Whilst the standard UK Impreza Turbo is a fantastic car, Subaru have been very mean to the UK enthusiast. Their best and fastest derivatives of the Impreza have been kept a home for the Japanese motorist, except for the few where the temptation was too great - and another grey import was born!
This page covers some of the Hot Impreza's that the British roads were never meant to cope with, but which are now having to.
Even the entry-level Japanese market WRX is a lot quicker than the latest UK-spec Impreza Turbo.
If you've ever driven an Impreza Turbo you'll know just how fast and how tenacious it is. That's not surprising given its specification - a championship-winning rally-derived chassis and four-wheel-drive system, plus a turbocharged boxer engine with 208-215bhp. Impressive stuff.
Until, that is, you meet a WRX. The Japanese market Impreza has even more power. The current WRX is actually available in two distinct set-ups. The five-door estate model (coded "GF8") has 240bhp, while the four-door saloon ("GC8") has 280bhp, plus a lower final drive ratio and 30kg less overall weight. However, the more powerful WRX saloon still doesn't have precisely the same engine as the STi members of the family, as it is tuned with less torque (250lb ft at 4000rpm, compared to the STi's 262lb ft).
Going back to the 240bhp model, another novelty - which may initially seem surprising to western attitudes - is that it can be bought with four-speed automatic transmission as an alternative to the five-speed manual. So if you always fancied an Impreza but insist on an automatic, this is really your only choice. The manual WRX is the most civilised of the Japanese Impreza family to drive, thanks to a more "touring" set of gear ratios and a higher final drive ration of 4.111:1 - but even that is considerably more "buzzy" than the UK-spec Impreza Turbo.
Another advantage of all Japanese import Imprezas is that they come with lots of standard equipment, such as air-conditioning, retractable mirrors and a rear wash/wipe on saloons, though they make do without a folding rear seat.
Earlier WRX models had more modest outputs - they were launched in 1992 with 220bhp (estate) and 240bhp (saloon), the latter rising to 260bhp in 1995 and to the current levels in 1996. The five-door went up to 250bhp in 1997-1998. Impreza's have gone through five generations now. Version 2 (1995-96) got the power hike just mentioned. Version 3 (1996-97) got another power hike and a new bonnet. Version 4 (1997-98) got a new dash with white dials, a CD and a more responsive turbocharger, while the current Version 5 has smaller brake ducts next to the foglamps.
This could well be the best "real-world" Impreza of them all - as honed by Subaru Tecnica International.
Three small letters on the back of the WRX make all the difference - the STi version of Subaru's rally-conquering Impreza is "the real thing". STi stands for Subaru Tecnica International - reflecting the car's close rally associations.
Perhaps the most important part of the STi specification is its gearbox. It's rebuilt with closer ratios and a quicker shift action, and is allied to a lower (4.444:1) final drive. The result is significantly better performance and enhanced durability. Even with that lower final drive the STi remains a genuine 140mph car. But it's in acceleration terms that it delivers its most stunning results, such as a 0-60mph time of 4.6 seconds and a 50-70mph time of under three seconds.
That's also partly down to the engine, which is blueprinted and adds a red cylinder clock, forged pistons, bigger valves, a better intercooler and a bigger radiator. It'll rev to 8250rpm, too, some 750rpm higher than the WRX. Check the three-inch bore STi tailpipe, too.
In the suspension department, aluminium lower front wishbones are supplemented by a stiffening carbon fibre strut brace. Also the brakes are much stronger thanks to four-pot front callipers. Many accessories and tuning parts are available direct from STi.
You can recognise an STi by many details. The foglamps are replaced by blank panels bearing the STi logo, there's a tall rear spoiler, pink front grille badge, gold alloy wheels and an aluminium bonnet and boot lid. Equipment levels are impressive, with standard climate control, remote central locking, electric windows, driver airbag and CD player, and the rally-style seats have suede inserts.
You can now buy an STi in four-door saloon or five-door estate forms, both with identical mechanical specifications. Like the WRX, the STi goes through evolutions on a virtually annual basis. Version V appeared in 1999, and has a rear spoiler that duplicates the world rally car's. There are also many sought-after limited edition models, usually bearing the name V-Limited.
To many eyes, the "regular" STi is the best all-round choice - it's extremely swift but in its suspension and transmission it still retains a useable balance for British roads. It's also extraordinarily good value considering the enormous ability.
