When Subaru decided to change the Impreza from a shouty saloon into a practical hatchback, it seemed like they’d gone all sensible. Austin Barnett certainly thought so. But as you can see, Austin is not really a sensible guy…
The third-generation Subaru Impreza was a car that really annoyed a lot of people. The cult of the Impreza had reached a full-on, frothy fever pitch in the late 1990s and through into the new millennium. The Subaru versus Mitsubishi gravel wars raging with ever-increasing ferocity. Every fresh variant of the Impreza seemed to ramp the insanity up a level – cleverer tech, more versatile and adjustable chassis, spiralling power levels, seemingly unfathomable specific output figures. It was nuts. If it was painted World Rally Blue and had gold Speedlines, you knew it was a thing you shouldn’t mess with at the traffic lights, or more to the point, down a twisty B-road. The ballistic three-box saloon reinforced the everyman aspiration of having a sensible family car that was actually a rally car underneath, and the buying public couldn’t get enough.
And then one day, without any particular warning, Subaru decided to yoink the rug sharply out from beneath everybody’s feet.
They announced that the new-for-2007 Impreza would be a hatchback. And everyone said ‘Oh. What, really…?’ while pulling a face like a baby who’s just accidentally licked some vinegar. The Impreza hatch was, in short, not totally what the public wanted.
But we shouldn’t fear change. The new model bundled everything that was great about the old one into a mould-breaking package and, for some enthusiasts, this was a breath of fresh air. All of that rally-honed awesomeness, with the added practicality of a sensible hatchback? What’s not to like there?
It certainly worked for Austin Barnett, back in his college days when he was looking for a straight-laced daily driver with a bit of grunt under the hood. “I bought the car brand new from the local Subaru dealer back in 2012, while I was a junior in college studying Mechanical Engineering,” he says. “I grew up around classic and modern muscle cars. My father owns two 1970 Mustangs – a Boss 302 and a Mach 1 – and a 2000 Cobra R. My mother has a 1963 Corvette Sting Ray and a 1999 Corvette.”
A strong basis of American muscle, then. So the Subaru is an unusual deviation, no? “Well, the WRX was actually my second car,” he explains. “My fi rst was a 1994 Mustang Cobra, which I still have, although it hasn’t been touched in a few years. The Mustang started with basic bolts-ons, then heads, cams and intake, then I added nitrous, and a 76mm turbo. At that point, the integrity of the block was at risk and it started having issues. But all this was around the same time as I bought my WRX. I wanted a daily driver that performed well, had AWD, and was a hatchback.”
When you draw up a shopping list like that, the choices become thin, and it’s not going to have a Pony badge on it. But the Impreza was a solid base and, inevitably, the thing didn’t stay stock for long. With this sort of high-octane mischief in Austin’s genes, the progression into a big-power build was a case of when not if.
The plan from day one was simply to have a sensible daily that could provide a bit of fun when required. But with the Mustang laid up and Austin getting itchy feet, the odd bolt-on started to find its way in. And before he knew it, the whole project had snowballed into, well, a project. That wasn’t what it was meant to be. But that’s just what happened…