2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Review – First Drive

Improved handling, cheaper price and a big wing: the Subaru WRX STI Sedan is back

2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Review – First Drive

Since its arrival on these shores back in 2003, the Impreza STI has carved out a reputation as one of the most fun to drive road rockets of the modern age. The combination of a well-tuned chassis, gutsy 2.5-liter turbocharged Boxer engine and symmetrical all-wheel drive, along with four-doors, prove that you can have a performance car for all seasons and all circumstances.

FAST FACTS

1. Upgrades for 2011 include new springs with a lowered ride height, thicker sway bars, new pillow-ball bushings in front and stiffer bushings for the rear subframe as well as lighter 18-inch wheels.

2. The engine remains unchanged, making 305-hp for a 0-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds.

3. Driver Controlled Center Differential (DCCD) features three modes Auto, Auto – and Auto +. The two latter settings hold the torque bias for improved handling and tighten the LSD to improve traction on slippery surfaces respectively.

4. The 2011 STI hatchback is priced from $35,995 while the sedan retails for just $33,995.

STI SEDAN RETURNS

However, when the current car was launched in five-door hatchback form only for 2008, it polarized opinion, especially among Subaru enthusiasts. The STI had always been a sedan, yet here was something that looked like a Japanese Ford Focus RS. Yes, the new car with it’s lusty 305 horsepower motor, stiffer structure and improved suspension, was better built, easier to drive and faster, but there was still something missing – a proper four door and one with a monster wing on the decklid.

Well Impreza diehards, for 2011, Subaru has relented; reintroducing said bodystyle for the STI and one that quite appropriately has that monster wing mounted on the rear. Not only does it look aggressive, it’s functional and is designed to generate greater downforce and more stable handling at high speed. It also gives the four-door a higher top speed than its hatchback counterpart (160 versus 155 mph).

Combined with the bulging fenders (the rears are noticeably more pronounced on the sedan) plus an aggressive (and functional) front air dam, the result harkens back to the golden age of Japanese performance cars and is very much a boy-racer look. Besides the reintroduction of the four-door body style, all 2011 STIs get a new front grille, squared up lower fascia and the sedan gets larger, specific 3-inch quad exhaust tips.

Filling the flared fenders, are slightly wider tires than last year – meaty 245/40/18 Dunlop SP600 Sports, mounted on Enkei alloys that weigh 18 lbs less than those installed on the 2010 model, allowing for improved grip and less rolling resistance.

SPEC C HARDWARE

But tires and wheels are only part of the equation. They’re combined with an updated suspension, pirated from the Japanese Domestic Market Spec C model, which includes higher rate springs, bigger front and rear sway bars, plus the use of pillow ball bushings in the lower control arms to reduce deflection in cornering and a slightly lower ride height.

Although the driveline remains essentially unchanged – the 2011 STI is powered by the same 305 horsepower, turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-four; delivering the same meaty 290 ft-lbs of torque at 4000 rpm – the suspension and tire upgrades result in a car that feels even quicker than before, especially through the corners. Aided by the symmetrical all-wheel drive system and three differentials – helical limited slip front; Torsen rear and Driver Controlled Center Diff (which still allows the torque split to be adjusted manually from 50/50 to 30/70 front/rear), the 2011 STI is tremendous fun and grip seems almost never ending.

UPGRADES YOU CAN FEEL

Throw the car into a turn, plant the throttle and the diffs do the rest – those used to RWD performance will be tempted to lift off, but the STI just digs in, powering through one corner and onto the next. Poise is excellent and the car feels stiff and remarkably solid – nicely weighed steering and a slick shifting six-speed manual gearbox are simply icing on the cake. Yet for all its cornering prowess, the 2011 STI doesn’t punish you during the daily commute, with the shocks and Spec C springs cushion serious road imperfections quite nicely. This truly is a serious performance car you can drive every day, no matter the distance or how bad the weather gets.

Whether driving on the street or thrashing around the track, power and torque delivery are smoothly satisfying. The turbo spools up quickly and the dense air charge from that monster intercooler mean that no matter which gear you’re in, plant the throttle and the STI takes off like a scalded cat. The car will scoot to 60 mph in under five seconds (4.9 according to the factory stats) and run through the quarter mile in under 13.5 with a good driver at the helm. Thanks to the car’s tremendous grip it will generate close to 1.00 lateral g on the skid pad and under braking, thanks to the monster 13-inch (326 mm) front discs and Brembo calipers, stop this thing on a dime, with minimal squat and progressive feel.

STI: IT’S JAPANESE FOR BARGAIN

At almost any price, the STI’s performance ranks as good value – for under $36,000 it’s an absolute bargain. That’s right, the 2011 STI starts at $33,995 for the new four-door sedan variant, $35,995 for the five-door hatch. Even the top line four-door Limited with standard leather seats and a sunroof, starts at under 38 large ($37,345 to be precise).

There is, however, a catch – fuel economy. Turbocharged Imprezas have never been known for thrift at the pump and the 2011 model remains much the same. In city driving you’ll be lucky to get more than 17 miles per gallon and the open road, 22 is about the best you’ll hope for (worse than some V8s we can think of). But then again, fuel economy isn’t why you buy a car like this.

Inside, the 2011 STI proves that Subaru has come along way in terms of fit and finish. The cabin might seem a touch basic on the standard car (our tester wasn’t fitted with the optional $1,800 satellite navigation/Pioneer AVIC system with centrally mounted multi-function display), but it’s ergonomically sound, pleasant and functional. Compared with earlier Imprezas (those built through 2007) it also feels a lot better put together with sturdy controls and durable surfaces, something that contrasts strongly with Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution X; a car that’s cabin still manages to feel hollow and tinny. The STI’s Alcantara seats are also quite supportive – not as aggressive as those in the Mitsu (which feel almost like pure racing buckets), but decently bolstered, keeping you firmly planted during enthusiast driving, without taking a toll on your back.

THE VERDICT

In today’s more somber automotive environment, there are fewer real choices out there when it comes to true performance cars, but considering its performance and entry price, the 2011 Subaru Impreza STI stands out as one of the best bang for the buck buys on the market. It’s still a slayer of far more expensive sports cars and thanks to some carefully engineered upgrades for the 2011 model year, it proves that there’s still a lot to be said about owning an automobile that delivers world-beating performance without breaking the bank.

RELATED READING

2010 Subaru WRX STI Special Edition SE Review 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart Review 2009 Nissan 370z Coupe 2011 Mazdaspeed3 Review 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2010 Audi S4 First Drive 2009 Infiniti G37x Sedan

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