LAGUNA BEACH, CA – Subaru of America Inc. is set to launch its new advertising campaign in April, featuring cycling champion Lance Armstrong.

Subaru Impreza WRX STi: No radio, center armrest or automatic transmission – but plenty of kick.

“The Beauty of All-Wheel Drive,” Subaru’s marketing slogan since 1994, has been successful, but it’s old and lacks emotion, the company contends. Armstrong is a natural fit – “a no-brainer,” says Executive Vice President Fred Adcock – because the cyclist and Subaru are both rugged and strong and share a love for fine machinery.

Armstrong and Subaru are driven competitors – Armstrong’s four Tour de France victories have made him an international celebrity. Subaru has a storied history with the World Rally Championship – a brutal, punishing off-road race that tests the outer limits of man and machine, much like Tour de France.

Watch for Armstrong in a series of “Driven By What’s Inside” commercials and print ads for Subaru’s entire range of products in the coming months.

But don’t expect Subaru to tap Armstrong for upcoming auto show appearances. Adcock says the cyclist is too busy training in Spain.

Subaru officially rolls out the new ad strategy involving Armstrong – who replaces Australian “Outback” icon Paul Hogan – here in southern California during the media launch of the ’04 Impreza WRX STi small sedan. Subaru Technica International is the high-performance and motorsports division of Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., Subaru’s parent company.

Driving impressions of the vehicle are embargoed until May 1, but the specs for this pocket rocket make for intriguing reading in and of themselves.

For instance, the 2.5L 4-cyl. engine produces a whopping 300 hp and 300 lb.-ft (406 Nm) of peak torque. A high-boost IHI turbocharger contributes mightily to this output, as does Active Valve Control – Subaru’s first application of variable valve timing. Denso Corp. supplies the technology.

The WRX STi also has an intercooler. On hot days, a touch of a button on the dashboard releases a fine mist of distilled water to cool the intake charge – good for an additional 4- 5 hp. The WRX STi dashes to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.8 seconds, Subaru says. The company never has offered a car this powerful for U.S. consumers.

The WRX STi has no radio or speakers, floor mats or center armrest and no automatic transmission is available (only a 6-speed manual). The car hits U.S. streets in late May, likely priced in the low-$30,000 range. Volumes will be kept intentionally low – below 5,000 units annually, Adcock says.

In keeping with the performance-minded buyer Subaru appears eager to court, the auto maker will unveil at next month’s New York auto show a turbo version of the Baja Sport cross-utility/pickup. At the recent Chicago auto show, Subaru unveiled a turbocharged version of the Forester cross/utility vehicle.