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2011 Subaru Impreza WRX and STI
The winged-thing sedan is back

By Malcolm Gunn

2011 Subaru Impreza WRX and STIDecades before Volvo became all cushy and gentrified, the company's rally racing image was unassailable. More recently, however, Subaru has managed to take over that role with its Impreza-based WRX and WRX STI models.

The 2011 editions of these street-smart warriors that arrive later this summer should inspire greater interest in a brand that has recently experienced significant across-the-board sales growth, despite a difficult period for the automotive sector.

More to the point, the WRX and its superathlete WRX STI relation look more like rally champions than ever.

Both models share an aggressive front fascia, blacked-out grille and contoured fenders that readily set them apart from their 2010 counterparts. The rear fenders have also been accentuated, but not quite to the same degree. In fact the only way to tell the two apart is by a rear wing - make that a shelf - that's much more prominent on the STI.

Commenting on the decision to restore the hot-rod STI sedan after a brief hiatus - for the first time, the STI is available in hatchback and sedan models - a Subaru executive said that it will "expand the appeal of this iconic performance model to a wider range of driving enthusiasts." Clearly, the previous big-winged four-door was favored by many STI loyalists who won't have to look elsewhere (i.e. in the competing Mitsubishi Evolution's direction) for their fix.

2011 Subaru Impreza WRX and STIAnother STI sedan bonus is the extra-deep trunk that the automaker claims will hold three full sets of golf clubs - apparently the new yardstick for measuring cargo capacity - whereas the  hatch can accommodate just two.

The STI has revised standard suspension tuning for 2011 that was first introduced with the 2010 Special Edition. The ride height has been slightly lowered and the front and rear stabilizer bars and springs beefed up. In addition, the standard 18-inch wheel package is now lighter by eight kilograms and the optional BBS-brand wheels trim even more fat.

Returning virtually unchanged are the engines. The WRX runs with a 265-horsepower turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder, while the STI ups the power to 305. Still, WRX fuel economy is estimated at a respectable 11.1 l/100 km in the city and 8.0 l/100 km on the highway.

The horizontally opposed "Boxer" style engine has one bank of two cylinders firing at 180 degrees to the other bank of two cylinders. Imagine two boxers going at in the ring - which is how the Boxer name came about -and you can visualize how it all works. The engine is laid down flat, which helps to lower the centre of gravity, which aids cornering and braking. All Subaru engines are built this way.

2011 Subaru Impreza WRX and STIAnyone considering one of these hot Subies needs proficiency operating a manual transmission. The WRX is only available with a five-speed gearbox, while the STI comes with a six-speed. By contrast, the competing Lancer Ralliart and Evolution models offer a fast-shifting automated manual.

Buying any Subaru means that you automatically get an all-wheel-drive system that, under normal operation, splits the torque equally between the front and rear wheels. The STI's SI-Drive adds a console-mounted rotary knob with three driver-selectable settings: Intelligent, for normal/stop-and-go traffic conditions; Sport, which provides quicker throttle response; and Sport Sharp, for the quickest reaction to accelerator inputs from your right foot. This might be particularly useful for rallying, autocrossing and other competitive events.

Also along those lines is an STI-exclusive traction-control system with both full-on and partial settings, depending on the level of control desired by the driver. There's also the Brembo-brand brake upgrade with four-wheel "Super Sport" anti-lock program that can control the braking at each wheel, which is particularly helpful during hard stopping, according to Subaru.

It kind of makes you want to do a little affordable rally racing doesn't it? Speaking of which there's no pricing yet, but the 2011 WRX will likely range between $34,000 for the sedan and about $900 more for the hatchback, while the STI will likely command about a $7,500 premium.

After weighing all the parts and pieces, the spoiler just might be how much wing you want. The shelf on the STI has been a love-hate thing, but it's a style that matches the attitude. Do you have it?

What you should know: 2011 Subaru WRX/WRX STI

Type: Four-door all-wheel-drive hatchback and sedan
Engines (hp): 2.5-litre DOHC H4, turbocharged (265/305)
Transmissions: Five-speed manual (WRX), six-speed manual (WRX STI)
Market position: The WRX and WRX STI belong to an elite group of vehicles that compete in worldwide rallying events and, along with the Mitsubishi Evolution, are the nearest thing to actual race cars sold to the public by any automaker.
Points: Bulging body matches WRX and STI performance images; Big-wing sedan's return strengthens STI franchise; Automated manual gearbox is needed to match the Mitsubishi Evo; STI's suspension tuned on Germany's Nurburgring racetrack; Extra power, technical content worth STI's $7,500 premium.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 11.1/8.0 (WRX, est)
Price (incl. dest.): $34,000 WRX ($41,500 STI), est.

By comparison     

Mitsubishi Lancer
Base price: $34,800
Ralliart, Evolution models closely match WRX and STI in price, performance.

Volkswagen GTI
Base price: $30,000
Performance Golf touts handling prowess rather than all-out speed.

Mazda Mazdaspeed3
Base price: $34,400
Mazda's rapid hatchback offers major-league power in an attractive package.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted January 07, 2011. © CarTest.ca TM


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