I have never in my life driven a car that I cannot reasonably afford. This is for two reasons: firstly, I don’t want to work the streets to pay for any potential accidents; and secondly, not many Bentley dealerships let 21-year-olds with a patchy beard and bad BO go for a test drive.
So that means there is a very limited number of vehicles I could write an article about. There are the four or five hot hatches I’ve pretended to be interested in buying, my old Mazda 626 that I had for one summer, and my old Subaru Impreza.
I wanted to like this car. It brought back fond memories of my childhood playing Need for Speed Underground using a WRC blue Rexy with the #standard and correct gold alloys. The car was fitted with a manual gearbox, 4WD and special edition, cough, leather, cough, bucket seats. Immediately this shows intent; it demonstrates a passion for motoring and a determination for adventure.
This car is parading a number of options that are a little less easy to stomach. One is a sky blue paint job that would be more appropriate in a baby’s bedroom, and the others are some aftermarket wheels that don’t do much for styling and certainly don’t do much for comfort. To get an idea of how this car rides, I would like you to visit Stonehenge and wait there until one of the rocks falls on you. Five minutes driving this car will give you swollen testicles, and 10 minutes will put you in a wheelchair.
Perhaps I’m being harsh – maybe my high expectations are the issue. But how could I have high expectations when it looks that damn ugly? This Impreza resembles the unfortunate birth product of a blob fish and a letterbox. How could a whole team of designers come up with that and think they did a good job? To make matters worse, it's not even overly practical. The boot is the shape of your average tent, but half the size, and consequently can consume nothing more than your disappointment. Likewise, rear leg room is abysmal. There is more space between an American’s thighs.
So, what about the performance? Subaru likes to remind us that it is 'all 4 the driver'; a clever pun alluding to its 4WD and historical driver enjoyment. I imagine that motto was derived from a group of well-suited individuals, all picturing a late-nineties WRX tearing through a dirt and snowy track possibly somewhere in Finland, claiming victory in each of its escapades.
Well, I’m not exactly sure this car can cash those cheques. The engine does sound good when you hunt for the redline, which is just as well because the boxer unit produces about as much torque as a donkey and cart. The quoted acceleration is nine seconds to reach the benchmark 100km/h, but not even Sébastian Löeb could make it move that fast.
He could, though, probably fling it around a few corners, because for a $25K car this thing can grip and move rather well, doubtlessly aided by four-wheel drive. The steering is well weighted, too, for a small hatchback, and there is a reasonable amount of feedback fed through it. And, anyway, you will know exactly what the road feels like through the degree of shattering in your spine.
But back to that mentioned sum of $25,000. It is a lot more than most of its Japanese or European rivals, nearly all of which offer an equal or better driving experience, have much classier interiors, and don’t bring you to tears at the sight of them.
So what exactly demands the $4K premium over a similarly spec’d Mazda 3? Well, apart from 4WD, the only thing that springs to mind is Subaru’s legendary reliability. But don’t confuse reliability for quality, because I’ve spent the last five years foaming like a rabies-ridden Labrador over a squeaking noise from somewhere on the dash. And the boot cover rattles around even when it's secured in its correct position. Although, sometimes you don’t recognise those little irritations, largely thanks to the horrific road noise at any speed above crawling pace.
So, to sum it up then, for the same amount you could have a front-wheel-drive alternative that is better to drive and better to look at, plus $4000 to spend on a widescreen TV, Xbox and Need for Speed Underground, where you can go back and drive a Subaru that anyone cares about.