Subaru has been smart at creating its own niche vehicles in the marketplace. At first, the company offered fuel-efficient little four-wheel-drive wagons that were a huge hit with skiers. Then, the Outback delivered an SUV alternative before crossovers became popular. The WRX provides a great combination of power and sporty handling in a modest compact car.
The Impreza WRX was updated in 2009 with a new 2.5-liter 265-horsepower engine with turbocharging and intercooling and some chassis upgrades. In 2010, Subaru added a Limited upper level to the WRX with extra luxury features, so now there are three flavors for 2011: WRX, WRX Premium and WRX Limited. My WR Blue Mica test car was the Limited five-door model.
The big news this year is the wide-body sedan, which joins the five-door model. The two cars take their look and feel from the 305-horsepower WRX STI model, which is the high performance flagship. This isn’t the first time a “regular” model gets the “super” visual treatment, but it gives the WRX more street presence.
The front and rear track are 1.5 inches wider-a fairly significant amount for improving handling and stability. Adding to that is a switch to 17 x 8-inch wheels from 17 x 7s. Going along with the extra girth are visual wideners, such as a revised front end with a jutting lip spoiler and new blacked out grille and fog lamp nacelles. The bumper corners are sharpened up too. The face is fiercer-something that prospective buyers will appreciate in this little powerhouse.
The Impreza, which is also available as a 170-horsepower sedan and Outback Sport hatchback, is not that luxurious, so the WRX doesn’t feel especially upscale. The latest restyling has put a lot more emotion in the flow of the exterior and interior shapes, but the materials are still pretty ordinary. The plastics are solid and attractive but not padded, for example. The leather seats are rather plain looking (but have a nice embroidered WRX emblem); they do the job of keeping you comfortable and in place as you test the powers of the potent drive train.
The WRX has a five-speed manual transmission-notable in its being manual-but it is lacking the sixth cog that’s so common today, and with which the STI is equipped. That means a little higher RPM on the freeway, but it’s not noticeable to the ear. It could have some effect on fuel economy. I averaged 22.8 mpg; the EPA assigns the car numbers of 19 City, 25 Highway. Of course cars with turbocharging use premium fuel. EPA Green Vehicle scores are 5 for Air Pollution and 4 for Greenhouse Gas-about average.
Drive gently and keep the turbo off and the 2.5-liter four putters around as happy as can be-and pretty efficiently for a 3,200-pound car. But put your right foot down hard on the aluminum-alloy-covered accelerator and you’re off! Car and Driver magazine got sub five-second zero-to-60 times when they tested the car.
All-wheel drive is a big part of the Subaru story-and it makes sense not only for safety and convenience but for performance as well. All that power gets transmitted through all four wheels. The 2011 WRX uses the Continuous AWD version of the company’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system. A viscous coupling locking center differential normally distributes torque roughly 50 percent front, 50 percent rear. When a wheel slips, the system automatically transfers more power to the wheels with the best traction.
In addition, a Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) stability and traction control system is standard. It uses the vehicle’s electronic systems to keep the car going where you intend it to go. There’s also a feature on manual-equipped cars, Incline Start Assist, which can momentarily prevent the car from rolling backward when being driven away from a stop on a hill. San Francisco residents rejoice!
Prices for the WRX start at $26,220, jumping up to $28,720 for the Premium model and $29,720 for the leather-equipped Limited. The STI, with its extra 40 horsepower, sixth gear and additional inch of wheel diameter, starts at $34,720. Like the looks but don’t need the power? The Impreza 2.5i starts at just $18,220. All prices include shipping.
There’s big news on the Impreza front. At the New York International Auto Show later this month (April 2011) the all-new 2012 model debuts in four- and five-door versions. It promises new style and higher fuel efficiency. If you’re in the New York area, go see it the last week of April.
Subaru has fared well during the tough automotive market of the last few years. They offer safe, solid, reliable and even fun vehicles. The WRX is especially well endowed with the last quality.