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No longer just for the 'racer boys'

The latest Impreza WRX has been toned down somewhat, and can now also be used to take the kids to school without scaring people off with the noise of the exhaust

Published on February 20, 2008

The problem with niche brands is that they don't make big money. Take Subaru, for example. The initial market for Subarus was pretty much the racer boys. The Impreza was a rally-bred race car, like a race horse pulling a carriage. This was a performance car that you could drive back and forth every day. It was a car in which you could drive into the set of the movie "Fast and the Furious - Tokyo Drift" and fit right in.

 Now back to the niche-brands bit. Niche brands don't make enough money. They stay niche and are not able to appeal to the masses, where all the profit is to be made. Subaru's solution? Tone down the testosterone on the design and make it somewhat run of the mill. Something that you can take your kids to school in and whose exhaust note won't scare away other children.

 So the new Impreza is smooth and sleek but not inspiring. It's a design that can be appreciated by a larger audience. The hatchback - the model to be sold in Thailand - looks simple in 1.5R guise but gets a more aggressive front and rear bumper in the 2.5-WRX form, which is the version we are testing here. The WRX comes with a huge front air-intake scoop, which still tells you this is a Subaru.

To be completely honest, I was a fan of the old Subaru design school. I wanted to drive a Subaru and scare away the local soi dogs.

If this car didn't have a Subaru badge on it, I would still admire its beauty, but with such a badge expectations go up. What really stands out is the rear-lights design, which uses LEDs to create a very stylish light set-up.

If there is one really good thing that has come out of this Subaru going to the masses, it the interior quality. Many claimed that the old interior of the Impreza wasn't top-notch and there was lots of room for improvement.

But the new Impreza cleans up its act. There is a quality feel to the interior and it is more ergonomic. The steering wheel feels better quality and the gap between the plastics has decreased to a point that the Impreza does actually feel a little premium, although there is still room for improvement here.

 The Impreza's interior isn't the most exciting place to be. You'd actually consider going back into the house and playing the PS3 rather than spending the first day of owning your Impreza staring and drooling over when you can sneak out without the wife knowing.

 Life, however, is now easier on back-seat passengers. In the previous Impreza, it was a formidable place where you'd put only those people you call friends but don't really want in your life. Now there is more space in the rear to move around and it makes up for the blockage created up front due to the large supportive driver and passenger seats.

Going to the masses also means being more driveable, and if I were to judge the Impreza's driving characteristics, I'd say that in a way they've reduced its potency. But the symmetrical all-wheel-drive technology reminds you of the previous power as you push harder into corners and the Impreza claws in for grip. What bothers me is the body roll, which seems to push the Impreza slightly out of the controllable and fun driving character that the previous version used to come with.

The 2.5-litre turbocharged engine produces 220bhp, feels undoubtedly fast and you're in full control with the good seating position. The manual gear lever, though, feels unrefined and shifting gears is a tricky business.

Ignore this gear problem in the city and the new Impreza can truly show off its updated engineering: how it runs over potholes with muted thuds rather than crash over them like with the old version, and how it treats its rear-seat passengers with more respect - and their bottoms and backs with more softness.

This is not to say, however, that the new Impreza does not have what it takes to give you the fun you need on a weekend drive into the twisties. This Impreza is more of a direct 50:50 split between the cultured and extreme life style.

While old Impreza enthusiasts will frown at the changes that have been made in the new vehicle, you can expect the Subaru salesperson to be smiling as more customers walk thought the door.

 The new design theory and the mass market that Subaru wants to appeal to mean the new Impreza is now an option to many that would never have considered it in the past: those who thought that only their son, who wore a torn pair of jeans and had a flame tattoo, would be worthy of driving the Impreza.

The question finally is whether you're willing to pay Bt2.4 million for a car that your wife can take the kids to school in on weekdays and you can take to the track with your buddies at the weekend. So whether the new Impreza 2.5 WRX is for you depends on which category you fall into.

But if you're someone who prefers the full, uncastrated Impreza appeal, then wait up - the WRX STi is coming!

Vijo Varghese

The Nation

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