Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Well Bugger me. I really was not expecting that.

My day had started fairly normally. Alarm. Sod off. Shower. Make tea. Spill tea. Car. Train. No seat for £3500 a year. Thanks Gordon. Walk. Rain. Cigarette. Log-in. Work. Bollocks.

And, as ever in the modern world, times change, and so a quick check on Facebook to see who has done what, where and when was in order. Or more specifically with my ‘friends’, and with yours I’d wager, a check to see who has drunk what, where and when.

It was as I was perusing through the seemingly endless stream of horrendous pictures and pointless status updates about the size of a hangover (personally when I have a hangover of note the only status I am able to update is that of the toilet) I stumbled across a startling revelation.

I was instructed by the Facebook overlord that a certain lady, let’s call her Miss X, was now married to a guy called, well, Mr X.

Now it must be pointed out at this stage that Miss X is my ex-girlfriend. The love of my life. The one that got away. Sob, blub, sob.

It was a piece of news I hadn’t been expecting and to be honest it hit me like a ton of bricks. A better wake-up call I have never had. Think somewhere between a mule kick in the arse and a slap round the face with a wet fish and you’re getting there. Thoughts of unnecessary arguments, words shouted in the heat of the moment and unsaid apologies all quickly made a very unwelcome return.

Accompanying all this was that strange, almost unexplainable feeling. You know the one. That mixture of regret and helplessness that leaves a burning, hollow sensation in your chest and thoughts of unmotivated violence in your mind. The sort of feeling that only a truly unexpected and substantial blast from the past can create. Hmmm. Today is going to be a long day.

Now it was on the way home, tired and still gripped by a teenager’s depression, that the second shock of the day came.

“Do you want to drive mate because I’ve got to make a call?”

“What the....?”

An offer to drive does not come often from the lips of my brother. This is a man that lavishes more attention and devotion upon his car than he does on his girlfriend. Hell, if his girlfriend was Cheryl Cole it would still be the car that got the longest kiss goodnight.

Surprised is not the word.

With a heart rate that had maintained a steady 10500 beats per minute since the morning, a drive in someone else’s car was probably not the thing I needed most. But seeing as the thing that I did need most was chilling in the fridge at my house several miles away I was not prepared to turn down the chance. The fact that the car in question was a Subaru Impreza GB270 made the decision even easier.

The GB270 is the last of the ‘proper’ Impreza’s before Subaru lost the plot and decided to chase huge global sales with a huge global turd. It was, I reasoned, in the metaphorically uncontrived way that only an aspiring motoring writer can, my second brush with a blast from the past of the day.

Excited? Yes. Nervous? Yes. Thirsty for beer and hungry to drive the doors off of something fast? Oh yes.

First impressions are somewhat mixed. The interior is an interesting combination of soft touch materials and yogurt pot plastics that only the Japanese can master but the integrated sat nav/stereo unit and the GB270 branded bucket seats ensures it makes a good fist of being what you’d expect for the money. Twist the key and the noise of the 2.5 litre turbocharged flat four that permeates the cabin is pure old school Subaru in as much as it emits a deep, bassy warble that successfully communicates the sense that devilish irresponsibility is just a toe twitch away. Naughty noise? Check. Brilliant.

The styling is pure old school Subaru too – in as much as it’s as subtle as German pornography and, to my eyes, all the better for it compared with the bland pudding released a couple of years ago. The Prodrive inspired additional scoops and kinks that adorn the bumpers and skirts means that the rally special looks are as pronounced as ever and still never fail to raise a smile from the schoolboy in each of us. Now I personally never knew that Prodrive made ironing boards but they do and they have bolted one on to the boot lid of this particular Scooby. Huge rear wing? Check. Brilliant.

Onwards. The low speed steering is very light. Too light if truth be told but a special stage derived reputation encourages you to trust that it will do what it is asked. It does. Despite the lack of weight, and to a large extent, feel, as you push further the GB270 offers tightly controlled responses and a linearity that you wouldn’t believe on first inspection. The ride is hard. The grip is epic. Brilliant.

