Used car review

Subaru Impreza Turbo AWD

Subaru's Impressive Impreza Turbo

The countdown begins 5 ... 4 ... revs rise deep into the red 3 ... 2 ... 1 dump the clutch, all four wheels spin as the Impreza scrabbles for grip on the loose surface , grab second not a moment too soon just a couple of revs short of the limiter, still with accelerator hard down, grab third as we barrel into a wide 90 degree left hand bend, off the throttle, touch the brakes and then steer into the corner whilst applying full throttle again, a touch of opposite lock stop the rear end coming all the way round , exit at full bore, grab fourth ..............

whoops wrong test, that's Colin McRae's rally on my Play station endless hours of hooligan fun but surely no relation to Subaru's cooking Turbo Impreza on real clogged up roads. This is probably the only time I will get to drive a car featured in a computer game, so it can only end up a disappointment can't it ????? 

The Impreza is nothing special to look at. In saloon form its hardly attractive to start with, dare I say Its ugly in saloon form? Aerodynamic Add-on's scoops and wings don't make it look any prettier, it try's to look hard, ugly but hard, but its really a bit too delicate in places to quite pull it off. This one comes in a bottle green shade which is attractive even if it does little to enhance the looks.

The big rear wing should give notice of its intent, its presence is subdued by the knowledge that lots of fairly average cars carry such a fashion accessory. The Subaru wears some fairly understated alloys, with a set of fairly mild looking and sounding 205 tyres. The only real statement of intent is focused around the large spot lamps that grace the front air dam. Subtle they are not but they hark back to the days of old, when every desirable car was judged by the size of its Cibie Oscars. If there is today a car which is the spiritual successor to the hot Ford Escort RS2000's and Mexico's of the seventies, this is it.


Inside its fairly obvious that the Impreza makes no attempt to compete on the gizmo front. It has electric windows, but bearing in mind that bigger saloons than this at a similar price point, tend to have full leather, Air con and electrically powered everything you begin to wonder where how Subaru dreamt up the price tag. The sporty seats whilst neatly trimmed and matched to the interior panels are not made of anything special, and the dash and fittings are devoid of anything more glamorous than standard Japanese plastics. The Dash is surprisingly Spartan and the limited switchgear is simple and plain.

Settle/Squeeze into the very supportive buckets, Turn the ignition key, and it starts to become clear, throw in some fast roads and bends and your wondering how Subaru managed to build it at this price.

The view out is fairly panoramic, the Impreza has a fairly low waist line and large glass area, one advantage of a flat four motor being its not very tall so allows a low bonnet line. The view is still fairly good and unobstructed despite the extra glass fibre the car has sprouted. 

The flat four engine barks into life and settle to an off beat idle with more than a hint of Alfa to its bark. Blip the throttle  and the revs climb and fall instantly like the crack of a whip. You begin to think about the published figures, your rain tries to  absorb the logistics, Escort size body, 215bhp turbo two litre, four wheel drive, you know the cars a legend in its own lunchtime, you know its going to bite, you just know its going to be difficult, temperamental, fussy.

As you press down the clutch you think that the cables snapped, this little weight surely cant manage the prodigious power and grip. You push the gear lever across its gait to first, half expecting a stiff difficult introduction. But no it slips in sweetly and lightly, you still not convinced so you gingerly raise the clutch and blip the accelerator ,half expecting the motor to bog down.

But it doesn't happen, it never happens, stick your granny in it, don't tell her how fast it is, and watch her happily pootle around the shops.

The Subaru is strangely strong low down, perfectly behaved and almost normal at low revs and speed, only the very firm ride and loud throbbing exhaust suggest that its got anything that all other cars haven't.

But get the engine spinning a bit more, hold onto a gear lower than normal, and the whole persona of the car changes.  Clarke Kent becomes Superman, and he's not even bothered to put his tights on.

Through the gears the performance is electric, the gear stick which looks slightly ungainly and long, supplies  sweet sharp positive changes, mashing the accelerator to the floor results in instant surging searing urge. 215bhp in a small car is bound to give impressive results when applied correctly. But what's so impressive about the Impreza is the depth and range of its performance, it pulls from under 2k if forced, its getting keen by 3k and by 4k its flying, its power remains unabated to well beyond 6k and toward it sky high red line. Its rev bands wide enough to mean that you can always select one of the five closely spaced gears  to unleash the mighty urge, and even when well off boost it needs only a downshift to bring serious urge back online. 

