Engine: 2.5 litre WRX STi
Performance: 0-60mph in 5 seconds, 25.9mpg
Worth considering: Mitsubishi Evo IX, MG ZT, Honda Civic Type-R
Subtlety isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a Subaru Impreza, and the new WRX STi that our reader panel test drove won't disappoint those who love to be the centre of attention. A massive high-rise boot spoiler coupled with a roof vane on the top half of the rear window, a raised turbo bonnet scoop and 17-inch 10-spoke gold alloys combine to create an aggressive, in-yer-face motor. This is not a car for shy, retiring types.
The brashness of the Impreza may deter many potential purchasers, which would be a shame as it is a real driving enthusiast's car. (There is now a "discreet" version, sans spoilers, for the understated look.) Our panel test drove the top-of-the-range WRX STi with its 2.5-litre double overhead cam turbocharged "boxer" engine. There is also a 2-litre four-cam engine version for the GX and GX Sport.
Externally there are only subtle differences between the new Impreza and its predecessor, but enhancements where it really matters - improved torque and power - mean the new version comes pretty close to a world rally car. The big question is whether you really need such power just for day-to-day driving.
Put your foot down and there is a slight delay before the power kicks in, but then the Impreza's speed is truly shocking. The WRX STi has real "wow" factor, with acceleration comparable with a Porsche 911, reaching 0-60mph in only five seconds. The top speed is almost 7mph quicker than its predecessor at 158.4mph. All this for just under £27,000?
Of course, the Impreza is nowhere near as refined or comfortable as the Porsche. It is an effort getting used to how little pressure you need on the accelerator, trying to gauge the end of the bonnet past the raised air vent, and dealing with the huge spoiler. The gearbox felt clumsy at times, and it takes a while to "warm up".
The steering is light and extremely direct, however, with great feedback and precision. The agile handling is phenomenal, with the low centre of gravity ensuring it grips the road with real ease, and the anti-roll bars are thicker on the new Impreza to reduce body roll.
The interior has also had a facelift but retains its sporty feel. The gear lever has been redesigned but doesn't feel "chunky" enough while a blue suede-effect centre section has been introduced on the seats and door.
Passengers may be mystified as to why the driver has so much fun in an Impreza because it is such a firm, anonymous ride in the passenger's seat. The car is totally geared to the driver's enjoyment, from the position of the instruments to the impressive engine. Behind the wheel is the place to be, although you have to be in the mood for it.
Olivier Magere, 36, business analyst from south London
USUAL CAR: AUDI A6 AVANT 2.8 QUATTRO
The engine has a really nice kick, which I miss in my Audi, although there's a bit of a delay after you put your foot down. It's a bit noisy but I like the sound of the engine when you accelerate and it's very easy to overtake. The steering is light and the clutch is great. I am not entirely sure about the style though, and I don't think much to the interior. Personally, I think the spoiler is OK - I hardly noticed it. I would have thought that the type of person who buys this is likely to be a speed addict. It is the kind of car for a father who doesn't want to acknowledge that he has got a family! It is not the kind of car I would ever buy: you could only really appreciate it on a circuit.
Jonathan Harris, 38, mortgage broker from south London
USUAL CAR: BMW Z3, VW GOLF
The spoiler is ugly and makes it hard to see when you're reversing or using the rear-view mirror. In fact, visibility all round is pretty poor. The air vent on the bonnet looks daft, although admittedly it does give the car a rally feel, as do the bucket seats. The gearbox is fiddly, though, and not as smooth or robust as I expected. The interior is very basic, although I did like the blue suede-effect trim. The performance and acceleration of the car are outstanding. The passenger perspective is poor but the driver's aspect is special: this is clearly a driver's car. I didn't enjoy driving it, though, and got fed up with it very quickly. I definitely would not buy one.
Gavin Blyth, 33, communications officer, north London
USUAL CAR: SAAB 9-5
It is an incredibly vulgar car and not really my cup of tea. It isn't subtle, but then you can't see how brash the exterior is when you are sitting in the driving seat. Having said that, the interior isn't much better: it is very cheesy, with a 1980s feel. It is very quick but the suspension is a bit firm for city driving with so many speed bumps to deal with. It's very much a driver- focused car. The brakes are pretty amazing. There is a high biting point on the clutch, while the steering is very direct. It is a shame that the rear view spoiler is so distracting when you are trying to reverse. I can think of many other cars I would buy before this. I am a bit too shy for it.
If you would like to take part, e-mail motoring@ independent.co.uk or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.Reuse content