First Drive: 2011 Subaru WRX STI Sedan

2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI

During the economic nightmare that was 2009, carmakers watched their sales slide off a cliff -- all carmakers but one that is: Subaru. Instead of plunging sales, 2009 marked the third consecutive year of Subaru sales growth; giving it a record market share in the process. So far in 2010, Subaru has done even better. For 2011, Subaru hopes to keep the momentum going, with updates to its performance side of the brand -- the WRX and STI.

More extroverted exteriors
For the first time ever, the WRX will have the same wide-body styling as the STI on both the five-door hatchback and the four-door sedan. The WRX also gets a new front grille and spoiler, plus redesigned 17-inch wheels that are now eight inches wide. The road-holding ability has been improved by a 1.3-inch wider track front and rear, and stiffer rear sub-frame bushings.

For the first time since 2007, the rally-car star STI will be available as a four-door sedan. It shares the same aggressive wide body as the WRX but under the skin is a much different vehicle. Chassis changes include higher spring rates, larger sway bars, and new "pillow ball" suspension bushings in the front control arms. The new bushings, also called a rose joint, allow for quicker turn-in and crisper overall steering feel. But on our mountain road drive, the steering felt over boosted at times, although it's still an improvement over the 2010 model. The whale-tail deck-lid spoiler returns, but thankfully it's high enough not to block rearward visibility while still producing high-speed downforce. Also new are the standard 18-inch wheels that are four pounds lighter per wheel than the 2010 model.

Grown up interior
Both the WRX and STI have improved interior amenities. Gone are the cheap silver dash accents and the ancient radio technology. For the 2011 model, Subaru finally will offer items such as Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, as well as USB, iPod, and auxiliary inputs. Premium options like leather seating surfaces and a moonroof come with the Limited trim level. But the dashboard is still plagued by hard plastics.

No change in power
One of the few things unchanged for 2011 is the powertrain. The STI retains its 305 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque; while the WRX gets 265 hp and 244 lb-ft of torque. Only manual transmissions are offered: a six-speed in the STI and five-speed in the WRX. Subaru does not have technology for a twin-clutch automatic transmission now, but product planners are open to the idea for next generation car. But since Subaru uses in-house transmissions and not off the shelf units from other companies, it might be a while before a dual-clutch gearbox is mounted to a Subaru boxer engine.

Competitively priced
Pricing for the 2011 WRX four and five-door starts at $26,220 including a $725 destination charge; the WRX Premium is $28,220, and the Limited is $29,220. The base four-door sedan STI starts at $34,720, $385 more than a base Mitsubishi Evo. The STI sedan Limited is $38,070, $1665 less than a Evo MR, and $3665 less than an Evo MR Touring. The five-door hatchback starts at $36,720 and now includes the BBS wheels as standard equipment, which was a $2000 option for 2010.

2011 Subaru WRX and STI

Base price: $26,220 for WRX (including destination) $34,720 for STI (including destination)

Powertrain: 2.5-liter DOHC turbocharged Boxer four-cylinder
Horsepower: WRX: 265 hp @ 6000 rpm
STI: 305 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: WRX: 244 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
STI: 290 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Drive: Four-wheel

Measurements:
L x W x H:
Four-door WRX: 180.3 x 70.7 x 58.1 in Five-door WRX: 173.8 x 70.1 x 58.1 in Four-door STI: 180.3 x 70.7 x 57.9 in Five-door STI: 173.8 x 70.7 x 57.8 in
Wheelbase: 103.3 in
Curb weight: Four/five-door WRX: 3208 lbs Four-door STI: 3384 lbs Five-door STI: 3373
EPA fuel economy: WRX: 19/25 mpg STI: 17/23 mpg

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