Impreza WRX returns from gym as the STI

Yes it's an Impreza, but this one's been pumped so full of 'roids it has a visceral appeal lacking from lower priced versions.

Yes it's an Impreza, but this one's been pumped so full of 'roids it has a visceral appeal lacking from lower priced versions.

When Subaru released the latest Impreza last year, we let out a big sigh of disappointment. Yes, we found the design bland and, even, a little bit ugly, but stunning aesthetics have never really been a big part of the Subaru ethos. No, it was the company's stated objectives to "broaden [its] appeal" and target "European hatches" which had us worried. To this end, Subaru toned down the rumble from its flat-four engine and dropped much of the aggressive visual addenda from its turbocharged WRX model.

While some Subaru fans agreed with us, car buyers seem to be lapping up the Impreza's new direction with the car recording big sales gains over the previous model. We had our first look at the new Impreza WRX STI at the Melbourne Motor Show and, with the new car's flared wheel arches and tougher stance, it should satisfy those wanting not just more performance but also craving some in-your-face aggro.

Backing up the looks are a swag of performance modifications. There's a massaged version of the familiar turbocharged 2.5-litre boxer four boasting 221kW of power and 407Nm of torque. That's up significantly from both the 169kW and 320Nm on the standard WRX, and the 206kW and 392Nm of the old model. Coupled with a six-speed manual gearbox -- the normal WRX only has five speeds -- and Subaru's four-wheel drive system, the STI can slingshot you from 0 to 100km/h in 5.2 seconds.

There are two STI models on sale now, a base model priced at AU$59,990 and the more expensive spec.R at AU$64,990. Mechanically both models feature an adjustable centre differential (which allows drivers to adjust the front-rear torque split), as well as limited slip differentials on both the front and rear wheels (this adjusts the torque side-to-side depending on conditions). Standard too are fog lights, quad exhausts, self-levelling xenon headlights and 18-inch alloy wheels.

On the inside you get a 10 speaker audio system with steering wheel audio controls, an auxiliary jack for plugging in MP3 players and a six-stack CD player. The only option on both models is a AU$2,990 DVD sat nav system with Bluetooth hands-free. While you gain a large VGA screen in the centre of the dash by ticking this box, you do lose the CD stacker. The extra AU$5,000 for the spec.R nabs you rally-style BBS alloy wheels and grippy part-leather, part-alcantara Recaro seats.

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