After nine months and nine thousand miles the Subaru is heading home - will it be missed?
So my tenure with the Subaru WRX STI Not Impreza has come to a close, just shy of 9,000 miles and nine months after it started. And I'm going to be sorry to see it go.
Fair to say it's not a car that's won everybody over in its time on the PH Fleet, or in the wider world either. Actually, that's putting it too mildly. A good number of people seem think this car is an unwelcome relic of a bygone era, compromised, outdated and irrelevant in the age of 300hp-plus four-wheel drive mega hatches. As one colleague correctly identified, all the money went on the engineering. Leaving nothing in the budget for, you know, stuff like the interior. Or a decent infotainment system. But that's what I love about this car.
As evidenced by the bewildering array of graphs and data earnestly thrown at us at the launch event, the WRX STI has been built with total honesty and absolutely zero cynicism. It hasn't been relentlessly benchmarked or subjected to customer clinics. No attempt has been made to appeal to an audience beyond those who like Subarus with big wings. This, ladies and gentlemen, is basically the anti Golf R. For that reason alone I'm glad exchange rates make it viable for Subaru to sell it here again, the (just) sub-£30K price actually looking like decent value for what you get.
Enough flag waving. What's it actually been like to live with? The looks will be a Marmite thing but the sheer aggression still stands out in the currently conservative climate. I like the fact the Japanese seem to have regained their bonkers edge, this and the Civic Type R totally bucking the prevailing trend for underplayed looks. It's a turbo nutter car and it looks like one. Bravo. But under all that it's proved decently practical, the boot has taken bikes and furniture and remains usefully big even when the back seats are filled with a couple of baby seats. The grown-up ones don't have every-which way adjustment but - get this - just feel good and it's a comfortable if predictably cut-price cabin. Touch points are OK but you don't need to dig deep to find exposed this or Tupperware that you simply wouldn't get in a German rival. Likewise the Pioneer head unit, which ticks all the functional boxes of nav, phone connectivity and the rest but adds a grand to the price and feels about 15 years out of date. Spotting a theme here?
Someone had a sense of humour putting a touchscreen operated system in a car with suspension this stiff too... Ah yes, the ride. It's not shy, let's put it that way. But once up to pace the spring and dampers are perfectly matched and, in character, it does at least match the snappy clutch, twitchy steering and hyper aggressive throttle response. You can at least dial the latter back with the mapping switch and I spent most of my time in the more mellow Intelligent setting, enjoying its less aggressive initial phase and then the sense of the turbo spooling up.
No, it's not a relaxing car to drive by any stretch. Tiresome even, if you're not in the mood. Because this is a car always on the attack and one that gets better the harder you drive it. What it lacks in electronically contrived driving modes it more than makes up for in 'proper' mechanical adjustability too. You know, the type derived from steering and throttle inputs. Or an adjustable centre diff, the 'open' minus setting offering a nice neutral to rear balance with less understeer and minimal drive influence on the front axle and (still hydraulically assisted) steering. Examples of where being outdated can be a positive.
Did anything go wrong? Well the puncture over Christmas and subsequent diff warning light were a pain but that was no fault of the car. More annoying was the disappearance of the USB/aux-in interface into the centre binnacle. A bit of DIY and skinned knuckles retrieved and replaced it was an unfortunate confirmation of the cabin's flimsier elements. That won't stick in the memory as much as the four-wheel drifts round slip roads, the inescapable bassy soundtrack of the exhaust or the all-round character of the car, especially at full chat. There are now more socially respectable ways of taking apart a greasy British B-road but it's nice to know Subaru still sets the standard. In a small nod to the modern age I even saw mpg figures starting with a '3' when tickling along, something I'd have considered pure fantasy when I was running my old MY95 WRX back in the day.
And while it's departing the PH Fleet I have a feeling a turbocharged flat-four may be returning to my personal one in the not too distant. For both Subaru and its fans old habits die hard it seems.