On test: Subaru WRX STi

All hail the return of the iconic rally car for the road, as Subaru has gone back to the classic four-door saloon body style but lost the Impreza name in the process.

Whilst the latest five-door hatch version of the Impreza STi was practical and softer making it a much more useable car, it didn't really appeal to the die-hard Subaru enthusiasts.This is the car that's designed to change all that, as for the first time since the 2007 RB320, the WRX is available as a saloon.

To me, the WRX looks far better as a saloon and couldn't be mistaken for any other car. It might not be called the Impreza anymore, but all the classic design cues still feature in the new model. At the front there's the letterbox-sized bonnet scoop, chunky front and rear airdams, plus the flared wheelarches. But there's something missing, yes it's a totally OTT skyscraper rear spoiler.The Subaru WRX is far from subtle, but the lack of a rear spoiler makes it look underdressed.

Considering the £32,995 price, the interior design and quality are a big disappointment. The dashboard design is dated and the plastics are hard, cheap and look as though they will scratch easily. Still the driving position is good and the new Recaro front seats are supportive. Rear space is average, but the new saloon body style makes for a practically-shaped boot.

The other big news for enthusiasts apart from the saloon styling is the new 'Spec C' suspension, which basically means different spring rates, thicker front and rear anti-roll bars and the ride height has been dropped by 5mm. The upshot of all these tweaks and the 18-inch alloy wheels is virtually no body roll and meatier steering with more feel. It's not all good news though, as the WRX seems more susceptible to camber changes and the ride is harder but not uncomfortable.

So does the performance live up to Imprezas of old? Yes, as the charismatic 2.5-litre flat-four petrol engine is basically unchanged from the last generation model. The clutch is heavy, but you're rewarded by one of the slickest six-speed gearboxes and its short throw makes it satisfying to use. You have to be precise with it, but marvel at how quickly you can change gear. This and the noisier exhaust (which amplifies that distinctive boxer burble) urge you to drive the WRX harder. However, the noise can be a bit tiring on long journeys.

To sum up, the WRX saloon is a welcome return to form for Subaru as it has all the looks and dynamics of Imprezas of old. My only issues are the hefty £5,000 increase over the old model and its relevance to more modern rivals.

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