Friday, 28 September 2007

Subaru Impreza - third generation

Time makes fools of us all. It’s an unfortunate but unavoidable fact that as we plough onwards into the ethereal mists of that which is yet to happen, the constant bouncing of atoms and microns from our taut and rosy skin gradually ebbs away our vigour and vitality. We turn into wrinkled, wizened husks of our former selves; ridiculed and derided by a disinterested society, a total loss of control over one’s bodily functions… face it, as the sand in your hourglass tumbles south, your jowls, cankles and bingo wings will inevitably follow.

Nothing to get too down about, of course. It’s just nature. Things age and things die, that’s just the way it goes. But where do we offset this inevitable decline? Why, in the things we create, of course! Our minds and our hands craft things of beauty – innovative designs, provocative forms, mouthwatering dreams. With a blank sheet and a pencil, there are no boundaries to that which we may conjure up.

So… how do we explain the new Subaru Impreza?

The first and second generations were obviously tough acts to follow. Bred on the rally stage and idolised by seafront pikeys and aging motorsport aficionados alike, the Impreza was fundamentally a cutthroat no-holds-barred technology race with Mitsubishi’s equally muscular Evo line. 150bhp per litre? Piffle. Check out my S-AWC and my active centre diff. Behold, my beefy Brembos. Tremble in the mighty presence of active yaw control.

The competition was fierce, the militant split between the yellow stars and the red diamonds was the most tangible social divide since Britpop. The constant stream of marginally upgraded editions from both camps – RB5, STi PPP, FQ-400, any other combination of random letters and numbers you can think of – kept appetites whetted, while the introduction of a facelifted model (or better yet, an entirely new one) sent followers and observers into a priapic frenzy.

In 2005 Mitsubishi showcased their Concept-X, a radical vision of the next generation of the Lancer bloodline. Too extreme? They confirmed the glistening extravaganza with 2007’s Prototype-X – effectively demonstrating just how serious the Lancer Evo X would be. Subaru would have to do something incredibly bold to retaliate.

Unfortunately, the Subaru execs were all in the pub at the time and missed the whole thing. While the world swooned at Mitsubishi’s golden child, some twats in Ota were discussing the profit margins of practical family hatchbacks. For shame.

The gen-3 Impreza will, of course, be a phenomenally clever and well-engineered car. It will be focused, balanced and tailored to the driving enthusiast. It will be successful in motorsport. It will be impressive on track. It will perform superbly as a daily driver. But this isn’t really the point… not any more.

The classic four-door silhouette that one would classically associate with the Impreza name was never what you would call pretty. It didn’t need to be – the point was to be aggressive, menacing, bullish, a little scary… what Subaru have done to the newbie is tantamount to vandalism. All the technology in the world can’t save a mumsy shopping hatch as dour and drab as this.

The word ‘Impreza’ in Polish means ‘event’ or ‘party’, and in a way it’s still appropriate to the car. After all, you could argue that entirely ruining a loved and respected machine by making it look like a Mynheer Rover is an event in terms of general media noteworthiness if nothing else. Just doesn’t look like a party car any more though, does it?

The really irritating thing about the gen-3 is the sheer number of people that must have been involved in the horrific act of mass sabotage. Countless design teams, committees, boards, focus groups – it’s a shame. A real shame. They took their blank sheet and deliberately created something ugly and aesthetically offensive. Time, it’s a tragedy to say, has taken its toll on the Scooby.

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