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The following is from page 10 of the November 20, 2000 issue of AutoWeek:

First Drive

Cult forms to the right: Impreza WRX will impress

The Subarus Impreza WRX is as much a part of contemporary British life as a lackluster national soccer team, dark beer served warm and Prime Minister Tony Blair's scary grin. During the past five years Impreza has morphed into the United Kingdom's cultists' cult car. It is an accolade achieved through a combination of addictive performance, sharp pricing and Briton Colin McRae winning the 1995 World Rally Championship in an Impreza insouciantly chewing up gravel roads, rarely at less than 45 degrees to the intended direction of travel.

You might wonder what the fuss is, given the American perception of Subaru as purveyor of all-wheel drive to the Snowbelt. Equipping Subaru's lusty flat-four with a turbocharger was a starting point. Bumping power to 218 hp helped. Making the thing stop, turn and--critically--deliver warp-factor third-gear acceleration made Impreza immensely seductive to the McRae'd masses.

This where the story get complicated for the U.K. and simple for the United States. The U.S. angle? WRX arrives in spring 2001. Advice? Form an orderly queue now. To understand the U.K. Subaru family tree, read on.

In Japan, the top-model Impreza Turbo is labeled WRX: 280-hp, zero-travel suspension, and gearing so short Lance Armstrong could use it to win an alpine time trial. But the Japan-market WRX doesn't meet European noise or emission laws--nonetheless, thanks to a legal loophole, earnest British car nerds imported WRXs privately.

To counteract this threat, Subaru U.K. commissioned the limited-edition 240-horsepower RB5--named for rally star Richard Burns--and the P1, re-engineered by Prodrive, the British company that designs, engineers and operates the World Rally team.

That, then, is the genus of the new-generation WRX in Britain. Had to handle brilliantly to surpass RB5 and P1. Had to offer a shade less aural intensity at highway speeds. Couldn't lose any sharpness, betray the slightest hint of middle-aged spread or Impreza's tight relationship with some of the U.K.'s most strident auto-evangelists would fade.

Didn't matter so much about some goofy styling touches. Those wide-eyed headlights are distinctive, but don't play too comfortably with a snarling radiator grille: Rally-influenced fender blisters and 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels add visual heft. The interior, too, trades high-cheese plastics for decently surfaced moldings, with fake aluminum trim pieces.

Suspension is strut all-around, with revised pick-up points and geometry, a new hydroformed front subframe and raised rear roll center. The bodyshell is now 250 stiffer, 2.6 inches longer and the tread around an inch wider: more interior space meets greater dynamic stability.

The 121-cubic-inch flat-four, with three catalysts for improved cold-start emission performance, remains pegged at 218 hp--U.S. models will lose 3 horsepower--with a torque peak of 215.4 lb-ft arriving at 3600 rpm. Top speed is 143 mph with 0 to 60 mph dashed off in 5.9 seconds.

Feel quick? Unmistakably. But WRX also feels lithe, alive and glued to the asphalt. At idle, the boxer burbles richly. Through the gears, WRX flies. And all the stuff that might crash the party doess not: light, crisp shift; sharp, four-square brakes; immense grip; an innate sense of controllability on throttle, brakes and steering.

The revalved, engine speed-senstive power steering is astonishly communicative, doling out repeated opportunities to point and, indeed, squirt. Compared to the old Impreza, this car also incorporates a suppler ride, greater tolerance of aging asphalt and is quieter, too.

Plus, thanks to the side profile, you can actually see out of this car, position it accurately from entry to exit. Easy to overlook is that this is a totally usable four-door sedan, with standard equipment including rear knee-room and a usable trunk--stuff normally denied
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