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In case you missed a hyperactive Norwegian leaping across your television screen last November, Subaru UK has this to remind you that Petter Solberg won the 2003 World Rally Championship – the fastest and most powerful UK-sanctioned Impreza yet.
Badged ‘WR1’, the Solberg edition is limited to just 500 cars and, though based on an STi, it’s a world away both on road and track. The special edition is easy to spot: it sits 25mm lower on gorgeous 18in Speedline seven-spoke alloys, and comes in attractive Ice Blue paint with a WRC-style front spoiler with integral driving lights, stainless steel mesh grille and some slightly naff ‘WR1’ transfers on the front wings.
Things aren’t too different from an STi on the inside, save for grey rather than blue trim for the comfortable and supportive bucket seats, a commemorative plaque on the dash, numbered tax disc holder and ‘WR1’ logos on the floor mats and aluminium gearknob.
Then there’s the pair of switches beside the handbrake that operate the WR1’s DCCD, or Driver’s Control Centre Differential; flick from automatic to manual mode and a dial allows you to vary the torque distribution between the front and rear wheels – delivering up to 64 per cent of the WR1’s power to the back end.
This transforms the Impreza’s performance on track. Where the STi was a determined understeerer, the WR1 is hugely adjustable and in slower corners just stepping on the power allows you to indulge in classic rear-drive oversteer. The steering isn’t as direct as that of a Mitsubishi Evo, but still feels sharp, and hefty weighting inspires confidence.
There’s loads of grip from the 225/40 Pirelli P-Zero Neros and traction is breathtaking. Rev to 7000rpm, drop the clutch and the WR1 acts as if it has been drop-kicked by Jonny Wilkinson, accompanied by a classic Scooby hammering flat-four soundtrack. Exhaust and catalyst mods and a revised ECU have boosted power to 316bhp at 5800rpm – that’s 15bhp more at 200rpm less than the STi PPP (Prodrive Performance Pack).
Torque is up by 11lb ft to 310lb ft at the same 4000rpm and Subaru claims the WR1 will hit 60mph from rest in 4.3sec – compared to the 5.1sec we managed in an STi PPP.But figures don’t tell the whole story: it’s how the power arrives that impresses most. It’s still possible to be caught in no-man’s land below 3500rpm, but delivery is far more linear than the light-switch action of the STi.
The huge Brembo brakes are standard STi – which means massive retardation and impressive pedal feel – as is the six-speed gearbox, so there’s the usual short throw, close gate, and lots of built-in obstinacy.Where the WR1 really excels, and puts clear air between itself and either STi or Evo, is on the road. Prodrive has once again worked its magic: uprated springs and dampers ensure superb body control, but without the expected jarring ride. Instead, the WR1 absorbs minor surface intrusions with indifference.
If you happen to have £30k to spend on one car to serve as daily driver, family motor and weekend track weapon, we can only recommend one place for your money.