Some experiences tend to stick in your mind for years, if not decades.
And for me, sadly, it’s the cars I remember more than the brilliant sunsets, the soft touch of skin or those shy smiles.
So, I still recall the day I first fell in love … with a car. It was an Alfa Romeo 1750 GT – in Italian red, what else? – and I was a young boy passenger, mesmerised by the speedo needle on the broad oval gauge hitting 100 miles per hour.
As I got older, I still have freezeframe memories of a handful of cars – and I have driven more than 500 in the past 15 years as a motoring scribbler – and, more often than not, it is not the expensive, fast cars which stand out.
One experience which is still etched in my memory – and which has dictated my car fancying and buying habits ever since – was with a “plain Jane” Subaru Legacy 2.5 sedan. It was a 2003 or so model and I had been loaned the vehicle while I was waiting to buy my own Subaru Forester.
I was already committed to the brand – because I wanted the Forester’s legendary gravel road ability, thanks to the company’s all-wheel-drive system.
I had heard a bit about the turbo Imprezas, versions of which were dominating the World Rally Championship at that time, and I had even driven a 195kW STi (it scared the daylights out of me it was so fast) … but I had never really experienced the dynamics of the brand, close up and personal.
In that Legacy, I approached a suburban roundabout at speed. I barely tapped the brakes and the car was around in a flash, with no diving from the front.
I couldn’t believe how the nose went where I pointed it. So I lined up another rounda – bout – and another. Each one faster than before. And the Legacy still tracked so true it was almost supernatural.
I now realise that the combination of the all-wheel-drive, and low centre of gravity – thanks to Subaru’s horizontally opposed “boxer” engines, which sit lower in the chassis than anything else – was the secret to Subaru dynamics.
Even now, after the original boy racer turbo cars have been caught up and overtaken by the competition in straight-line performance, a Subaru sedan is still a beautiful experience in a corner.
A few years ago, I ran a WRX (the turbo car) into a corner 10km/h faster than I could manage in an Audi S3, which is an awesome all-wheel-drive performance car.
I was, however, wondering whether that sharp front end would still be there in the latest iteration of the Impreza.
I needn’t have worried. With a new chassis, which is the stiffest yet in a road-going Impreza, this outwardly unassuming sedan still goes around corners like it’s on rails.
True, there’s more electronic wizardry behind the scenes these days than there was in the Legacy … but the basic design still retains the sure-footed all-wheeldrive balance which is the Subaru trademark.
The new Impreza has also gone up a few places in terms of luxury, with its interior – equipped with all the bells and whistles from touchscreens, to Bluetooth, to climate control – having won design awards overseas. It’s better-built than Subarus past, too, and feels as though it will last a lifetime.
Mind you, in fairness to my Forester – despite the fact that it rattles, it has given very few problems in the 14 years I’ve owned it and I will still be driving it in another 14, I bet you. The new Impreza features an auto CVT (Constant Velocity Transmission) box, which helps fuel economy but which is not an enthusiast’s first choice.
Subaru’s CVT is probably the best of the bunch around, but I remember wistfully some of the beautifully direct six-speed manual gearboxes in the earlier turbo models … The Impreza is pretty much like an upmarket Corolla … which is no bad thing, really, because you know you’re getting a solid, comfortable ride.
You can still thrash the 115kW 2.0 litre motor a bit and, in the upper rev ranges, it does have a throaty roar to it … but still lacks the grunt of turbo cars.
And a lot of people will miss that. I thought I would, too, but strangely, I didn’t. There’s a maturity and zen-like aura of calm about the new Impreza inside and out.
For me, it feels just right, cruising along at highway speeds – at peace with the world. The last night I had the Impreza, I was in that mode – not shaken, but not stirred either.
On the road home, though, there were the traffic circles. I had an oke in a Hilux bakkie on my bumper right up until we got to the circle. I let the Impreza do its thing … and the Toyota got a reminder that it is, in essence, a lumbering truck. I did the same at the next circle … and the next. I almost patted the dashboard: You’ve still got it and you can still make automotive memories.