Sharper handling, smoother riding, plusher feeling yet with even more eagerness to please sporty drivers, Subaru today unveils its new Impreza.

The affordable performance car icon of the 90s - which blended rally-car ruggedness with affordable 'supercar' performance - enters 2001 with an expensive, engineered look and feel.

Unveiled today (23 August) in Japan, the completely new Impreza saloon and five door receive their European debut at The 2000 British International Motor Show (17 October). Sales start late November.

And while Subaru (UK) Limited is working hard to keep price increases to a minimum, the perceived quality of the new car is set for a giant leap. Everything from the sound of a closing door to the fine adjustment of the driver's seat has been painstakingly studied, while interior trim textures and finishes represent a significant advance over the previous model.

Stronger, Stiffer, Sportier

Road noise suppression, ride refinement and structural solidity are markedly improved. For example, the saloon body is 250 per cent more resistant to bending with the five door showing a 239 per cent improvement.

This stronger, stiffer floorpan combines with new, low-friction suspension components featuring revised pick-up points and geometry settings. The result is even more agile handling, improved grip and better steering control - especially during harder driving.

Key engine changes include more pulling power at lower revs plus a larger turbocharger and wastegate for the 2.0 litre 218 PS Turbo engine. The result is enhanced throttle-response while meeting stringent new emission targets. Both Impreza Turbo saloon and five door will now be called 'WRX' - the worldwide name for Subaru's turbocharged Impreza models.

Meanwhile, the naturally-aspirated 125 PS 2.0 litre engine - now in 'GX' saloon or five door trim - will be joined by a new 95 PS 1.6 litre 'TS' five door to compete with more mainstream rivals. However, no competitor boasts the active safety benefit of all-wheel drive or low centre of gravity of Subaru's renowned horizontally opposed
'boxer' engine.

Other improvements include lighter clutches, smoother gearchanges and more interior space plus enhanced safety thanks to a stronger body and rear centre three-point seat-belt.

Machined, Engineered Look

Finally, the new Impreza range takes on two distinct personalities resulting from marked styling differences between the five door and saloon - the latter looking as though it is just about to start a World Rally stage.

Both Imprezas have a machined, engineered appearance with large, oval-shaped headlamps, aggressive grille openings and protruding, easy-grip exterior door handles which convey a reassuring solidity.

The four door saloon is sporty and squat, with prominent swage lines providing clear clues to the Impreza's underlying strength.

While the saloon has a wider track and wider blistered wheel arches that 'haunch' over the large-diameter wheels, the five door, which shares the saloon's rally-bred performance, has a less aggressive and more functional look.