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My Owners Diary July 2000

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7th July 2000

Only 6 days until I pick up my Subaru Impreza TurboRemote site from Holland. I've bought it having never driven one before, so it's got quite a reputation to live up to. I can't think of any other car that I would do this with.

14th July 2000

So, after a few days of ownership how does the Subaru Impreza Turbo compare to the Elise? Despite the fact that I'm running it in, it feels very quick. The odd spurt up to 5,000rpm (when the engines nice and warm) hints at things to come and helps the run in process. But you can't compare these cars against each other and expect to get a simple answer. They both set out to meet different objectives in entirely different ways. Here's my thoughts anyway:

Practicality - The Elise is a practical two seater sports car. I've been surprised myself at how practical it really is and often wonder if I should have bought something more extreme. I drew a line when I decided to buy a sports car and the Elise was up against it. It has since moved by quite a margin to in the direction of more extreme. The only exception to this is the roof. It's a ludicrous piece of ..., I can't bring myself to use the word 'design'. The Impreza is practical. In five door form with air-conditioning it's the perfect car to carry a wife and two children around in. Fast, fun, comfortable, with a roof rails for a roof box if space is ever hard to come by. The only downside to date is that our double buggy doesn't fit the boot! This despite careful measurement. The shape is just wrong and another inch in depth is required, largely due to the rear lights intruding into the boot space.

Speed - In a straight line the Impreza will murder a standard Elise. The engine characteristics and gear change mean that a standard Elise feels like it would would win in the 0-50mph sprint (largely due to the turbo lag) but, once the turbo's on song it would leave the Elise for dead from 50mph upwards. Add some dodgy road conditions into the equation and 95% of the time the SIT would be quicker. I'll confirm these impressions with some real figures at some point in the future. To be honest, when it's run in and I'm more familar with the Scooby I reckon it is going to be quicker 100% of the time. The torque curve of the Impreza is something that most Elise owners would kill for.

Engine - A 1.8 K-series with 120bhp against a turbo charged 2.0 with 215bhp. On paper, no contest, but power delivery is important and even more so, is the weight of the vehicle it sits in. The K-series pushes the Elise as quick as it really needs to go on the roads that I drive, power delivery is smooth and I like the noise it makes. The power curve of the Subaru is huge, once the turbo winds up it's a massive, broad power band, hugely addictive. The turbo does have lag though and this is noticable. I love the whistle of the turbo as it builds up speed and the flat four configuration burbles like a muted V8. It's one of those engines that makes you impatient to turn the key, just to hear it start up.

Transmission - The Elise hasn't got the slickest of gear changes but once you are used to it, it's not half bad. The Impreza is smoother but in the first two gears there's some pent up tension in the transmission which makes it difficult to get a smooth gear change and there's a clunk as you change up quickly. 4th and 5th gear acceleration is huge. You feel and hear the turbo whistle up to speed and it's rather addictive. 3rd gear acceleration is awesome. The Elise always feels slightly lacking once you leave 3rd gear. Yes it's quick enough on the twisty B-roads that I favour but on the open road you will crave for a little bit more. You need to use 4th gear and the full rev range to make the most of the engine up to the 115mph mark.

Interior - A fairly subjective topic really. The Elise interior is minimalist but I'd prefer it more so. Who needs a cigarette lighter, it should be on the accessories list! As sparse as it is, it's well put together, solid and quiet. Basic materials work best, cloth seats are my preference. The Subaru interior is proof that the design empahasis was on performance. The MY2000 is better than previous incarnations but it's still grey plastics with some rather large panel gaps. The seat cloth is quite wacky but 'functional' sums the interior up. Why is there a such a big switch to control the dash instrument lighting brightness?

Comfort - Despite all that you read about the Elise it's the most comfortable car I've driven. The cloth seat is a perfect combination of positioning and cushioning for me, though for someone of a different build, I can well see it being a nightmare. I've done a non-stop, six hour drive in the Elise without discomfort. The driving positon relative to the controls is again unmatched for me. The Subaru somehow acheives the same result in a completely different way, though I had some calf ache after a three hour drive. At least the seat has a huge number of ways to change it's position and angle, so this will be overcome with experience. The seats are more cosseting and provide even more support then the Elise, but in the Elise you don't sit in it, you put it on, the seat is just another interface to connect you to the car. The only downside to the Subaru seats is that under hard braking you slide forward in the seat, due to its shape. Air-conditioning is a must when you can't take the roof off, even in the UK.

Brakes - The Elise stops so quickly, largely due to the minimal mass, feedback is excellent but even this can be improved upon with various upgrades. The Subaru feels like it stops more quickly even after 150 miles. The brakes are amazing but there's not the same degree of feedback. I knew when the Elise was going to lock it's wheels so ABS wasn't a requirement in the dry.

Steering - I was really surprised by the quality of the steering response in the Subaru, despite its four-wheel drive and all round 205's. It's well weighted and gives good feedback. But the Elise? You don't steer it, you have a conversation with it and it seems to read your mind along the way. People don't beleive me, but when I reversed off of my drive, the Elise would describe the contours to me through the steering wheel. Nothing that I've driven has come close.

Looks - The Elise was a classic in the traditional sense, from the day it was launched. Some people hate it, but most love it. Pure, classic British sports car. The Subaru won't win any beauty contests but wins in the 'mean and bad' stakes. Even in 5-door form it looks mean, though slightly over styled. The bonnet scoop, the twin rear wings, the side skirts, the twin fog lights, it's bad! The 4-door is better looking but that's the price you pay for the extra space.

Spirit - I've used the word 'spirit' because I couldn't come up with a better one but, it's that indefinable something, that makes a great car. It's presence, it's desire, it's a longing to be behind the wheel when you are somewhere else. The Elise has it in spades and the Subaru has it a little. Well, for me anyway. When I wasn't in the Elise, I was thinking about being in it. It has that effect on me, pure addiction, even after twelve months of ownership. The Subaru for me is a desirable family car but the same longing to be in it isn't there. It's hugely capable but it's not a 'sports car' by my definition.

Handling/Dynamics - Too early to say much about the Impreza but it feels so much more stuck to the road than the Elise, with perhaps even less body roll. Corners that would cause the Elise to hint at drift are just passed through, at similar speeds, without fuss in the Subaru. Ultimately it feels like it has more grip but, there's not much in it and the Elise is much better at communicating what it's actually doing and has much more progressive feedback up to the point at which traction is lost and during a controlled drift through a corner. The point at which the Subaru is going to let go is harder to tie down and you can't help feeling that when it finally does, it's going to let go quickly. Maybe this is just down to my inexperience with four-wheel drive cars. Ultimately, the Elise is a lot more fun and more involving to drive, but it requires much more concentration to drive it quickly. Personally, I wouldn't have it any other way. In the wet and in a hurry, I'd definately rather be in the Subaru. Only track days will confirm my thoughts on it's on the limit handling, there simply isn't enough room on any public road to test it's limits safely.

To summarise, the Elise is beaten on speed but, it is so much more involving and so much more fun in the right conditions. On a clear sunny day, with the two cars side by side, the Elise would be my choice of transport 95% of the time. But, given a family to transport or a hint of wet weather the Scooby wins it. It's fun, safe, practical, comfortable and just so fast. For nine-tenths driving the Elise always rewards and the Impreza is still an unknown to me. Will my next Elise be a standard one or will it just feel too slow after the Impreza? My guess is that the Impreza will make the standard Elise feel just a little too slow in the future, just as the Elise spoilt my 200vi for me. I'm test driving a Sport 160 next month, so that should make for a more interesting comparison.

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