Subaru’s impressive hot Impreza

Iain Dooley checks out Subaru's five-door WRX STI rally-inspired performance special.

Engines – Subaru is famous for its flat-four 'Boxer' engine range. Unlike a conventional inline four-cylinder motor, Subaru's is flat and the pistons sit horizontally opposed and the action is like that of a boxer's punch. The WRX and STI models gain a turbo and output ranges from around 225 to almost 300 horsepower. And, with plenty of torque available, mid-range acceleration is brisk to say the least.

Exterior – The switch from the old four-door saloon shape to this five-door design caused a few heated discussions among the die-hard fans, but the general perception has been positive. Certainly, the car fits in well with other compact hatchbacks, and the inclusion of bodykit, quad tail pipes and a rear diffuser ensure that the WRX won't be mistaken for a 1.5-litre variant.

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Interior – Functional is the best way to describe the Impreza's interior. Its European rivals might be able to sleep easy, but there's no questioning the car's durability. It's also reasonably spacious inside and, where fitted, the chunky and supportive front sports seats are just the job for some spirited driving.

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Driving – With its turbo motor and, let's not forget, all-wheel drive, the Impreza WRX is a rapid machine. In the real world on challenging country roads there's little that can beat the Impreza. And if the roads are less than perfectly dry, nothing will be able to touch you. The Impreza is also a car that you 'experience' as the Boxer engine warbles away and transmission delivers a distant whine that will be familiar to all rally car fans.

Ownership – Despite its affordable price tag, the Impreza WRX and STI models are full-blown performance cars. As such, insurance and fuel will be your main costs. Driven hard you can expect to see low 20s fuel economy – remember, this is a car capable of giving Porsche 911s a hard time in the wet. That aside, this Impreza offers a similar level of practicality as a any other compact hatch.

What to look for – Popular with performance drivers and a regular sight at track days, always insist on a detailed service history and don't be afraid to ask the owner what he or she has been up to. Everything should work and the car's brakes, gearshift and engine should all operate in a crisp and responsive manner. The latter's exhaust should be clean and free from smoke, too. A test-drive is essential – make sure the car tracks straight, is free of crash damage and note any modifications.

Model history – 2007, Subaru launches new five-door Impreza, complete with trademark range of flat-four 'Boxer' petrol engines – diesel power followed in 2009. High-performance WRX and STI models arrived in 2008 with power for the latter topping 295hp. Sports seats and a suitably sporty bodykit rounded off the experience.

Reasons to buy – Affordable and accessible all-weather performance, practical five-door layout.

Reasons to beware – Cabin quality, thirst and running costs, image.

Pick of the range – Impreza 2.5 WRX STI five-door.

What to pay – 2007 57 �15,950; 2008 08 �18,050; 2008 58 �18,750; 2009 09 �20,275; 2009 59 �21,200; 2010 10 �22,925. Figures relate to showroom prices for cars in A1 condition.

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