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2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI

Subaru's spoiled sport Add to ...

Diehard sedan fans will no longer be deprived of the opportunity to own the ultimate performance Subbie with the arrival of a four-doors-and-a-trunk – plus a honking great spoiler – version of the company’s Impreza WRX STI for 2011.

Although, why anybody wouldn’t want the decidedly more dashing five-door hatch is something to ponder.

And for those willing to make do with 40 fewer than the herd stallion STI’s 305 rambunctious ponies, the still-more-than-fleet-enough WRX now boasts the STI’s powerful wide-body styling and structure along with other improvements.

More good news is that this revamped range of still highly streetable, but also extremely track compatible compacts, are on sale now at carry-over 2010 prices in the WRX’s case, while the STI actually goes for a couple of grand less.

A WRX four-door starts at $32,495 and the five-door at $33,395, while the STI five-door lists for $38,895 and the new four-door for $37,995.

The 2011 models are being pitched as the fastest WRX STIs ever. Not because of a boost in power (that came in 2009), but due to aerodynamic, structural and suspension improvements that, according to project manager Hiroshi Mori, improve driver confidence and mean they “can be used safely at any speed.”

That apparently includes lapping Germany’s Nurburgring in an impressive seven minutes and 55 seconds in the hands of an obviously confident rally ace Tommi Makinen.

Along with the changes that come with the four-door bodywork, including a stretch in length of 165 mm (wheelbase remains the same for both), the 2011 STIs get a new harder-edged look up front with an aggressively protruding lip spoiler and blacked-out grille.

The big-winged four-door sedan actually has a lower drag coefficient than the five-door and a slightly higher top speed at 255 km/h and weighs in just five kg heavier at 1,535 kg.

Both benefit from some structural stiffening and major suspension alterations that add a new quickness to their reactions and improve road holding.

Ride height has been lowered slightly and expensive-looking pillow-ball bushings up front improve steering precision and reduce under-steer. Slightly heftier (by one mm) anti-roll bars, front spring rates increased by 15.6 per cent and rear spring rates up a huge 53 per cent, plus stiffer rear sub-frame bushings improve camber and toe stiffness and reduce body roll 30 per cent.

New standard 18-inch aluminum Enkei wheels are a total of just more than 7 kg lighter and are shod with Dunlop SP 600 245/40R18 summer performance tires. Brakes are by Brembo, 326-mm discs with four-piston calipers up front/316-mm with twin-pot calipers in back. Super Sport ABS brakes each wheel independently for improved control and reduced under-steer while trail-braking into a corner.

The STI’s turbocharged and intercooled, 2.5-litre boxer-four still makes 305 hp at 6,000 rpm and 290 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, with a six-speed manual gearbox delivering it to the very sophisticated, driver-programmable, all-wheel-drive system. Fuel economy is rated at a not-surprisingly thirsty 12.4 litres/100 km city and 8.8 highway.

New dark metallic and silver trim, revised gauges and an upgraded base audio and communication system – now with six speakers, Bluetooth and a MediaHub for iPod/USB – add value inside. A Pioneer system is optional.

The hatch, despite its shorter length, provides 538 litres of cargo space with the just-usable rear seats’ backrests upright, and 1,257 litres with them folded. The sedan’s trunk, accessed through a fairly small opening, provides 320 litres, but a 60/40-folding rear seatback expands this to more golf bag-friendly dimensions.

The four-door STI proved a great introduction to Calabogie Motorsports Park’s 22 uphill and down twists and curves, brilliantly powerful, with quick and accurate responses, very capable and very clever at covering up a driver’s miscues. And hugely enjoyable.

Much the same could be said of the WRX, which was driven at a safe but entertaining pace on a back-roads loop earlier in the day.

The 2011 Impreza WRXs are now based on the same wide-body structure as the STIs and come closer to matching their performance at all but the highest levels. The new exterior and interior styling fillips for 2011 are also for the most part shared, although the four-door gets by with a much lower-profile rear deck spoiler.

Adopting STI dimensions has given the WRX a 35-mm increase in front track and 40-mm at the rear and a slight increase in wheelbase. Weight is only up by 15.5 kg to 1,455 kg. Wheel diameter remains the same at 17 inches, but they are now an inch wider at 8 inches and tire size has gone up to 235/45R17 from 225/45R17.

As with the STI, the WRX’s 2.5-litre, turbocharged, flat-four is unchanged – apart from sounding a little burble-ier – still making an impressive 265 hp at 6,000 rpm and 244 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. It still only comes with a five-speed manual gearbox, which is actually all you need with this torque-y motor, but not as sexy as the STI’s six-speed. Fuel economy ratings are 11.1 litres/100 km city and 8.0 highway.

On the Calabogie area’s mix of fairly smooth and frost-heaved pavement draped over and around terrain with plenty of ups and downs, the WRX was a delight to drive. There’s plenty of torque on tap in any gear to exit corners and steering into them is accomplished with improved precision. The suspension absorbed unexpected mid-corner bumps without deflecting the car from its path. And the ride is surprisingly comfortable.

The WRX is just about all any enthusiast could ask for in a sporting machine that can do double duty as a commuter. The STI is there for those who insist on asking for just that little bit more – and are willing to pay for it.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI

Type: Compact, performance, four-door sedan

Base Price: $37,995; as tested, $39,520 (including freight)

Engine: 2.5-litre, DOHC, horizontally opposed four

Horsepower/torque: 305 hp/290 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.4 city/8.8 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: MazdaSpeed3, Honda Civic Si, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution/GSR/MR, Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V

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