H

enry's got a new Subaru saloon and Richard Porter has bought a lovely old Jag, Meanwhile, the Fiesta has been Mountuned, the Megane's got a new exhaust and the Mazda 3 MPS has had some turbo trouble

It's very understeery,' said Peter Tomalin when he handed the keys back to me. As he used to run a hatchback STI as a long-termer, I'd thought it would be good to get his sage opinion on the new saloon and so suggested that he take BF60 FLZ home on the first night it was with us. His pronouncement the following morning was a bit of a stunner, because when I'd driven the four-door STI on its launch just a month earlier (evo 151), I hadn't been plagued by the dreaded nose shuffling. Then I remembered Tomalin's nickname of The Crab' (because he's known for driving everywhere more sideways than a crustacean on a surfboard) and relaxed a little. Peter's idea of understeer was probably just a bit different to mine.

Through the village, ever the roundabout heading home, tip it into the first decent left-hander... and the air scoop wasn't in the least bit interested in my nominal drain-cover apex. There was no steering feel either, just a disconcerting lightness, as in the old car. This was not good.

It has happened occasionally before; you go on a launch, have a good drive in a new car, give it a glowing evo rating, and then when you drive it in the UK a few months later it feels completely different, leaving you confused and disappointed. Sometimes this can be put down to launch-spec pre-production cars, but this couldn't be the case with our Impre... sorry, WRX STI, as it was one of the very cars that was on the launch (hence the starting mileage of 3662).

As Holmes would have taken to the violin, so I sought out the solace of the skinny saddle and spent my evening cycle-pondering the problem. By the end of it I'd formed a plan, and early the next morning I went in search of roundabouts to do laps of and scrub the front tyres in. Sure enough, once

the sheen of new rubber on the fresh Dunlop SP Sport 600s had been worn away, the front end shored up and the steering regained some of its meatiness. Elementary really.

The OTR price of the new WRX STI is £33,405, which puts it dangerously close to BMW 335i and Audi S4 territory. However neither BMW or Audi could compete with che fantastic new Recaros in the STI, which are some of che most instantly comfortable and secure seats that I've had the pleasure of sitting in. The Germans would definitely have the upper hand when it comes to the rest of the interior, mind, although redeeming features do include a radio with longwave (so that I can listen to the brilliant Test Match Special coverage of the Ashes if I happen to be driving around in the middle of the night), good keyless entry and a decent amount of storage space. Oh, and glowing red dials. I like red.

With the rubber sorted, I've really warmed to the STI. I've said it before, but I love the honesty of Subarus - the weighty pedal actions and the hearty 296bhp from the STI s boxer feel like a log fire compared to a radiator. I've been enjoying fiddling with the settings of the centre diff on the way in to work in the mornings, too (I'll report back when I've come to a definite conclusion as to which is the best). In fact the only thing I'm less than happy with is that low-profile rear wing. I can do without a blue-and-gold colour scheme, but I'm firmly in the big pushbar camp, so I plan to see if there is anything that can be done about it...

Henry Catchpole

128 Pictures: Chns Rutter

This month: Subaru WRX STI Jaguar XJR Renault Clio Williams Renault ^legane 250 Cup Mazda 3 MPS Nissän GT-R BMW M3 Skoda Yeti Infiniti G37S Coupe VauxhJ nsigna VXk Citroen DS3 Peugeot 306 Ralye Maserati GranTurismo Jaguar XKR Speed Park Ford Fiesta Zetec S Radirai Clubsporr 100 SEAT Leon Cupra R Audi TT RS Ford Capri V8

Left: Recaro seats

Below: Catchpoles not a fan of the low-rise boot spoiler ^^^^

I'VE BEEN ENJOYING FIDDLING WITH THE SETTINGS THE CENTRE DIFF ON THE WAY IN TO WORK'

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