Raw performance in a hard-edged package makes the Type R the very essence of rally extremes.
Short of the wild 22B, which was a limited production model, the Type R is Subaru's most extreme regular production car. It's harder, faster and as raw as they come.
The Type R is unique in that it's sold as a two-door coupe - other than the 22B (and now the P1), no other Impreza variant has two doors, with obvious benefits in terms of image and resale. Dimensionally it's exactly the same as the other Impreza models, but the car does look more like the current Subaru rally cars - it has an extended front spoiler, side skirts and deeper rear valance - and shaves a few kilos off the overall weight.
Largely the Type R shares most of its parts with the STi, but there are some significant alterations. Most notably it has a pukka Group-N gearbox that gives it even closer gear ratios than the STi. Together with the normal and very low Japanese-spec 4.444:1 final drive, this means that top gear equates to just 19mph per 1000rpm. Top speed and motorway cruising are adversely affected but that's not the point of the Type R. This is a car dedicated to accelerating quickly away from the line and through the gears. Expect to be shifting up and down a hell of a lot if you're out on the twisty stuff.
The other major changes are that the car gets a centre differential that can be altered by the driver, as well as a limited slip differential in the front axle (this replaces ABS). Also, the rear axle has a mechanical differential rather than the viscous-coupled one of the "ordinary" Imprezas, and there's a water spray for the intercooler.
If you don't want the two-door model, but find the idea of a more stripped-out, raw and frenetic Impreza appealing, you can buy a Type RA, which is the four-door saloon version. This is available in two forms. The first is simple WRX spec. with 280bhp and no rear spoiler (which comes in as the lightest and cheapest member of the Impreza Turbo family at 1210kg because it has no air-con, electric windows or hi-fi). Then comes the STi Type RA, with its full rear spoiler and more torque. Both RA models feature the ultra-close ratio gearbox.
To drive, the Type R is blisteringly quick through the gears and a fearsome machine both in a straight line and through tight, twisty bends. If it has a fault, it's that it is too full-on for British roads - too stiffly sprung, too-low geared, too on/off - and it needs care in wet conditions.
Strictly limited production 22B is a Porsche-eating replica of Colin McRae's rally Impreza.
If the Impreza Turbo has become and icon, the 22B is the holy grail of the Subaru acolyte. It's as near as you're ever going to get to the world rally car driven by McRae et al. And given that a plaque inside tells you that only 424 of the things have been made (16 of which were official UK imports), you're going to be almost as fortunate as McRae to be driving one.
Just look at the 22B. It's two-door Type R body has gone on a course of steroids, resulting in an even deeper front spoiler, big wheel arch blisters and side skirts. And that adjustable rear spoiler - an exact replica of the WRC car - just screams "serious". Incidentally the WRC styling/aerodynamic mods come courtesy of McLaren F1 designer Peter Stevens.
The reason that the body is pumped-up is that underneath bristles a bespoke chassis with wider forged-aluminium suspension arms. The wider track and spectacular 17-inch gold alloy wheels fill the fat arches perfectly.
You also get an adjustable centre differential that integrates superbly with the four-wheel-drive system, although it hardly seems suited to British roads. The gearbox is heavy-duty, of course, and close ratio by any standards, including a twin-plate clutch. And the suspension is very firmly sprung indeed.
Central to the 22B is a larger version of the flat-four engine. It's expanded from 1994cc to 2212cc. Despite rumours of 350bhp power output, the 22B really does stick within the Japanese formula of 280bhp at the wheels - even so, it's just 20bhp shy of McRae's 1998 rally car. The 22B does have more useable torque (265lb ft at 3200rpm compared with the 2.0-litre WRX's 260lb ft at 4000rpm) and its maximum power output is delivered 500rpm lower too, at 6000rpm. Just to emphasise the rally origins of the 22B, there's a driver operated water-spray for the intercooler.
The upshot of it all is that the 22B is a monster to drive. All its responses are ultra-sharp. The quick-rack steering is super-sensitive, the clutch always cuts in with a jerk, the grippy 235/40 Pirelli P Zero tyres don't waver at all, and the turbo doesn't have any lag at all when it kicks in at 3000rpm. The uprated brakes are among the most powerful of any road car, anywhere, and make do without ABS. The 22B is frankly frantic to pilot, with gearing seemingly set up for rally stages and suspension set up to jolt the most firmly set teeth.
Go to Next Page
Return to home page