Subaru makes big impact with WRX STi 340R

THIS review begins, not with me trying to describe the frenzied thrum and crackle of performance-tweaked Subaru engine at full chat, but with a gentle knock at my front door. A friend of the folk across the road has just reversed his motor into the side of “my” WRX STi 340R, and is here to ’fess up. Right in the middle of Doctor Who as well.

And so, with a phalanx of Daleks freeze-framed on my telly, I troop outside to inspect the damage. I’m certain the bash will be undetectable without access to an electron microscope – the culprit’s Suzuki Wagon R looks like a toaster and weighs about the same – but it turns out it’s clad with some particularly unforgiving plastic bumpers. Even in the dark, I can see the Scoob’s dinged door doesn’t look good.

“It doesn’t look good,” says the man from over the road, running his fingers over the car’s new crinkle cut exterior. He sounds near to tears.

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So let’s postpone discussing the WRX’s performance for a moment (SPOILER ALERT! It’s insane), while I tell you and the apologetic gentleman on my doorstep about Subaru’s “Everything Taken Care Of” package.

Buy a new Subaru – any Subaru – and included in the price is three years’ worth of monthly wash and vacs, annual valets, repairs to scuffed alloy wheels, lost key replacement and, most valuable of all, minor dent and scratch repairs. That’s right, prang your car (or have someone prang it while you’re in the supermarket) and you’re covered for up to £1,000 of repairs per year for three years. Your insurance company, and its Random-o-Matic premium-generating machine, need never know.

And so, when I phone Subaru’s people to let them know their press car has an interesting new crease along its offside flank, they casually suggest I take it to my local Subaru dealer (there’s one a couple of miles from the scene of the carnage, below) and have it repaired, no questions asked. “It would make an interesting feature,” they suggest. Indeed it would, but time and other commitments get in the way, so I send the car – dent and all – back to Subaru HQ at the end of the week, and let them nurse it back to health. Still, I think we can chalk up another victory for peace-of-mind motoring.

So, the Subaru WRX STi 340R. What’s it all about then? Well, for this recipe, you’ll need a “standard” WRX STi (a £26,995, near-300bhp fireball with forest stages in its DNA and legions of fans with Subaru-branded clothing and closely-cropped hair) and, for a further £1,599, Subaru’s people will wring another 40’ish horsepower and a smattering of extra torque from its 2.5-litre engine. The net result is, as I hinted at earlier, insane. The 0-62mph dash drops from 5.2 seconds to 4.7 and the top speed, if you have a race track to hand, or frequently find yourself on the autobahn, nudges 160mph.

Because it’s an official Subaru conversion, it comes with an official Subaru warranty, which is nice to know when you’re redlining every last drop of performance out of it. If you’ve already got a WRX STi on your drive, the 340R upgrade package, which includes a revised engine management chip and wufflier exhausts, can be retro-fitted to it.

The standard WRX’s underneathy bits – all-wheel-drive system, rock-hard suspension and transmission – remain the same, which is fine with us, because the car sticks like a limpet in the bends. If you know what you’re doing (I don’t), a switch near the gearstick will send more power to the rear wheels for tail-out fun, but don’t expect Subaru’s £1,000-a-year repair fund to be of much use if you wrap it round a tree.

What’s also unchanged is the interior which, in best Subaru tradition, puts function before form. The dashboard and switchgear designs are at least a decade behind mainstream rivals, and the kindest thing I can think to say about some of the cabin plastics is that at least they’ll be easy to wipe down should your passengers find all that acceleration and lateral g-force too much to cope with. People with Audis will scoff. Then again, they’ll also have to pay an extra £15,000 for an A3 that can cling to the Subaru’s coat tails on a cross-country dash.

The hip-hugging sports seats do a fine job of holding occupants in place but, if you’re built like me and struggle to squeeze into the biggest jeans Next sells, you’ll find them a bit narrow.

The WRX and the fast Imprezas which preceded it have faces only a mother could love, but this latest car, in four-door saloon guise, brings a measure of maturity and elegance to the mix. If you’re used to seeing rally replica Subarus dressed in blue with gold wheels, then our test car’s red paint and black alloys might catch you off guard. I think the car suits its new clothes, although one observer wondered if it was “yin o’ they Mitsuwhatsits”?

I hope he meant an Evo X, and not a Shogun.

VITAL STATS

CAR Subaru WRX STi 340R

PRICE £28,594

PERFORMANCE Max speed 158 mph; 0-62 mph 4.7 secs

MPG 26.9 combined

CO2 EMISSIONS 243g/km