If you love driving, you'll love the Subaru Impreza 2.5-litre RS - no question.
The new addition to Subaru's sporty Impreza all-wheel drive line fills the gap between the "cooking" 2.0-litre RX and the "hot" turbocharged WRX. But, more importantly, the $39,990 RS retains most if not all of the WRX's chassis advantages and ability - though the non-turbocharged motor doesn't have as much sheer go, of course - and lops an appealing $10,000 off the price.
The RS comes only with a five-speed manual gearbox and only as a sedan. Its interior includes wrap-around, rally car-style front seats like the WRX's and a Momo leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear lever knob.
It has 16-inch alloy wheels shod with 205/50R16 tyres.
With the bigger wheels (the RX makes do with 15-inchers), come bigger brakes. The ABS anti-skid system includes electronic power distribution (EBD).
From the outside the RS looks the part with a bootlid spoiler, a front air dam, fog lights and side skirts. Apart from the absence of the bonnet air scoop for the turbocharger, the RS is a mirror image of the WRX.
The 112kW 2457cc flat four engine has a broad spread of mid-range torque with a peak of 223Nm at 3600rpm. It pulls strongly in all gears from as little as 2000rpm.
Some critics have said the car needs more power, but we never once felt that the RS was under-powered.
We never found ourselves wishing we were a gear lower accelerating out of a corner. On the contrary we often found ourselves a gear too low, with the engine revving its heart out when the meaty torque would have coped with a higher gear.
Handling? Simply outstanding. Grip? Unshakeable and near as good in the wet as it is in the dry.
There's so much grip that you find yourself feeling very pleased that Subaru has specified the rally-style front seats.
Turn-in to corners is superbly-crisp and the usual long-travel Subaru suspension takes care of mid-corner bumps, keeping the car faithful to your chosen line. The steering is nicely weighted and feedback is excellent.
Like the WRX there's a feeling of rear wheel steering and tightening of the line in hard cornering. We've heard some criticism of this livelier rear-end feel, but we like it. There's none of the slight feeling of stodginess and front-end sledge that characterised older Imprezas.
The brakes are superb, strong and unflinching no matter how hard you use them.
The RS is a fine cross-country car, the chassis totally unflappable and able to maintain brisk momentum and good average speeds.
Ride is quite firm, especially in the city, but in its element - storming a winding country road - it becomes supple and has excellent bump-absorption.
We were highly impressed by the car's stability in the severe winds that battered the Auckland region during our open road test.
The manual gearbox is on the notchy side and is happiest with a firm, slowish gearshift action. The strong engine torque means you lose little by shifting a tad more slowly than you might normally.
The centre differential is a limited slip viscous unit with active torque split.
The Impreza RS has a tilt adjustable steering column, electric windows and mirrors, remote central door-locking, a Compact Disc sound system, cruise control, dual trip meters, outside temperature display, temperature-adjustable air-conditioning, driver's footrest and a height adjustable driver's seat.
It has twin airbags.
The only thing we didn't like about the Impreza RS was the slightly "tinny" feel of the bootlid when you were closing it.
Otherwise we think it's one of the great sporting sedan bargains with brilliant, vice-free handling and ample power to exploit its excellent chassis.
There's an almost bewildering array of fine driver's cars available for around $40,000 and the Impreza RS is one of the best.