I knew there was something different about the WRX as soon as I walked up to it in the parking garage, but I wasn’t aware of exactly what the changes were for 2011 until I looked at the spec sheet. The gist of it is that the WRX sedan now has wide-body styling to ape the look of the high-performance STI. The front and rear tracks have been widened by approximately 1.5 inches, and the front end has been restyled a bit. There are also new wheels, 17×8 inches rather than the previous 17×7 inches, yet they each weigh 1.5 pounds less. The performance rubber is now 235/45R-17 rather than 225/45R-17.
The engine remains the same 265-hp, 244 lb-ft, 2.5-liter turbocharged boxer four-cylinder as before, mated to a five-speed manual transmission. Some may say that it’s time for the WRX to have a six-speed manual, but I didn’t have a problem with this five-speed, and the clutch takeup is much better than in some previous Subarus.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
The WRX remains one of the great unsung performance bargains. For just about $25,000, you get a four-wheel-drive turbocharged compact that blows right past a Volkswagen GTI and will hang with $30,000 Chevrolet Camaros and Ford Mustangs. And now it even looks cool, with styling more like its big brother’s and less like an Impreza owned by a college history professor (leaving off the liberal bumper stickers will help, too). It’s not just a paper champion, either. The turbocharger provides its power in fat, easy-to-use doses, its whine mixing pleasantly with the boxer engine’s growl. The stick shift lacks the tactility that defines the best Honda and Mazda manuals, but it doesn’t offend and works well with the nicely weighted clutch. Those in search of hard-core handling would probably tighten up the chassis, but with power going to all four wheels, it will still pull through corners with smile-inducing enthusiasm.
Of course, there are tradeoffs. The interior falls well short of Volkswagen standards and is more basic even than what you’ll find in an equivalently priced Mazdaspeed3. There are only five cogs in the transmission, although the smooth four-cylinder never really screams for another gear.
My only real gripe concerns the steering, which, as in the STI, remains numb, vague, and dead on-center. But to get any discernable upgrade without giving up acceleration, you’re looking at $30,000 for a Mustang or a Mitsubishi Evo.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
As is the case with every other Impreza, getting into a Subaru WRX fills me with a sense that I’m in a car from the early 2000s. I’m not just talking about an outdated new vehicle, but a used car from 2003. The vague steering feels like it has tired bushings, and the loose five-speed shifter feels like it’s been beat on a few too many times. The interior is also bleak. Subaru is capable of building a better car than this. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a couple more years before the mechanicals of the Impreza are thoroughly updated. Of course, the turbocharged engine and standard all-wheel-drive system make this a great value for someone who wants a dynamic non-front-driver at an affordable price. I would much rather have the more attractive, more responsive Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, though.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
I agree, Eric — the Mitsubishi Lancer‘s high-performance variants have better steering and a better gearbox, so they get my vote every time. Nonetheless, this WRX is FAST, even though the boost doesn’t really kick in until about 3000 rpm. You can pass briskly at will, so long as you’re in the proper gear and don’t get caught in no-boost no-man’s land.
During my weekend with the car, I achieved an indicated 24 mpg with no highway driving and frequent hard acceleration, which is pretty good for something with this kind of performance.
The trunk and trunk opening are small, and although the rear seats seem more spacious than the previous-generation car’s, I doubt that four six-footers would be comfortable for very long. I found the driver’s seat to be a bit too soft, but the seats do look good, and the heated cloth is a nice availability. The wide-body kit looks nice, too; the base WRX has plenty of power to back up its racier new appearance, even if an STI has 40 more horsepower and is significantly quicker.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
2011 Subaru Impreza WRX Limited
Base price (with destination): $29,720
Price as tested: $29,720
2.5-liter turbocharged boxer 4-cylinder engine
5-speed manual transmission
Vehicle dynamics control
Locking center differential
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Electronic brake force distribution
Leather trimmed seats
Heated front seats
Steering wheel-mounted audio controls
AM/FM stereo with single CD player and 6 speakers
Auxiliary audio input jack
XM satellite radio
iPod and USB adapter
Options on this vehicle:
Key options not on vehicle:
Touch-screen GPS navigation — $2000
Auto-dimming rearview mirror — $165
19 / 25 / 22 mpg
Size: 2.5L turbocharged flat-4
Horsepower: 265 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 244 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Curb weight: 3208 lb
Wheels/tires: 17 x 8.0-inch aluminum wheels
235/45R17 Dunlop SP01 summer performance tires