Subaru Impreza WRX STI
Pros: Configurable driveline, extra cargo space
Cons: Power delivery feels flaccid, over-boosted steering
Ironically, evolution is a term that aptly describes Subaru's hottest street legal rally machine, the Impreza WRX STI. After witnessing a barrage of different special-edition models launch globally in 2010, Subaru announced it would substantially revamp the car for the 2011 model year.
Although we weren't able to get seat time in a 2011 STI for this review, we did drive a 2010 STI Special Edition. Although it eschews some of the luxurious standard features of a normal STI (including leather seating, a 10-speaker audio system, automatic A/C), a Subaru spokesperson tells us the suspension tuning, cribbed from the Japanese-market Spec C model, is a good preview of the new 2011 model.
If that's the case, expect the 2011 STI to be a vast improvement over a standard 2010 model, which erred on the side of soft. Although the STI Special Edition still offers a compliant ride, body motions are kept largely in check, thanks to stiffer front springs, firmer rear dampers, and a thicker rear sway bar. Steering, however, continues to be quick but over-boosted, and doesn't offer as much feedback as the Evo's setup.
On paper, the 305 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque supplied by the STI's turbocharged 2.4-liter boxer-four-cylinder eclipses the Evolution, but unless you flip the right switch, you may not know it. Drivers can dial their car from mild to wild thanks in part to the Si-Drive controller, which adjusts both the engine computer and electronic throttle to control power, torque, and throttle tip-in. The so-called intelligent setting is quite sedate, but power junkies need only crank the dial past Sport and over to Sport Sharp, which unleashes the boxer four's full potential.
The driver has an equal amount of say over the all-wheel-drive system. Like Mitsubishi, Subaru allows you to tailor the driveline to road conditions, but the STI allows for additional precision in those adjustments. The automatic setting for the center differential may be fine for most, but select Auto (-) Sports, and you'll find the torque bias has been sent rearwards, helping improve steering feel. Auto (+) Sports sends torque forward, and also pre-tenses the center diff, making it best suited for slick surfaces. Of course, if you think you know better than a computer, you can always manually dial in the torque split up to a 50/50 split.
Although a new sedan model joins the STI portfolio for 2011, we'd still opt for the hatchback variant, which was launched in 2008. Purists may hem and haw over the rounded appearance, but there's no denying the hatchback adds a considerable amount of cargo space -- and, therefore, practicality -- to an already tasty recipe.