Picking out your favourite version of the Subaru Impreza isn’t easy. The STI Version 5; the RA; the P1; the legendary 22B - how do you choose from a roster that includes amazing cars like that, and many more besides?
For me, the wide-arched 22B has always represented the pinnacle of Impreza want, but my faith has been shaken by another, less special member of the family that’s passed me by until recently. I’m talking about the Impreza WRX Gravel Express, a car which isn’t awesome only because it challenges the Isuzu Mysterious Utility Wizard for the unofficial title of the best-named vehicle to ever emerge from Japan.
No, it’s awesome because, well…look at it. Based on the first-generation Impreza, the car had a similar ethos to the Volvo V70 Cross Country, yet it predated the jacked-up Swedish estate by several years. And, it went far further with the whole ‘lifestyle’ thing than any of Volvo’s crossover-ified wagons.
Along with a suspension lift, we have an externally-mounted spare wheel, a menacing set of bull bars with headlight guards at the front, tough sill guards and a two-tone paint job. And, as you might have noticed, it still sports a hood scoop.
There’s a good reason for this: the Gravel Express was fitted with the turbocharged flat-four from the WRX. In fact, other than the suspension lift and the exterior modifications, this quirky Impreza essentially is a WRX.
So, it’s a first-gen WRX with added practicality and capability, while looking like something that can take on an African rally stage and/or help you survive a zombie apocalypse. If you’re one of the few people tempted by a crossover because you’re actually going to use it for all the adventurous stuff in the adverts, surely the Gravel Express is a cooler way to go about it?
The car had a North American equivalent in the form of the Outback Sport, which wasn’t sold with the WRX engine. Curiously though, it did retain the hood scoop.
The Outback Sport also ended up outliving the Gravel Express. The WRX-engined JDM car died off with the first-generation Impreza, but Impreza-based Outback Sport versions of the second and third-gen cars were produced, again for the North American market only. It too bit the dust when Subaru retired the name upon the arrival of the fourth-gen Impreza, with the Outback effectively replaced by the arguably less interesting XV.
As for the Gravel Express, you’ll be hard pressed to find one here in the UK. A few were imported through the years, but after a search of our usual classifieds haunts, all we’ve managed to find is a car being broken for spares. Boo.
One was up for sale in the north of England a few months ago for a very reasonable £2750, so there is hope. If you do ever come across one, snap it up immediately, and we’ll try not to be jealous.