On this trip, we encountered an eight-hour storm of sideways rain, ice-caked Kentucky Interstates, and snow up the wazoo. The 911 was wearing summer tires, but it felt, in the words of road test coordinator Monte Doran, "like a bullet train." At one point, though, the car performed a sort of low-speed, balletic lane-change maneuver that was wholly unintended. Doran was able to correct it by simply laying down some throttle and activating the Porsche Stability Management (PSM) skid control that's standard on every all-wheel-drive 911.
The car can be driven in third gear all day, through almost any corner, along highways at double the old 55-mph limit. Power mounts so incrementally that the 911's throttle is as vital a source of control as its steering or its brakes. And, oh, those brakes! They are little pieces of jewelry--cross-drilled and vented and probably as expensive as a Harry Winston engagement ring. They stop the car with precision, seriousness, and a pedal heft no other street car can match.
In fact, seriousness is a key word for the whole car. This is a grown-up sporting machine. All its parts have been worked over and buffed to an almost lapidary smoothness. As a result, the current 911 is mature, relaxed, and self-confident. It nearly never does anything untoward, and its handling behavior is now as predictable as an episode of Scooby-Doo.
If the 911 wears its age on its sleeve, so does the WRX. The Subaru is as light as the 911 is hefty, as impetuous as the Porsche is stable, and as explosive as the 911 is measured. Nevertheless, if you really examine the cars back-to-back, the WRX reveals itself to be simply a less polished version of the 911. The WRX is not quite as refined, not quite as quiet, not quite as developed, but both cars have the same tactile directness born of the same engineering solutions. In fact, it's uncanny how much these cars have in common.
In terms of ride, the WRX and the 911 strike an almost identical balance of soft wheel impacts and stiff, well-controlled body movements. Both cars are extremely rigid, which allows their suspensions (both have strut-type fronts) to damp the wheels and control the body motions instantaneously. And, just as the 911 is known for its long-stroking suspension, the WRX has an amazing eight inches of wheel travel. These cars don't just read the road, they subject it to strict Freudian analysis.
In handling, too, both cars take the same tack. The 911 and the WRX are set up for mild initial understeer that segues to a neutral phase, then, finally, to oversteer. The 911 does the dance in a very progressive manner, with lots of electronic aids to help the driver stay out of the guardrail. But while a WRX slide can be adjusted with careful applications of the throttle, an overeager foot prompts the notorious Swedish Flick of rallying legend.
The Subaru's steering talks loudly and forcefully to its driver, which makes the car's gathering up fairly easy. Eventually, this kind of sideways jackassery becomes intoxicating, even confidence-inspiring: When you know that you can quell the most extreme yaw angles with the available mechanical controls--steering, brakes, throttle--you feel downright invincible.
Same goes for the powerplant. Because the WRX has a goodly amount of turbo lag, a certain familiarity with the gearing and powerband is necessary to harness this car's power fully. Below 3000 rpm, the 2.0-liter four is dead, but just above that critical mark, the power mounts to a 7000-rpm crescendo, just as in the 911. Those pining for the lowdown grunt of the normally aspirated 2.5-liter four of the Impreza 2.5 RS can find solace in the fact that Subaru turbocharged the 2.0 instead of the 2.5 because WRC rules stipulate that the road car must use the same engine block as the rally car. As for why the WRX produces only 227 horsepower from this engine, we figure it's because the car is emissions-constrained in the United States (the WRX wears three catalysts already) and also because a 280-horsepower version would necessitate new heads and plumbing that would push the base price over $30,000. People may eventually pay that for a Subaru, the marketing folks reason, but not yet.