Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. It's a perception thing. The world doesn't care what you can do unless you can sell it. It's why the guy from Apple can dress like a stagehand, but you and me, we've got to prove we can put ourselves together in the morning. So does the 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX.
You show ambition and thought, show you're paying attention to the trends and the overarching style of the company, show you're willing to adapt and you'll go far. Ignore the pattern and go your own way? Good luck, friend, and hope you're the best at what you do.
The 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX is not the best at what it does. It's not Steve Jobs. It's neither Ben nor Jerry. And now it's stepping up its game. There's a wide-body sedan ready to show the world what the WRX can do.
New Suit, Same Motivation
It can't be easy being the middle child of the Subaru family. The base Impreza is cheap, basic, all-wheel-drive transportation. Big brother is the STI, with looks, power and pedigree. No chance of taking the top spot, and no point in going downmarket. So what's a middle child to do?
Well, it never hurts to start with some hand-me-downs. The 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX got some new wide-body duds courtesy of the Impreza STI that required a track increase to fill out properly. For 2011, the WRX gets a 60.2-inch front track compared with 58.9 the year before. Rear track is 60.6 vs. 59.1. At 17-by-8 inches its wheels are bigger and lighter, too.
This all contributes to the "wide-and-low" styling Subaru says gives the new WRX a look of stability. Other accents include a heavy lip spoiler, blacked-out foglamp housings, a new front grille with blacked-out headlights and quad tailpipes that scream M5. But this new look comes with a 34-pound penalty over the outgoing car. A fair trade in our book, as the car still goes, stops, turns and drives like a machine desperate to prove its worth.
But here's the rub: The WRX has always been capable. With a 265-horsepower, turbocharged 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder, getting out of its own way hasn't been an issue. There's also a viscous center differential and five-speed manual transmission. Throws are long, effort is light and the gearing is all sorts of wrong for normal driving. It's far too easy to end up in a dead, powerless zone, or find yourself too quickly zooming to redline just to avoid another dead, powerless zone. Along with the STI's body, we'd love to see a proper six-speed manual.
Hustling the wide-body 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX is an absolute blast. It's not razor-sharp and dead-flat in corners like an Evo, but Subaru has never been interested in that sort of millisecond-minding number-crunchery. Forget what you've learned before. Throw your copy of Going Faster at the dork in the ///M jacket and chuck this WRX into corners. No slow-in, fast-out nonsense. Just turn the wheel hard and fast, let the body roll and the suspension squish. Then crank the wheel the other way. Don't let it go straight first and don't be easy; just chuck it in. It will flop, but thanks to wide tires and all-wheel drive, it stays on track.
Of course, push it too hard and you're met with terminal and unceasing understeer. The key to avoiding it? Go slower. Mulholland Drive isn't a racetrack. Relax. Have fun, it's not a timed event. Of course, if you were to really push it on a series of timed tests as we did, the 'Rex is darned respectable. During a high-speed cone-dodging test, our driver noted that the WRX was "not the sharpest tool in the shed, but an effective one nonetheless" on its way to posting a 68.8-mph slalom run.
On the skid pad, the 3,185-pound Subie pushed the life out of its 235/45R17 Dunlop SP Sport 01 tires, squealing its way to a solid 0.90g performance. The (standard) electronic stability control on the WRX isn't very intrusive here, as the all-wheel drive and understeer kill the excitement before the electrons make sense of what's going on.
The Rest of the Test
During the portions of the test that don't require the steering wheel, the 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX performed with similarly mixed results. Braking from 60 requires 114 feet, but there is a surprising amount of lateral wandering during full-ABS stops. It's unnerving and unexpected on the track and downright scary on the road. Getting to 60 — and beyond — is equally unnerving, but all too expected.
Launching a WRX requires you to turn off the part of the brain where mechanical sympathy lives. Like a scientist harvesting puppy eyes for cancer research, you focus on the goal, ignore the cost and drop the hammer. Bring the revs to 6,000 and let the clutch out fast — this is going to hurt. Sixty mph goes by in 5.3 seconds (5.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and the 2.5-liter boxer-4 is crying for mercy. It's all turbo whoosh and valve clatter and surprisingly violent exhaust note at wide-open throttle as the quarter-mile passes in 13.8 seconds at 98.2 mph. And then all is quiet.
Forget about the bulky new exterior for a moment, as the majority of car time is seat time. From the driver seat, not much has changed for 2011. We've got a new audio system with iPod integration, Bluetooth hands-free phone and satellite radio. Steering wheel controls are now standard, as is a tilt-and-telescoping wheel, automatic climate control and an automatic up-down driver's window.
Decent feature content, certainly, and quality on par with most of its competitive set. Only the Volkswagen GTI manages a better interior. From the driver seat, the WRX is excellent: good visibility, perfect placement of the shifter and pedals and a seat that manages to be soft enough for long hauls, supportive enough for hard driving and not cramped. Too bad about the cheap cloth, though. On the WRX premium and Limited — a $3,500 jump — leather is standard.
In 2009, the Impreza WRX saw substantial suspension improvements and for 2011, we get firmer rear subframe bushings and 17-inch wheels. It shouldn't make the difference it does, but the 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX is downright composed in daily driving. Freeway seams, potholes and curbs just float by. Not in a composed, rally-heritage way, but in a Toyota way.
The soft damping that plagues the WRX in tight transitions makes it a pussycat on broken pavement. And the clutch and transmission couldn't be easier in heavy traffic. In fact, more than one of us thought this new WRX was more GTI than STI in the way it blended fast and comfortable. As importantly, we managed a combined 21 mpg over 1,445 miles of mixed driving — including a few hard canyon runs. The EPA rates the 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX at 19 mpg city/25 highway/21 combined.
Sure, the five-speed is lame and the engine spins at an irritating 2,700 rpm at 70 mph, but the 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX is soft and easy. And thanks to its new body, it looks faster than it really is. It's not a rally car and it's not a threat to the STI, but the 2011 Impreza WRX is a worthy contender for the $25K sport compact title. And now it's got the clothes to be taken seriously.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of this evaluation, which originally appeared on insideline.com.
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