YOU HAVE to concentrate hard when you're pressing on in a Subaru Impreza WRX STI UK Edition Pro Drive, to give this remarkable vehicle its full style and dignity. You also have to concentrate hard to remember that name.
But before we explore just what it is that makes this car such a hoot, we might perhaps spend a moment deconstructing that very long nomenclature. "Subaru" because it is made by them, and in traditional style - flat four boxer engine, frameless door windows, four wheel drive for grip and stability. "Impreza" because I suppose that sounds good and vaguely European and classy and, well, impressive. "WRX" is an allusion to the car's world rally championship success. "STI" because it is produced by Subaru's performance division of that name. "UK Edition" because it has extra security features to stop it getting nicked and so that it can be distinguished from unofficial "grey" imports. "Pro Drive" because its already scorching performance has been enhanced almost out of sight by those legendary tuners.
It's all quite a mouthful, so it's no wonder that enthusiasts abbreviate it all to "Scooby", a term of affection this car easily earns itself. For while it won't turn Mr Average into a rally champion, it will allow you to be just about the fastest thing on your street and, if you take care, you can exploit a fair slice of its power perfectly safely.
Trouble is, it just seduces you into driving like a yob. The huge scoop on the bonnet, the bling-bling gold alloy wheels and the vast spoiler perched on the boot don't encourage you to take a low profile, but it's the sheer eagerness of the machine and the accessibility of all that power that is so vastly and endlessly tempting. It might look like a refugee from a Halfords accessory department, but this car really does need all those execresences for compelling legitimate reasons - to stop it taking off or exploding as it approaches its maximum velocity. So it's all go as well as all show, a genuine quick motor, the sort that, were it a little less obvious would make an ideal getaway car.
The interior, apart from the high-backed sports seats is a little ordinary and as understated as its exterior is show-off loud. But, like the MG ZS 180 V6 I tested not so long ago, a cheap alternative to this pounds 30,000 Impreza, the quality of the plastics is beside the point. They sound great, they go wonderfully but their challenging looks just scream at strangers. "Scooby" certainly turned a few heads when I drove it to Mass last Sunday. And, may God forgive me, even with two devout seventy-year-old Roman Catholic ladies in the back, I succumbed to the demon speed.
Price: pounds 27,990
Engine: 2.0 petrol
Performance: 0-62mph in 4.6 secs, 25.4mpg
Worth considering: Mitsubishi Evo, BMW M3, Alfa Romeo 156 GTA
John Calutas, 36. Satellite coordinator with the BBC. London.
Usual car: Renault Grand Espace.
"This car looks like it works out in the gym, it's very muscular with its bulging front and rear wheel arches, large bonnet air scoop and massive rear spoiler. It reminds me of a highly-toned athlete. The interior is rather bland and uninspiring. Turn the engine on and you discover a wonderful deep throaty sound and you are left in no doubt what's in store for you. The acceleration is awesome and the sound from the beautiful boxer engine is a real head-turner; in fact, I found myself turning the radio off just so that I could listen to it. The handling is just sublime with huge amounts of grip. Surprisingly, all this great handling isn't at the expense of comfort which was excellent considering the pedigree of this car. A brilliant car - one that will be outside my house one day..."
Severine Konieczny, 34, market researcher. London
Usual car: Fiat Marea.
"This Subaru's look is very masculine, quite aggressive with that very distinctive Subaru metallic blue, but the interior is very plain with no distinctive features around, and I wish the radio/CD had its controls at the steering wheel. That would have have made the ride even more memorable, with the right music. But I was unable to use my hand to change the CD while driving and I was also too busy getting used to the stiffness of the Subaru's six-speed gear box. I found that driving this car was all about changing gears, listening to the roar of the engine and accelerating. The Subaru handles on the road very well, coping easily with bumps and turns and it is, a bit surprisingly, quite comfortable thanks to the excellent suspension. So yes it was fun to drive. Did I like it? Yes. Would I get one? No. I can't fit the baby seat in it."
Quentin Fletcher, 39, sound engineer. London.
Usual car: Citroen ZX Estate
"My first glimpse of the Subaru Impreza WXR STi wasn't impressive. I drove straight past it, assuming it was an Escort with a body kit. Driving it is another matter. It didn't have the heavy clutch and feather light accelerator I was expecting - it's well balanced and easy to control. When you press hard it will go hard and will stop when told to. The steering is light and the car goes where you point it, but at motorway speeds it feels a bit skittish. The dashboard is well laid out but the indicators' failure to cancel properly got very annoying. The mirrors give a good view of the road behind and are especially useful for checking the spoiler is still there. Apart from die hard fans of Subaru Rallying, who is this car for? It's well built and drives really well, but it's bling-bling image doesn't match its price-tag."
vTHE VERDICT: 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 age, 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.
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