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(Pocket-lint) - Subaru is the first to admit that it's something of a niche brand. Best known in the UK for rally success and resultant gold-wheeled Impreza tearing around our roads, recent years have been slightly chequered for the Japanese company.

Having enjoyed the legendary successes of Richard Burns and Colin McRae, amongst others, Subaru stopped competing in the World Rally Championships in 2008, but the Impreza WRX left its mark, especially in the UK.

The new model will probably be called the Impreza by common folk, but don't make the mistake of walking into your Subaru dealership and asking for an Impreza.

The new Impreza exists in name only: it's now a hatchback hijacking a name that to many conjures up images of gaping bonnet scoop and lairy rear spoilers. What you'll want to be asking for is the Subaru WRX STI.

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With the WRX STI, Subaru admits that part of the aim is to serve and retain those customers it already has, with this car that's somewhat unique. First up, this generation of WRX STI sees a £4000 price drop over the previous, hitting the road at £28,995.

But it brings with it increased performance and improved handling whilst maintaining those distinctive looks. The STI is designed to be a performance sports saloon and its profile and stance on the road is increasingly rare. Where there are plenty of premium sports saloons from the likes of Audi and BMW, this speed machine is a far cry from the businessman's plaything. 

The brashness of the rear spoiler might deter some, but there's a lot of refinement with a lower roof line topped with the sharkfin antenna. The rear spoiler now sits higher, improving the rear visibility and the bonnet scoop hunkers down lower, so it's less abrasive than some previous models. The squaring over the wheel arches continues a family trend and we think it looks great. It's still something of a renegade, but you'd be foolish to judge this car by your preconceptions.

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Moving to the interior, there's a play to practicality. The A pillar has moved forward, meaning there's a greater sweep to the windscreen. The wing mirrors move to the doors, giving you a quarter light, but most importantly, it means the dash can move forward to give you increased space in the interior.

The interior offers plenty of space and the visibility is good. Importantly, there's plenty of functionality offered by this monster. The rear seats are comfortable and spacious enough, with leg and headroom for adult and child alike.

There's even 460 litres of boot space and a folding rear seat, meaning plenty of space for luggage, Ikea flat packed furniture or a baby buggy - whatever it is you have to carry.

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It's an interior that nods towards the performance pedigree of this car. The central information display can, and most likely will, give you a digital turbo boost gauge, while STI branding and matching red stitching makes this every inch the racing car. That matches the Alicantara leather seats which are comfortable and hug you in all the right places to keep you from rolling out when you hit those corners fast.

The D-shaped sports steering wheel is comfortable and grippy, offering easy access to cruise control and audio controls, including your Bluetooth-connected phone. It's connected to a hydraulic steering system, which Subaru say is 15 per cent faster than the previous model.

There's a heap of modifications to the suspension and steering systems to improve handling. There's wider use of high-tensile steel, leading to a chassis that Subaru tells us is 140 per cent stiffer than before, but with no resultant weight gain. We love the weight to the steering and although we can't claim to have really pushed the STI, we can't help feeling that this is a car that encourages you to corner fast. It's almost mocking you, calling you chicken.

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Hitting Hampshire lanes, a push of the start button sees the 2.5-litre turbochargd boxer engine pop into life, with a distinctive burble that sings out of the four exhaust pipes. It's an evolution of the engine used in the previous WRX STI, mated with a 6-speed manual gearbox as standard. There's a shorter throw on the gear stick, topped in red, and it's a hugely positive gear change, distinctive and precise. Many sports saloons might be racing out with sophisticated automatic boxes, but there's no denying the fun of sticking to manual.

And it's difficult not to have fun sitting in the driving seat of the STI. It's a car built to be driven, not merely to convey you from A to B, and while it won't give you the interior quality or sophistication of some, it offers you all the driving experience you could wish for.

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With 300bph and 407Nm torque, the responsiveness of the acceleration and precision in the handling is where the WRX STI makes a case for itself and it's that which will spread that grin across your face. It's incredibly fast, delivering power to all four wheels as you bury your foot into the STI branded carpets.

There is now more intense throttle mapping, sticking to three driving modes. Although gear change is down to you, you can change the throttle responsiveness between the intelligent, sports and sports sharp modes. The latter effectively unleashes the power, reflected in the driver's display with a power curve. We couldn't perceive noticable turbo lag, as the STI just keeps pulling through the rev range. It's at those higher revs that the car sounds the best and leaves you giggling like an idiot.

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You'll probably stick to intelligent mode for comfort and economy's sake, but it's still fast to respond to a dab of power. Subaru is citing 27.2mpg on a combined cycle, so although the WRX STI might be more affordable to buy as a sports saloon, it's still going to cost you a fair amount at the petrol pump. 

But having spent an hour howling with laughter at something close to a sensible speeds though country roads, we have to say it's almost certainly worth it. This is a car that puts power within reach without forsaking practicality. It might not be the most sophisticated on the inside, but we can live with that, if just for the high-revving purr of that boxer engine.

The Subaru WRX STI will cost you £28,995, although we've been told it's already sold out for 2014.

Writing by Chris Hall. Originally published on 30 September 2014.