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Subaru Impreza



##subimp.jpg --Right##SUBARU'S new Impreza range is something of an automotive incarnation of the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. While the mild-mannered 1.6-litre version might be considered an appropriate vehicle for the gentle doctor, the wild WRX could be a fitting transport of delight for the Mr Hyde in any of us.

Of course, the rally-winning pedigree of the Impreza is well-established and must be a valuable tool in the company's advertising and marketing campaigns - as is the marque's constantly excellent showing in the JD Power/Top Gear UK Customer Satisfaction Studies.

Never a high-volume seller, either in the fleet market or retail sector, the Impreza is, nonetheless, an interesting prospect for the user-chooser seeking something a bit different. All Imprezas have traditionally been characterised by the flat-four, boxer configuration of their engines with their distinctive burble and by all-wheel-drive.

The new version, which enters UK showrooms this month priced from £13,950, presents the same characterful mixture as before but wrapped in a stiffer body, with more equipment and improved refinement and performance.

Subaru's press launch blurb asserts that: 'The affordable performance car icon of the '90s has grown up - with a smoother ride, lower road noise and a quality feel to its fittings and controls. Yet Subaru has avoided the middle-aged, dull and stodgy feel which can blight evolved sports models.'

Arguably, a somewhat pretentious overture, but hard to argue with - especially in the case of the WRX flyer - in the hard light of day on the deserted roads of a rain-swept Scotland and on a test track.

Pricewise, Subaru has sought to achieve a competitive stance with its new car. The entry-level 1.6 TS costs £800 less than its nearest predecessor, the 2.0 GL 5-door, despite a claimed £1,500 of extra goodies, including ABS, radio/ single disc CD player and Thatcham Category One remote alarm/immobiliser. Incidentally, the latter, while effective from a security angle, is a quirky device to learn and its fob is bulky, although Subaru says this is being addressed.

The prices of the mid-range 2.0 GX are set at just £250 above those of previous equivalents, although it boasts a claimed £1,700 of extra equipment, while the performance-oriented WRX is about £500 more than the old Turbo 2000 but has an estimated £2,000 of extra standard equipment such as air-conditioning and radio/cassette CD player.

A stiffer floorpan contributes to much greater torsional rigidity - 250% more in the case of the saloon and 239% with the five-door sports wagon. There are suspension tweaks, such as the raising of the rear roll centre to a level almost the same as that of the WRC rally car, and all versions have revised suspension geometry, springs, shock absorbers and anti-roll bar settings. WRX versions get larger, 7x17in alloys with 215/45ZR tyres.

Power output for the WRX engine remains as before, but torque has been marginally increased, peaking at lower revs, providing better all-round flexibility. This unit provides the Impreza with stunning overtaking performance and its solid punch combined with the surefooted qualities of the transmission make the WRX a satisfying and safe performance package. The ride is firm, but not uncomfortably so, the cornering grippy and the handling crisp.

The naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre has also received modifications, primarily to improve cleanliness, although power and torque are the same as its predecessor. It gets a second catalytic converter and revised electronic fuel injection system.

The newly-introduced 1.6 delivers less than half the power of the WRX unit, so it is hardly surprising that the end result is a car of totally different character while wearing much the same shell.

Where the all-wheel-drive technology provides the two more powerful variants with the bonus of better traction, the benefit the smaller-engined car gets from the feature are slightly offset by the extra weight and endemic mechanical power losses of such a system.

As with all Subarus, there is a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, plus one-year paintwork and six-year anti-corrosion cover. There is also three years' membership of Subaru Assistance, administered by Mondial Assistance.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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