Hello and please, Hush! …
Keep it quiet. Close the windows and lock the doors. Turn your favourite social network off.
Right. There’s something I have to own up to you. I had never ever, not even once, driven a Subaru Impreza. Ok. I said it. I feel lighter. You’ve taken this burden off of me, this cumbersome truth. It was difficult to live with this.
The key issue here is I said “had”. In the humble but respectable archive of cars (the 911, the Lexus LFA and the BMW i8 are included) I’ve driven, the big blue SUB was never featured. It simply never happened and there was a void to fill. As a car lyricist, there are benchmarks and landmarks you must, I repeat must, drive. So I found one, and I drove one.
The big blue SUB. The Subaru Impreza is every big man-child’s wet dream. The scarlet starlet, the blue wildebeest that won all that could be won in the Rally World but, ironically enough, only came to prominence after starring in the Fast and Furious franchise and before that, in a very long list of PlayStation games. The Big Blue Sub has always been popular with rally fans and admired by car enthusiasts. With its name forever associated with Scottish rally legend Colin McRae, and, more recently, with Scandinavian rally giant Tommi Mäkinen who, at the wheel of a 3rd gen. WRX STI set a lap time of 7:55 on the Nürburgring Nordschleife, a record for a 4-door saloon.
Right. Enough with facts and trivia.
The blue wildebeest. The Impreza I’m here to test is big, tough and grumbling. It’s a cold and cloudy day, with a sky the colour of drab olives. The electric blue of the car creates a spooky contrast with the weather. The first key thing with the Subaru Impreza is that it is, whichever way you cut it, a 4-door saloon. And a practical one at that. It has four doors with access to five usable seats, which means that you don’t need to be a contortionist to get in the car, and once you’re in, there’s enough headroom and legroom for you and your mates, including giraffes. The boot is bigger than it is on some hatchbacks these days, the lights work, the radio works, the air conditioning works.
This particular Impreza Sti I’m road-testing today has been tuned and has around 264 HP. There’s a new exhaust system, new air filter, the ride is firmer, the suspensions are harder and the car is hunkered down. It starts moving like an elephant threading on eggshells, but it is as civilized as your regular “hooptie”, as the Americans would call it. This car has two souls, one when you drive it on the road, and one when you, theoretically and hypothetically, drive it on a racetrack. It isn’t very noisy at slow speed, it isn’t even that quick, to be honest, because like most Japanese cars, they’re at their best over 6.000 Rpm. In slow motion, in slow traffic, it’s a bit lazy and ungainly.
Then, as soon as the road opens and stretches and straightens, I go full gas and the “Racetrack mode” kicks in. it’s an electrifying process. The car changes. The noise changes, it becomes a grunt, baritone, sonorous. The pace changes, as the rpm needle goes up, the car goes fast and then effing fast.
And then bloody effing fast.
Then, on the next roundabout, and there’s one every two-hundred yards if you drive a lot in Italy and England like I do, it goes back to “road mode”. Composed. And slow.
All these things considered, this is a normal car. It doesn’t scamper away and it doesn’t jump all over the place like some schizophrenic giant blue frog. It is surprisingly civilized and very smooth on the road. It isn’t even thirsty, provided you drive like an educated emeritus professor of science, and not like someone who’s in for a bit of hooliganism.
And that’s the problem, here.
The Impreza is a car that’s best appreciated and loved when the person behind the wheel IS IN for a spot of pugilism and hooliganism. It’s a riot. It’s very easy to say that this car is civilized. In fact, I just did, and it is, to a point. But it is still blue, still very big, the rims are still gold and there’s still a preposterous aileron on top of the boot. It’s almost impossible to drive this car as a nun, not because it is intrinsically difficult, but simply because you’ll never want to.
The speed is just intoxicating. I keep overtaking people without really trying. The engine sound is not deafening but certainly doesn’t improve conversations, and fuel consumption alarmingly worsens. The main problem with it, though, is not fuel consumption, practicality, or the colour. It’s not even about the money, because the Impreza is good value. In mint condition, they go for less than 14-15k and for a good Impreza with a decent service history you’re in the 10 grand ballpark. Not bad at all.
The main issue is that you feel a bit of a berk, if we’re honest here. You treat roundabouts like corners around Spa-Francorchamps and when there’s a long straight you will end up feeling like you’re on the Imola racetrack. Which you’re not. You’re stuck in traffic on the Provinciale 79 driving from Montespertoli to San Pancrazio. You’re not Jenson Button or Ken Block. And therein lies the problem.
There’s a catch 22 with the Impreza.
It would be a great car to own if only it were a bit more discreet, but if it were more discreet it wouldn’t be a true Impreza. There are always two sides to a story, and there was a great ending for this one. On the way back to return the car, I stopped to fill up and a man with a brand new white Fiesta ST struck up a conversation with me. He said he occasionally goes to track days and he owns an old Delta Integrale for the purpose.
“Thing is, it’s getting old, and it’s too expensive to keep and run, I should probably buy one of those”, he said, pointing at the Impreza.
And then he said, “I’m just afraid it’s not fast enough in the corners”
Then and there, I realized what I really thought of the Impreza.
I burst out laughing and said, “Look at it, get real. When you’re driving this around a track, there are maybe ten cars on the planet you should be afraid of. I doubt yobbos in pumped up hot hatches with a big exhaust will be an issue”. He said nothing and smiled. I got in the car and drove off.
It’s showy, unnecessary and Spartan. I love it, a great car… I wouldn’t like to own.
Though I suggest you consider buying one.
words, pictures and editing : A. Saetta Vinci