Rally car performance, minivan utility. Fantastic
Ventilation fan rattles slightly.
The drivers window/frame oscillates a touch a speed and lets in some wind roar- seems as if the 1.6 RVR body wasn't reinforced to suit the high velocities the 2.0T can achieve...
As I have summarised, this is a rally car in the Subaru Impreza WRX mode, yet with a surprisingly practical (for it's small size) MPV like body.
This car starts with the engine. The 2.0 Turbo from the Lancer rallycar producing somewhere in the region of 220bhp- so this is not a cooking turbo then, putting out over 100hp/litre. It's good for trickling around town and lets rip at 3,000rpm: the speed the engine gains revs has to be felt to be believed, and it pulls to over 7,000rpm.
This startling performance is kept in order by a 4x4 transmission of I suspect more rally than bush-bashing heritage. the suspension seems to be stiffened over the standard 1.6 and the brakes likewise. Cornering is amazingly flat for such an apparently high-bodied car- all the weight is obviously kept low. The long-throw manual gearbox is at odds with the sporting nature of the drive; the 'box itself seems quite sweet it's just the clumsy long lever that makes smooth changes when pressing on difficult. Potential for shortening the lever was never explored.
The interior is complete with recaro-style seats, but is only a four seater; the single sliding rear passenger door is a good feature giving additional van-like utility, and also allowing a useful storage compartment to be built against the drivers side. The arrangement could be less than ideal if you regularly use 4 seats, more so because the windows are the pop-open type rather than wind down. Then again the climate control is good so maybe that's not a problem.
For luggage the seats can slide way forward and even fold down leaving good space; they can be pushed right back to leave room for rear seat passengers to stretch their legs straight out- useful as there is curiously limited depth the the rear wells (4x4 transmission intrusion, I suspect). The only problem is doing both (legroom & luggage space) at once, though considering this is roughly the same size as the ubiquitous corolla, it's not so bad. The rear tailgate also allows maximum access.
Fuel consumption is commensurate with the performance- it may improve if you can stop from enjoying open roads at every other opportunity, but if you are capable of that, you may as well stay in the monastery- it's a truly beguiling drive. This car may therefore be less desirable in Britain than Africa and other RHD countries with cheaper fuel. The fuel tank is also straight off the 1.6 yielding a range of around 350km which can be a hindrance in more sparsely populated areas.
I find it hard to conceive of another small car that could be this good. I hardly had it long enough to experience any problems- and that specific output did worry me- but if I was moving to another left-driving country there would be no question I'd take it with me. And as a replacement for a Toyota Prado (very different car, but also very good- and also 4 times the price...) gave the RVR a lot to live up to and it has blown expectations into the weeds. The LHD variant (Space shuttle?) doesn't seem to have any of the appeal in the standard version, let alone this mutant top-of the ranger, and seem to have sold pretty poorly as a result. So I can only wait 'til I get to a country that drives on the left again, and make tracking one of these beasties down my first priority...
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 22nd July, 2004