Normally the bugbear of Turbo's is getting off the line quickly, at least the 4 wheel drive allocates plenty of grip and keeps at least a couple of tyres working, and the motor is sympathetic to the cause with stacks of torque and the easily modulated throttle helping to avoid the dreaded Turbo bog down.

Quoted 0 to 60s run from mid 5's to low 7s so I guess there is still a knack to getting it perfect, either way when up and running its very very quick. The similarly weighted Fiat Coupe with a claimed 220bhp but only front wheel drive, slithers to 60 in 6.2 seconds so make your own estimates around that. 

But that's only the engine, and only half the story, all that powers no use if you cant use it in anything but a straight line. The engine may be good but the chassis is better. Grip despite averagely sized tyres is monstrous, where I have been under whelmed by 4 wheel drive before, here is a car which threatens to persuade me of its virtues. Holding a flat tight line around a large sweeping roundabout you can apply ever more stomp in a hard charging third gear, the only threat being that of compression fractures to your pelvis as the G forces  push you ever harder into the side bolsters. No under steer, no over steer just a secure feeling like the tyres are digging holes in  the tarmac, gripping like glue beyond conceivable limits.

But ferocious grip is only part of the Impreza attraction, and is only an add on to its balance and neutrality. The steering wheel may look boring  but its relatively small fat and grippy and has almost cat like responses, giving sharp positive response to the most nervous of small inputs, gently conveying an ever changing  map of the road surface back to you hands, its sharp but never kicks back, dial in x degrees of turn and x degrees of turn is what you immediately get. The car corners very flat, with minimal roll  The flat four again probably plays its part here helping to maintain a low centre of gravity with its low set weight minimizing the roll momentum. (imagine trying to control an upside down pendulum)

Despite the firm suspension it revels at speed, a hump in an off camber 50mph left hander wiggles the wheel as the tyres lose contact, but it lands and settles immediately reaffirming its course with a gentle tug of the wheel, the 4 wheel drive system reapportioning grip to the most applicable tyre.

Some Audi Quattro's may match the grip, the wider tyred versions may even better it, but they cant match the positive steering precision and instant response of the little Subaru. Very little I have driven can match the sheer chuck ability, the pure unadulterated fun that this little car can drum up.

At the sharp end of the performance spectrum (or the international rally circuit), it may be that style is secondary, certainly once your wedged in the seat  and are working the pedals hard, you don't give a monkeys about the looks, it could look like a Lada who cares when it goes this well.

To some extent that's probably exactly where Subaru are aiming. A practical little saloon that gives maximum smile per mile when the mood takes you. And in a more relaxed climate than our politically correct, overt anti-motoring one it would score a direct bull's-eye.  But despite its honest and unadulterated performance, it remains a slightly strange enigmatic car. 

Insurance costs alone probably demote many to second cars. To use it to commute would be a crying shame and oh such a waste. Its practicality is probably totally lost in the majority of its usage. Certainly for the current British market it could drop all pretence of practicality, stick on a prettier face and be just as successful.

Whilst the inside may look a little on the cheap Japanese side of the plastics market and the doors clang with a slightly hollow ring that would amuse your average German owner, it would be remiss of me not to mention that in JD Power satisfaction surveys Subaru regularly tops the polls. In some ways insurance aside the Impreza is the sensible choice in the performance steroid car market. Cheapish to buy, good residuals and stone axe reliability what more could you ask for.  

In all reality despite its shape, capacity and forgiving nature, its not really a totally practical modern car. Its noisy, slightly thirsty ( very when used fully), Comfort at slow speeds is marginal and its barely equipped, stuck in a crawling summer jam any amount of better equipped  quieter more comfortable cheaper saloons would be preferable. But when the roads are quiet and twisty it has few peers, and if you chuck in some dodgy British road surfaces sleet, oil, and gravel its in a class of its own.

The only question for the lucky few is which one of a plethora of normal and special editions to opt for. Personally I find it hard to see how you could dynamically improve it much further without overstepping the mark, and making it less useable on the street, 215bhp in this diddy  little car sounds terrific, 280+bhp sounds terrifying, I would settle for a bog standard version. unless of course I'm safely back on the Play station, when around 350bhp and six speed sequential gearbox should provide adequate thrills to match the real thing, and squash the pesky opposition.


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