2011 Subaru Impreza WRX
The main attraction of a high-performance car is not that you’d actually attempt what it is capable of, but that you could if you wanted to—assuming, of course, that you have the skills.
A case in point: the 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI sport sedan. This is a powerful all-wheel drive compact designed to conquer grueling European rally courses—not something the typical American buyer is likely to encounter.
One of the maneuvers is to go full-throttle on dirt and gravel into a hairpin curve, slam the stick shift into first gear, pop the clutch and stomp on the gas pedal while simultaneously jerking the parking brake to violently force the rear end around into a 180-degree turn, all before blasting off again.In such circumstances with the new STI, the only limiting factor is the skill of the driver. The car supplies everything else.
The STI sits at the pinnacle of an all-new lineup of high-performance hatchbacks and sedans from Subaru of Japan, the keeper of the boxer flame. It is the only manufacturer that equips all of its vehicles with horizontally-opposed, or boxer, engines and all-wheel drive.
The cylinders of a boxer lie feet-to-feet on both sides of the crankshaft instead of standing up or leaning, as is the case with conventional in-line or V-engines. It makes for a low center of gravity and relatively simple all-wheel drive by running a drive shaft off the back of the engine.
Before Subaru, the most familiar application of boxer engines was in the pre-1976 Volkswagen Beetles, Karmann-Ghias and microbuses, which have become collectors’ items. Now the only other manufacturer using boxers is Germany’s Porsche in its high-performance Boxster, Cayman and 911 models.
To deliver the WRX and WRX STI slingshots, Subaru starts with its sub-$20,000 compact Impreza. Similarities end there. The WRX comes with a 265-horsepower, 2.5-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder boxer engine and a five-speed manual gearbox. The WRX STI steps up from there, with enhancements that coax 305 horsepower out of the same basic power plant. It gets a six-speed manual gearbox. Neither model is offered with an automated manual or automatic transmission.
New for 2011, in a nod to American preferences, is a wider-bodied four-door sedan in the WRX STI version. It joins the WRX sedan and four-door hatchbacks offered on previous models. Prices start at $26,220 for the WRX sedan and climb to $36,720 for the hatchback WRX STI. The test car was a loaded STI Limited sedan with a suggested price of $38,070.Included as part of the standard STI equipment are 18-inch alloy wheels and an adjustable vehicle dynamics control that allows the driver to select the level of stability and traction control, or to turn it off entirely for track or rally forays.
The top-line Limited model includes leather upholstery, a motorized sunroof, high-intensity headlights, and heated front seats and outside mirrors. But if you want Sirius satellite radio and Bluetooth communications you have to buy the touch-screen navigation package. Another shortcoming: The sun visors do not slide on their support rods and do not adequately block sunlight from the side.
The main visual characteristic of the new WRX STI sedan is a giant wing-like spoiler on the trunk that fairly screams, “I’m speeding. Arrest me.” It’s part of the standard equipment so you can’t get rid of it unless you cut a deal with your dealer or buy the less-expensive and less powerful WRX sedan. Hatchbacks come with more sedate roof-mounted spoilers.
In its defense, the STI spoiler is mounted high enough that it doesn’t block vision to the rear. You can look straight underneath it at that overtaking car with the flashing blue lights.
Up front, the STI sedan has seats that offer stiff support. The interior has a quality look and feel, and the instruments are legible and easy to comprehend.
There’s enough head and knee room in back for two adults, but the center position—as is usual almost universally—is cramped and uncomfortable. At 11 cubic feet, the trunk is on the small side, so if cargo capacity is a priority you’d be better off with the hatchback, which has 19 cubic feet of space behind the back seat. Besides, it is 6.5 inches shorter than the sedan and has a more nimble handling feel.Despite their kinship, the WRX and WRX STI are different cars. The STI has a unique drive train and suspension system developed with race-car parts, along with binders from Brembo, the famed supplier of high-performance brakes.
Unofficially, the STI can snap off zero-to-60 acceleration times of less than five seconds, with a top speed north of 155 miles an hour. Not surprisingly, the city/highway fuel consumption, at 17/23 miles to the gallon, is less than outstanding.
On the road, the STI has taut handling but without the punishing ride that sometimes accompanies stiffly sprung performance cars. Clutch action is smooth and the shift linkage for the six-speed gearbox is somewhat tight but likely will loosen up in time.