2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STi Road Test Review

Arv Voss - CAP staff
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Once upon a time, the general consensus of the majority of auto scribes was that Subaru's WRX STi was a less civilized machine than Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution. In 2008, the third generation STi seemed to change that perception almost instantly. The STi then provided more horsepower and torque than its predecessors, and did it with a great deal more sophistication and finesse. For 2011, the STi is now available in two body styles – the more traditional 4-door version sees the return of the large rear wing, while the 5-door hatch now shares its wide body styling with the base WRX that incorporates a lip-type spoiler just above the rear glass.

The design of the 5-door delivers a contemporary flavour, which more closely resembles a compact sport wagon than its predecessor, along with unquestionably more versatility and functionality. The frontal appearance showcases a low, wide stance with a recognizable grille shape and flowing character line that glides continuously around the front fascia, up over the exaggerated fender blisters and along the hood with its large, functional, air intake scoop. The overall effect displays a grace and energy not found in earlier STi models. The wide-fender 5-door body design actually drew its inspiration from Subaru's WRC concept first shown at the 2007 Frankfurt Auto Show. Admittedly, many, if not most dyed-in-the-wool STi enthusiasts have been slow to warm to the non-coupe forms -- at least until they have been afforded the opportunity to slide behind the wheel and experience the power, enhanced ride and handling qualities of the new model.

The 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STi's power source continues to be a 2.5-liter intercooled turbocharged "Boxer" (horizontally-opposed) four-cylinder engine that makes 305 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, while generating 290 pound-feet of torque; but arriving at 4,000 rpm - 400 rpm earlier than before, for improved response. The engine mates to a six-speed manual gearbox that regulates gear ratios to Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive System and also incorporates a Driver Control Centre Differential (DCCD) version that's exclusive to the Impreza WRX STi, and takes driver controlled response to the next level. The DCCD system provides three selectable automatic performance modes in addition to the six manual differential-locking settings. The DCCD AWD system integrates the Vehicle Dynamics Control stability and traction control system, which also offers three driver selectable positions.

The WRX STi rides on standard Dunlop SP Sport 600 - 245/40-18 tires mounted on 9-spoke BBS forged aluminum alloy wheels. High-intensity discharge low beams utilize manual height adjusters, and a functional hood scoop and fog light insert covers all contribute to the car's no-nonsense rally image. A functional aero package, which includes a front valance with a deep, aggressive front spoiler with side air vents for improved cooling; ground effects package with extended side rocker skirts; front fender arches with hidden air vents for extracting engine heat; and rear integrated spoiler contribute to the car's functional lift reduction design.

Major changes to suspension tuning for the WRX STI include a lowered ride height and new pillow-ball bushings in front with stiffer bushings for the rear subframe supporting the double-wishbone suspension, improving camber and toe stiffness. Both the front and rear suspension systems employ higher-rate springs and thicker front and rear stabilizer bars than the 2010 model.

Inside, the WRX STi exudes a sporty flavour, but with an added emphasis on comfort. Even with the enhanced refinement of the interior, the serious performance nature and atmosphere lives on, conveying the car's rally roots and mission statement. The instrument panel carries over the electroluminescent gauges from the previous generation. Standard equipment abounds, with new options also available, including a navigation system that is integrated with a vehicle information centre.
The WRX STi is much more than simply a modified example of the WRX,
even though the two models share the same basic architecture and some interior trim. Practically every major mechanical system in the WRX STi is unique to the model including the engine, transmission, DCCD All-Wheel Drive system, special suspension, brakes and specific interior appointments. The WRX STi provides improved performance and a higher level of driver-selectable control over the car's handling dynamics.

The Si Drive system is incorporated into the vehicle's Engine Control Module, allowing for the distinctively different modes of performance characteristics ("Intelligent," "Sport" and "Sport Sharp" – using a rotary dial on the centre console) by regulating the ECM and by fine-tuning the Electronic Throttle Control system. There's also a rocker switch that provides six different settings for the centre differential operation. Stopping chores are handled by Brembo brakes with super sport ABS, with Electronic Brake Force Distribution and Brake Assist.

My 2011 test Subaru Impreza WRX STi was in the 5-door hatch configuration and sported an exterior finish of World Rally Blue Pearl, with a Black and Gray interior, enhanced by Satin Silver trim accents and rubber-studded metal pedals, including a dead pedal. The base price was set at $39,995 plus destination and delivery charge, adding up to a total of $41,520. The only option was the Sport-tech Package, which includes a touch-screen navigation system, wheel-mounted audio controls, auxiliary input for audio/video source, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, SIRIUS satellite radio, and a power sunroof for $45,995, plus the $1,525 freight and PDI equaling $47,520.

With the dual body style choice, fans will now be able to satisfy their individual tastes, and regardless of their selection, enthusiasts are sure to appreciate the much more pleasurable driving characteristics, especially for extended distances. The WRX STi is now much more civilized and refined than ever before, without sacrificing any performance or handling attributes – in fact, both the performance delivery and handling characteristics are indeed better.

One may properly think of the 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STi as a turnkey rally racer that happens to be sophisticated enough to handle more mundane duties such as grocery runs with newfound comfort. Ride compliance is surprisingly respondent to virtually any road surface or for that matter, non-road surface -- no more lost dental fillings! Fuel economy isn't bad either, with estimated ratings of 12.2 L/100km city and 8.7 highway.

During the recent press introduction of 2011 models, journalists were afforded the opportunity to experience the WRX STi in all its glory under a variety of driving scenarios that included everyday urban and suburban driving; some racetrack lap time under the tutelage of legendary Norwegian race and rally expert John Haugland; and an off-road rally stage in cars that were totally stock except for wheels, tires, added skid plate protection and five-point racing harnesses. Experiencing the "Scandinavian Flick" and hand brake turns put drivers to the test, while the WRX STi took everything in stride.

Bottom line, this latest iteration Subaru Impreza WRX STi is rally sweet and rally fast.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Subaru, 2011, Impreza WRX STI, $30,000 - $39,999,

Organizations: Subaru

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