Motoring: Torque of the town

Subaru's Impreza is a real beast. Why not turn it into an absolute monster? By John Simister
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Prodrive runs the Subaru works rally team, and its four-wheel drive Impreza turbos have been winning world championship rallies for years. Inevitably the kudos has rubbed off on Subaru's standard road version. Nowadays it's a cult car: nothing else under pounds 20,000 is as fast or clings to the road so determinedly while being as laughably easy to drive, and nothing at all has an engine which sounds quite like the Impreza's off-beating flat-four. It's like a big-lunged, deep-throated Volkswagen Beetle without the clatter.

But wouldn't you like to get just a little closer to the rally experience, to drive a yet faster, leaner, meaner Scooby-doo? Then ask your dealer to send your car to Prodrive to be made into an Impreza WR. On its return, your car will have a bodykit, an uprated suspension, a brakes and gearchange package, a remodelled interior and an engine with more power. It won't be cheap, mind; pounds 10,164 all in, although you can buy the packages separately.

Start the engine, hear it idle so oddly it sounds as though it's misfiring, and select first gear. The gear-knob has an aluminium finish, and its lever has shorter, more click-firm movements than before.

As usual, we have to wait a second for the turbocharger to spin up to speed. When the turbo-boost arrives, though, you hear a strange noise and fireworks erupt. It's a flutter, a growl and a whoosh all at once, which sorts itself out and hardens into a meaty blare as the revs rocket. And it's ready and waiting in any gear, at any time.

The standard car is plenty quick enough for most tastes, what with 208bhp and a lively 6.4 second 0-60mph time. But there's a deal of extra violence on offer here, thanks to more boost, a freer-breathing air filter and the drainpipe-sized exhaust that makes that deep burble. The result is 240bhp, with a similar rise in pulling power to 240lb ft of torque (up from 214).

You'll need just five seconds to reach 60 now, but the mountainous torque, most of it available as soon as the boost has built up, is what makes the WR such a catapult overtaker. Usually, you don't change down a gear; just see a tiny gap, foot down and you're through. Yet it can amble right down to walking pace and accelerate again, clutch pedal untouched, without a single jerk, and it can cruise serenely as fast as you like.

For the next trick, find a bend, and drive through it about half as fast again as you think the laws of physics will allow. The WR slices round the corner, hyper-accurate steering telling you exactly what is happening where tyre meets road.

It's easy to frighten people coming the other way, because they don't think a car travelling so quickly can stay on the road, but the WR clamps itself to the ground and pours out its power to whichever wheels can use it best. If you overdo things, just ease off or touch the momentum-munching brakes. You won't unsettle the Subaru; it waits until you've sorted yourself out, then does exactly as it is bidden. All this and a supple ride, too. Never have I felt as relaxed at speed on wet roads.

Don't confuse the WR with that other souped-up Impreza turbo, the WRX. This is an "unofficial" import which costs about the same as the Prodrive WR, is more powerful (280bhp-plus), and has shorter-legged gearing and rock-firm suspension to provide maximum rally-car thrills within Japan's road conditions and tight speed limits.

The Prodrive WR is designed to be driven in Europe without wearing you down. Both are extraordinarily capable, but after the novelty has worn off, I know which one I'd rather have.

SPECIFICATIONS

Subaru Impreza WR by

Prodrive

Price: pounds 30,165 (standard Impreza Turbo plus Prodrive conversion)

Engine: 1,994cc, flat-four, 16 valves, turbo, 240bhp at 5,600rpm.

Transmission: five-speed gearbox, four-wheel drive.

Performance: 150mph, 0-60 in 5.0sec, 25-30mpg

Rivals

Audi A4 2.8 quattro: pounds 28,900. Slower than the WR, but more solid and better furnished. Feels heavier and more aloof, but shares the wet-road peace of mind of four-wheel drive.

Honda Accord Type R: pounds 23,250. Fast, fine-handling, sporty version of Honda's latest Accord. Roomy and well-built, but lacks the Subaru's bombastic personality and ultimate pace.

Volvo S70 T5 SE: pounds 27,155. The second-maddest 70-series Volvo (250bhp S70R is much pricier) matches the WR for turbo-charged power, sounds great and is bigger - but lacks the WR's astounding cornering ability.

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