Roundabout. Power on through a tight roundabout and understeer will become your companion. I do mean really power on though as it takes a committed act of provocation to induce this on the road as grip levels are so high but it is there and, to this rather lacking-in-talent writer in particular, is actually quite reassuring. Mcrae-esque arse-out antics are there for the taking though as a lift on the throttle will persuade the tail to break free. Again this is progressive and straight forward to control when it arrives as the rear peels away with something close to a touch of grace. Well as close to a touch of grace as this bonnet-vented Neanderthal will ever get. Think of it more as undoing a Velcro strap rather than ripping off a plaster and you get a good idea of the feeling. And trust me, if I can handle it then there is a good chance your mum will be able to as well. Nice and lairy lift-off oversteer? Check. Brilliant.

Country lane. The predictability of the dynamics demonstrated on the roundabout ensures that it is easy to get into a flowing rhythm when dissecting a challenging road. A slight lack of action at the top end of the brake pedal’s travel is another blast from Subaru’s past but again it never really hinders progress to any noticeable degree. Years ago I drove an old Impreza Turbo on a rally driving day and for the first two laps I was convinced that the brakes were not actually fitted to the car. However, as the sensation is nowhere near as pronounced on the GB270 you learn to like the way it encourages you to be firm in your actions and the brakes themselves never fail to haul you down with impressive force. Get into the heart of the pedal’s travel and the superbly judged ABS means that the Brembo’s perform the job of inspiring confidence whilst intuitively getting the job done. Absence of embarrassing/painful car-ditch rendezvous? Check. Brilliant.

Power. Brilliant. Just brilliant. Ok, so it’s not STi fast but since when has 0-60 in 5.2 seconds and 150mph top end ever left you feeling short-changed? You get a bit of old school turbo lag for sure but this really does add to the sensation that you’re at the helm of something a little bit feral and it feels all the more full of character because of it. The power seems to swell from behind you and as your right foot progresses towards the carpet you begin to understand what it is like to be a prop forward at scrum time. It’s very much a case of the hurricane that gathers silently out at sea before unleashing its wares and battering the coast line with unforeseeable force.

As we park up at home, after inevitably taking the long route home because I wanted to “avoid the traffic on the one-way, and the roadworks on the ring-road, and the pot-holes on the road past Ian and Jenny’s and to maybe stop at the shops...”and whatever other reason I could think of, many different thoughts begin to form in my mind. The engine tinked away the heat and played a rather fitting melody to the job of summarising this car and that drive.

It has its flaws, like any performance car, but when the conditions are as right as they just have been it really is, well, brilliant. You would think that this would be cause to jump from the car singing and dancing all the way to the beer but somehow it wasn’t.

For once the third-world nature of our roads and the first-world nature of our speed policing and traffic did not get in the way of enjoying a ‘spirited’ drive. However the one thought that persevered after the engine had been shut down was that Subaru would never truly build a successor to this car. I know the new wheelbarrow, sorry hatchback, has an STi version (by all accounts this STi is more morbid Gonorrhea than Marcus Gronholm), and that much rumoured Cosworth and Litchfield specials are beginning to surface but if contemporary road tests are to be believed then something has been lost in translation.

In my opinion it is the “I couldn’t give a shit what society thinks, I am a big blue rally car and I will eat you if I have to” mentality that makes the GB270 and its forebears such good company on a lonely road. For the Impreza enthusiast, there really is only one way to skin an Evo.

And this is what concerns me most. I hope that Subaru, in the transition from providing a weapon for the stages to providing a vehicle for the masses, hasn’t made the mistake of losing its most faithful. Because if today has taught me anything, it’s that a blast from the past can often unearth some unpleasant home truths...

There really is only one thing for it then. Subaru must make a new P1 and I must have that beer.

What’s that you say? Beg for her come back? Apologise to her? No... I mean, that’s not what I’m known for is it?