For many years, Subaru punched well above its weight in the UK.
A relatively small importer of cars to Britain, the Japanese four-wheel drive specialist was held in particularly high regard by performance cars fans, chiefly because of its Impreza WRX and STi saloon models.
Boasting outrageous standard performance, cutting edge drive-trains and easily tuned engines, these high performance Imprezas also offered four-door practicality, relatively cheap ‘bang-for buck’ purchase prices and the street-cred that came with an extensive and highly successful rallying history.
More recently, Subaru has been cutting a lower profile. Although still a proudly niche manufacturer, it has been concentrating on its more mainstream models – the Forester crossover and spacious Legacy estate – while the high performance side of its operation has been gradually fading from sight, particularly without a manufacturer presence in the World Rally Championship.
All the while, however, there have been Subaru WRX and WRX STi versions of the Impreza available, but the model has not proved as popular with high performance fans since the switch to a hatchback, rather than a saloon design.
Subaru’s answer has been to tweak the line-up – offering the WRX STi model as a saloon to appease fans and removing the Impreza name from the high performance models, making them a sub-brand in their own right. But not before having one last play with the hatchback model.
The Cosworth Impreza STi CS400 will prove a rare sight on the roads. Only 75 are being crafted for the UK market and with that exclusivity comes an exclusive price tag. Just shy of £50,000 in fact. That’s more than three and a half times the price of an entry level Impreza 5-door. It’s hard to think of another model with such a gulf between the crucial numbers in the brochure.
But then, it’s a very special vehicle. The Cosworth Impreza has not merely been breathed on by the high performance engineer, it’s received a comprehensive going over.
Power is up 33 per cent over the (hardly under-powered) WRX STi. Cosworth has redeveloped the engine internals with high performance pistons built in a similar manner to those in the company’s F1 engines, stronger, forged con-rods, a unique main bearing design, heavy-duty bolts and gaskets, a high-pressure oil pump, a redesigned exhaust and an all-new turbocharging system.
The result is 395bhp from a four-cylinder unit. 62mph is reached in 3.7 seconds. It pips its nearest competitor, the Mitsubishi Evo FQ400, to the post, and will give a Lamborghini Gallardo costing three times as much a run for its money.
The power delivery is impressive. The model’s four-wheel drive system features a 50-50 split as default, launching the car with an initially startling ferocity. It’s a little slower to build at lower rpm, but from 3500rpm the engine really starts to pull, whipping its way through the six-speed transmission in a flurry of induction roar and waste-gate hiss.
The intelligent four-wheel minimises wheel-spin from standing starts, but also bolsters grip through the corners. The Impreza flat-four engine gets the model off to a good start with a low centre of gravity improving cornering ability. The WRX STi version builds on that core ability with the same advanced four-wheel drive system to monitor wheel slip. But the Cosworth Impreza truly exploits the arrangement with its huge power reserves and Cosworth tuned suspension with special Eibach springs and Bilstein damper inserts.
It takes a lot to provoke under-steer; far too much corner entry speed to be advisable. On a demanding country road the nose will simply tuck in time and time again. On track, the Cosworth Impreza ought to be unshakeable. Get it wrong and 355mm front brakes will bring the car to an abrupt halt.
And, in time honoured Impreza tradition, all of this is delivered from a practical, useable base. Fuel economy is actually not too frightening; the five-door layout with a decent boot is in place. Inside is a slightly more lavish interior with leather bucket seats and aluminium, but nothing to make popping to the supermarket an ordeal.
Sure, interior quality is not up there with high performance Audi’s or BMWs that will cost similar sums – and the steering could be considered a little light at speed although this makes it better around town – but the Subaru will retain bragging right in terms of performance.
Even the ride is surprisingly comfortable, for a car with so much pent-up aggression at least.
Imprezas will always maintain a special place in the high performance car fans heart. This Cosworth model shows exactly why.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Subaru Cosworth Impreza STi CS400, £49,995.
Engine: 2.5-litre diesel unit developing 395bhp and 400lb/ft.
Transmission: Six-speed manual transmission as standard, driving all four wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 155mph (electronically limited), 0-62mph 3.7 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 243g/km.
By Richard M Hammond