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Road Impressions:

Subaru WRX Impreza

Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief

Subaru WRX Impreza

SEE ALSO: Subaru Buyer's Guide

There are drivers who like to show off and then are drivers who don't. The first lot belong to the "if you've got it, flaunt it " category, the latter prefer the product to do the talking. The latest Subaru WRX Impreza certainly belongs to the second . Some people might feel that the cars are deliberately ugly or at least lacking in style. They could be right. Subaru will never win styling awards, they clearly prefer awards of a more significant kind. Such as winning the world rally championship.

This series of races is not-as yet- in the United States which is a great shame. The various makes such as Subaru, Ford, Peugeot and others fight it out over some of the toughest terrains in the World-such as the back roads of Kenya.

How far removed from what we think is normal? Well, on the recent East African Safari Rally my colleagues from the British specialist magazine CAR came across three Masai tribesmen looking for a lift. They were very much the real thing-a tribe living a traditional life complete with beads, ear-rings and last but definitely not least-spears! The boys decided that discretion was the better part of valor and duly opened the back door for the three locals. They carefully put the spears down by the gear lever and started singing native songs as if it were the most natural thing in the World. Which for them it most certainly was...

It was in East Africa where the legend of the WRX was born. Let's face it. There is advertising, there is PR, there is even BS, but when the chips are down and you are dodging elephants and zebras on roads which are more suitable for camels there are two possibilities-either you finish the race or ask the mechanics to collect the bits of what was once an automobile from a ravine. If that wasn't enough punishment the cars move on to some of the coldest, least hospitable parts of Finland for punishment of a different kind. Now you know how an ugly duckling such as the WRX has become the darling of the motoring cognoscenti all over the World.

Having said all that it is not for me. Yes, it is compact and it is innocuous which, as I've mentioned before does have a certain charm. The engine is eager and willing-provided you are in the right gear . Otherwise you could get yourself into a spot of trouble. Torque is certainly not this engine's virtue so you might find yourself changing down from fifth to third if you are about to be collected by a wayward Toyota Corolla-surely the least inspiring automobile of all times.

The steering is great as is the Momo steering wheel and the instrumentation is fine. The ride and handling should be taught to other manufacturers at school, quite brilliant. I am not quite certain about the clutch. Maybe the example I had was somewhat tired but after a few stops and starts on the hills of San Francisco I could not help wondering just how long the clutch could cope with that sort of punishment. (I have since been told that the clutch was in fact fine.) I have driven every car in the Subaru range and must admit that my favorite is still the Forester. Not even the 3 liter version but the humble 2.5. No, I know it's not a racer but then neither am I. I know it does not hold the road as well as the WRX but then I am perfectly happy with the way it handles. I remember taking it up to Squaw Valley with three people and a lot of luggage-never missed a beat.

If on the other hand you are either young or at the very least young at heart-and a keen driver who likes to surprise Porsches and Audis on winding roads the WRX could well be for you. You and 14 thousand others who will have purchased it by the end of 2001. Roll on a US round of the FIA World Rally Championship!

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