Review and photos by
Haney Louka, CanadianDriver.com
Talk about vindication.
The last Subaru Impreza I drove left me totally underwhelmed. Plain-Jane looks and an uninspired driving experience had me muttering things like “Why couldn’t Subaru inject some WRX fun into their entry level models?” Was I being too harsh on the poor $20,995 Impreza?
I didn’t drive the new-for-2011 WRX sedan more than 100 metres through the gas station parking lot after picking it up before I felt totally vindicated for launching such criticisms against the base Impreza. You see, even at parking lot speeds, all it takes is one clutch engagement and one input to the steering wheel before realizing that the WRX is a completely different car from its humble stablemate.
“As it should be,” some might say. But my take on this is that a minimum amount of DNA should extend to all members of a model family, lest one be accused of being an imposter.
Not too long ago the ‘Rex seemed a bit lost in the shuffle, with hum-drum looks and a 227-hp turbocharged flat-four. 2009 saw the introduction of the WRX 265, a beefed-up version with – you guessed it – 265 horses thanks to a larger turbocharger and revised exhaust plumbing for a relatively modest bump in price. For 2010 that engine became standard-issue on the WRX; great news because Subaru kept the pricing of the less powerful model in the transition.
For 2011 the $32,495 WRX is being treated to the same aggressive flared bodywork that’s been an STi trademark since this generation was introduced back in 2008; I would think that STi owners will take exception to the fact that ‘lesser’ versions of the car now look like their more exclusive rides, but clearly Subaru needed to lump the WRX firmly at the performance end of the Impreza spectrum. All I can say is this: I like it.
The WRX is available in four-door sedan or hatchback bodies (as is the STi for 2011; previously it could only be ordered with the hatch), with the hatch commanding a $900 premium over the notchback.
Standard equipment includes the aforementioned 265-horse flat-four, 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, six-speaker audio with auxiliary input and satellite radio prep, dual-piston front brakes, automatic climate control, wheel-mounted cruise control, tilting and telescoping steering, traction and stability control, heated seats, split-folding rear bench seat, and a five-speed manual gearbox with hill-holder feature.
Our tester was the $35,495 WRX Limited, which adds fog lights, a power sunroof, and leather seats, as well as satellite radio with a three-month Sirius subscription. Not a bargain for those extra features, but overall a decent value nonetheless.
The high horse count is achieved courtesy of a turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-litre flat-four. Compared to a more conventional inline-four where all of the cylinders are oriented near vertically and arranged in a row, the flat, or horizontally-opposed, layout puts pairs of cylinders on their side facing each other with the pistons moving towards each other; hence the “boxer” moniker. The benefit of this layout is primarily related to packaging; the car’s centre of gravity is lower with a boxer engine under the hood. The 265 horses are generated at 6,000 rpm, while a heady 244 lb.-ft. of torque announces its presence at 4,000 revs.
Transferring power to Subaru’s “symmetrical” all-wheel drive system is a five-speed manual gearbox; a slushbox is not on the menu. Power is split 50:50 front-to-rear through a locking centre differential with a viscous coupling.
I’m a big fan of the newly adopted STi styling; the flared body panels are supermodel glam next to the blandness of the base Impreza.
There’s not much new inside, though: the plasticky dash from the base Impreza is still there, but we need to remember what we’re paying for here. There are cars in this price range that have nicer interiors (the VW GTI and MazdaSpeed 3 come to mind), but certainly nothing with 265 hp and all-wheel drive, so make your choice. And yes, there’s the WRX’s most direct competition in the form of the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, but Subie has just upped the horsepower ante and the Mitsu’s interior furnishings are no better.
Despite the budget-oriented interior materials, controls are arranged in an ergonomically sound layout. Redundant audio controls are located on the left steering wheel spoke while buttons for the cruise control are on the right. Buttons for the hands-free phone are attached to the wheel hub and nestled in the eight o’clock position within easy reach.
Atop the centre stack sits a small display that includes trip computer readouts as well as clock and outside temperature displays. Just below is the head unit for the six-speaker audio system that includes Subaru’s MediaHub connectivity for USB and iPod interfacing. But sound quality from the system is one of the tinniest on the market and is begging for an upgrade; unfortunately only the STi is available with such an improvement from the factory.
From that promising first impression in the gas station parking lot, the WRX grew on me substantially throughout the week of my test drive. It’s eager, it’s slick, and it’s very, very quick; always a willing partner when driving fun is on the agenda.
Even though the shifter is sorely in need of a sixth cog, it’s quite a satisfying unit to put through its paces. Shifts are a little notchy, but that doesn’t get in the way of enabling quick gear transitions. Throttle response is excellent, and turbo lag isn’t an issue if you don’t let the revs get too low (here is where the six-speed would be appreciated most).
But the whole package is there when it comes to a satisfying driving experience: just try a heel-and-toe downshift into a corner and liberally squeeze the throttle on exit and you’ll know what I mean. Monster grip and neutral behaviour are built right in to the WRX’s handling repertoire.
All that fun with an observed 11.8 L/100 km in mostly city driving. For the record, the WRX is rated at 11.1 L/100 km in the city and 8.0 on the highway.
After the base Impreza left me underwhelmed, I was so relieved to be reminded of how much fun the WRX is. And with the new bodywork in place, the WRX’s bark now lives up to its bite.
Pricing: 2011 Subaru WRX Sedan
Base price: $32,495
Options: $3,000 (Limited package)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $37,120
Crash test results
Haney Louka is a Professional Engineer, a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, and a long time automotive enthusiast.
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