember how the Impreza hatch was received, and stop feeling too sorry for Subaru. The problem wasn’t simply replacing a four-door car with a five-door one, it was that Subaru made an Impreza that wasn’t very good. Both WRX and STI felt very ordinary, suddenly as bland to drive as they were to look. Normally an Impreza’s plain appearance could be excused by an invigorating drive; the introduction of the hatch brought dull dynamics to go along with the looks. And the interior was still cheap. The verdicts were less than glowing: ‘It leaves this benchmark Impreza struggling to answer the excitement and tech advances on offer in the Evo X, and the quality, looks and desirability of the premium-brand offerings at the same price.’ Ouch.
The 330S was the model to give the Impreza hatch a shot in the arm. Launched in 2009, it benefitted from more power (330hp and 347lb ft would make it competitive against today’s crop), a set of smart 18-inch alloys, four (count ‘em!) big exhausts out back and a nicer interior, with Recaro seats and better sat-nav.
It didn’t sound a transformative upgrade, but the 330S was much more favourably received than the STI on which it was based, suggesting that car really wasn’t far from being very good. One reviewer tried it back to back with a 360hp Mitsubishi and described it as ‘more enjoyable to drive than the Evo’, one that offered better value for money as well. Another praised it as a ‘snarling performance car that would give the like of the Porsche 911 a run for its money on a twisting B-road’. Top Gear said: ‘It's even more intense and more extreme than the standard STI, which is pretty much as fast a point-to-point car as you can think of’. Sure, there was plenty of lag, the steering still wasn’t brilliant and the legacy of the old Imprezas (no pun intended) cast a long shadow, but the 330S proved there was a good Impreza in the hatch.
Furthermore, all these years later a turbo flat four that needs stoking can be characterful rather than frustrating, a firm ride is probably nothing by 2023 standards, and a droney exhaust can be swapped out. Lots of fuel will have to go in, yes - which Impreza doesn’t need it? We’re all familiar with the special Subarus from Japan and less familiar with the UK ones, especially those from later in the Impreza’s life. By all accounts, the 330S was a good’n.
This Pure White car seems especially nice, garaged from new by just the one owner. It’s been well enjoyed - 80k miles will attest to that - but comes with a fully stamped service book and what looks like flawless condition. There isn’t a mark on it to be seen anywhere. Even the pointiest of Recaro bolsters are intact, amazingly. Not only does the 330S appear fastidiously well cared for, it remains the best looking of the hatch bunch. Maybe not a tough ask, but still.
The asking price is £20k, a good deal more than an equivalent STI on account of its rarity and better reputation. It’s almost Spec C money, in fact. Still less than a Focus RS, though, the car that totally reset expectations of what a front-wheel drive hatch was capable of. Subaru really couldn’t catch a break with the five-door Impreza. But the 330S proved that some magic remained, and it’s nothing if not a likeable curio as a result.
SPECIFICATION | SUBARU IMPREZA 330S
Engine: 2,457cc, flat-four turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 330@5,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 347@3,400rpm
Year registered: 2009
Recorded mileage: 79,000
Price new: £30,345
Yours for: £20,490
1 / 10
Chat about all things motoring
The Pie & Piston
Chat about everything else…
Win on Sunday, talk about it on Monday
Not all cars are created equal
Meet your hero Matt Bird in person
Need to get something off your chest?