2011 Subaru Impreza WRX Review – First Drive

Adopting STI cues for 2011, the WRX is it stealing thunder from its big brother. And that’s a good thing.

2011 Subaru Impreza WRX Review – First Drive

When the GE chassis Impreza WRX originally debuted as a 2008 model, there were those among the Subaru community who thought the car had perhaps become too bland, too mainstream. It was quieter and better put together – no question, but it was also tough to tell apart from the fleet of modern genericars that pepper our roads.

FAST FACTS

1. For 2011 the WRX gains the STI’s fenders with a 1.5-inch wider track and wider tires.

2. The engine remains untouched with 265-hp and 244 ft-lbs of torque.

3. Only a 5-speed manual transmission is offered on the WRX, with a hill-hold system to make for better daily drivability.

4. The 2011 WRX is priced at a very reasonable $25,495 and is available as either a sedan or 5-door hatchback.

For 2011, Subaru has attempted to address that problem, by giving the WRX the bold, signature look of its bigger brother, the STI, as well as blessing it with a raft of engineering improvements. Here’s what we think after taking it for a spin.

BOY RACER RETURNS

In a somber, sensible age, it’s rather nice to have a car that stands out for all the ‘wrong’ reasons. Massive, bulging fenders, prominent front air dam and scooped hood scream ‘hooligan,’ making this car quite hard to blend in with the modern day crowd. But unlike some other form follows function performance machines, in the WRX’s case it’s quite well executed. It’s aggressive without being too cartoon-like. Some might say, that as a result of the new for ’11 model year exterior changes, the Rex now looks too much like the STI, but in sedan form it still sports a relatively small rear spoiler, unlike the STI’s massive wing.

Rolling stock is also an area where the two cars differ. The ‘Rex’ rides on slightly smaller wheels than the STI – 17×8-inchers – but the tires are now wider on this model than last year with 235-section rubber in place of the previous 225/45/17s. In addition, the car’s track has also been widened for greater on-road stability – front tread now stands at 60.2 inches (up from 58.9), while out back it’s now 60.6 inches (versus 59.1 on the 2010 model).

WRX OR STI? THE DIFFERENCE IS IN THE DETAILS

Outside, it might be hard to tell Rex apart from the STI, but from within there’s a more evident mainstream feel. There’s no driver controlled center differential knob on the console and you’ve got slightly more pedestrian seats. Aluminum foot pedal covers and electroluminescent gauges do, however, give the cabin a sporty feel.

Compared to previous Imprezas, the GE is actually quite refined and well put together. The interior panels have a solid feel to them; as does the switchgear and HVAC/ICE controls. WRX models get an upgraded sound system for 2011 with six-speakers and a media hub with iPod/USB integration, Bluetooth streaming audio and voice activated hands-free communication.

Sitting in the car, you’ll find that headroom is generous so there should be no issues for taller drivers. Having said that, leg-stretching space, especially in the rear, isn’t that great for a sedan.

FUN, FUN, FUN

The current Impreza is built on a version of the same platform as the Legacy, so besides offering greater refinement and build quality, it behaves considerably better on the road than any of the old GD cars did. The unibody structure sports MacPherson front struts bolted directly to the frame, while out back is a sub chassis that uses double wishbones – not only to promote better tire contact with the road, but also to help provide cavernous trunk space.

In addition, Subaru engineers have installed stiffer bushings in that rear subframe for 2011, so combined with the tautest Impreza unibody yet, the result is a car that’s exceedingly well-composed, no matter the road surface is beneath. Better yet, the WRX remains confidence inspiring and controllable through the corners.

A standard locking center differential helps maintain the front/rear torque split at 50:50 in order to maximize traction under all conditions; so combined with standard Vehicle Dynamic (stability) and traction control, when you throw the WRX through a corner it holds a remarkably tight line and you can essentially keep your foot planted on the throttle while maintaining very high levels of grip. As a result, this is one little performance pill that covers ground, very, very quickly, aided by a gutsy powertrain.

SAME AWESOME POWER, SAME TERRIBLE FUEL ECONOMY

The WRX uses a version of the same horizontally opposed, longitudinally mounted four-cylinder turbocharged engine in the STI, but in a milder state of tune – 265 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 244 ft-lbs of torque at 4000 revs. Nevertheless, it’s still got plenty of grunt and the five-speed manual gearbox allows for fairly quick shifting, enabling you to really make the most of the engine’s power band. In fact, the car will accelerate to 60 mph in less than five seconds – easily.

A light clutch action also helps and combined with the compliant suspension, superb grip and nicely weighted steering, you can have fun in this little car for hours on end. As a daily driver with a performance slant, the WRX makes a lot of sense, but even though Subaru claims the thing will get 19/ 25 (city/highway) miles per gallon, don’t bet on it during normal driving – the best you’re likely to achieve is around 18-mpg in the city and possibly 23-mpg on the highway and that’s without showing off.

STRONG BRAKING, GOOD VALUE

Thanks to 12.6-inch front discs, braking is a strong point, with good progression and pedal feedback, even under panic stops from healthy velocities. We stomped on the anchors several times – and on wet, bumpy roads we might add – not once did the Rex feel ruffled bleeding off speed at such an alarming rate.

For 2011, the Impreza WRX is offered in three distinctive trim levels: base, Premium and Limited. The entry-level car starts at $25,495 while the Premium model, which adds a standard glass power moonroof, heated seats, front foglights and optional nav system, stickers for $27,995. Finally, the Limited, which sports standard leather seats and HID headlights in the U.S., goes for a grand more ($28,995) – still quite a bargain when you consider the performance on tap.

THE VERDICT

These days, it seems that it’s getting harder and harder to find an automobile that truly delivers maximum fun for the dollar, but the 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX comes pretty darned close. The combination of a satisfyingly torquey engine, outstanding grip and good chassis tuning, means that you’ll probably never tire from bashing around on the back roads, going to track days or just plainly having fun – that is, if you can live with the rather appalling fuel economy.

As an all-around package, it probably makes better sense than the STI. Think of it as a modern day muscle car, if not in execution then at least in spirit, especially when modern day retro jobs are frequently pushing around 40 large.

RELATED READING

2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Review – First Drive

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