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2011 Subaru WRX 5-door Review

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2011 Subaru WRX 5-door

SEE ALSO: Subaru Buyers Guide


2011 Subaru WRX 5-door

Subaru's WRX changed the face of high-performance driving in this country when it debuted back in 2001. Before that time, "sports sedan" (or coupe) meant, for the most part, "influenced by road racing". Meaning front engine, rear-wheel drive preferred, front-wheel drive if you must.

Enthusiasts in Europe and Asia knew better, as manufacturer participation in the World Rally Championship (WRC) from the late 1980s required rally cars to be based on road-legal cars.

Unlike track racing cars, which are ultra-specialized for speed on the smooth, even pavement of purpose-built road circuits, rally cars run on closed public roads, sometimes indifferently-paved, and dirt and gravel forest roads. In any and all weather conditions, from warm sunshine to snow and ice. While there is (usually) time between stages to change suspension settings, a rally car is, almost by definition, much less specialized in its habitat than a circuit racer. Full-time all-wheel drive was and is the order of the day, for maximum traction on all surfaces, in all conditions.

And that makes a rally-replica a much better proposition on dubiously-paved American roads, and better still when the weather turns bad.

The Impreza-based WRX was Subaru's WRC entry from 1992 in Japan, sold there at that time and a bit later in Europe. By the time it made it to the US, in 2001 as a 2002 model, the WRX was legendary. The US-spec WRX was initially offered with a 2.0-liter, 227-horsepower turbocharged boxer four-cylinder engine. When the factory-tuner STi model appeared in mid-2003, it had a new engine, with 300 horsepower out of 2.5 liters. That power plant found its way into the rest of the WRX line, in de-tuned form, in 2005, offering similar horsepower, 230, to the 2.0-liter and more peak torque, 235 lb-ft to 217, with stronger low- and mid-range power as well. Chassis tuning was incrementally dialed in over the years, all the better for day-to-day life.

The first major change to the WRX came in 2008, when the entire Impreza lineup was renewed. Styling was vastly different, and the longer wheelbase of the new unibody added interior space. It was offered in sedan and five-door hatchback body styles. The new structure didn't add weight, so performance was not adversely impacted. Still, in a performance car, more is better, and 2009 saw some engine upgrades -- as in 265 hp and 244 lb-ft. The STi was a five-door hatch only, with the 305-hp version of the 2.5-liter boxer engine.

The STi got the wide-fenders look last year, and that is adopted by all WRX variations for 2011. And if you fancy an STi sedan, it's now available.

But that's not the car I've been driving for the past week. No complaints, as the 2011 WRX 5-door is hardly deficient in power, and is a very easy car to live with. Yes, it has acceleration and cornering abilities that would had landed it in the "supercar" category when its first ancestor debuted. But it is a Subaru at heart, meaning practical, comfortable, and easy to live with -- the very antithesis of "exotic". Trim levels are standard, Premium, and Limited, and my test car is a Limited. Meaning HID headlamps, moonroof, and leather upholstery, and an available navigation system, which was fitted.

APPEARANCE: "Dare to be different" could be the Subaru styling motto. Rarely have their cars been bland and mainstream in looks, and the latest Impreza will not be mistaken for anything else, especially in 5-door form. Unlike most hatchbacks, it's all rounded masses, offset by sharply-creased character lines on the hood and shoulders. The new-for-11 "wide body" fender flares are almost a return to the racer add-on look of 1980s performance cars, and are well-integrated into the front and rear bumper fascias in addition to the sides. The contemporary Subaru grille is flanked by low, wide smoked plastic-covered headlamps, with a prominent and functional scoop in the middle of the hood. At the rear, the sloping backlight/hatch is topped by a largish visor-type spoiler, and complex LED taillights are integrated into the wide fenders. The overall look is cohesive, and says "performance" in no uncertain terms.

COMFORT: It may look like a rally car, and it may have great performance, but the WRX is easy to live with on a day-to-day basis. It's likely to be its owner's only car, and lucky owner. No sacrifice necessary. The increased size means more interior space, and the high-backed manually-adjustable front sports seats provide support and comfort even in the absence of adrenaline. The dual-cockpit instrument panel features a well-shaded instrument cluster in front of the driver, with the tach the most prominent of the electroluminescent main instruments. The driver gets a leather-wrapped tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel, well-positioned shift lever (and good linkage), and metal-and-rubber covered pedals and left foot rest. The navigation system has a simple hard button and touchscreen interface, which also controls the AM/FM/Sirius/CD/auxiliary audio system. Climate control is by simple knobs. Rear doors make access to the rear seat easy, for passengers or, when folded 60/40, cargo. The hatch is much better than a trunk lid if cargo duty is ever in your plans!

SAFETY: Like all Imprezas, the WRX is built around the "Ring-Shaped Reinforcement Frame" unibody structure, with strong side and rollover protection and front and rear crumple zones. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard, with electronic brake-force distribution and Brake Assist. Front, front seat-mounted side, and side curtain airbags and Vehicle Dynamics Control with all-speed traction control are also standard equipment.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The recipe for WRX roadholding? Take the Impreza's strong, rigid unibody structure, widen the track and increase standard wheel size from 17x7 to 17x8 inches, with 235/45 W-rated sticky tires, stiffen the rear subframe bushings, and tune the MacPherson strut/double wishbone suspension moderately firmly, for good compliance on poor surfaces and minimal body roll and hence weight transfer. Then add the Continuous AWD version of Subaru's Symmetrical AWD (all-wheel drive) system, with a static 50/50 front/rear torque split and a viscous-coupling locking center differential that sends torque to the wheels with the best traction. The result? Excellent roadholding, great traction for acceleration, and, thanks to large strong brakes and increased contact patches, even better braking than before. Good suspension compliance means comfort, too - making the WRX a fine car for everyday use.

PERFORMANCE: The additional bodywork required for the widened fenders, and the larger wheels have raised the WRX's weight -- by all of maybe 35 pounds. Not even noticeable… The additional power and torque, and fatter torque curve of the 265 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) 2.5-liter twincam alloy boxer four-cylinder intercooled turbomotor are very welcome, especially as in normal (or even moderately hard) use fuel economy is unaffected. 0-60 in five seconds or less, cornering ability and fun-to-drive factor galore, and 22 mpg overall (EPA 19/25)… what's not to love? Subaru knows turbos as well as it knows AWD, which is to say as well as anyone on the planet. Throttle response is instant and lag is nonexistent. Although it works best above 3500 rpm, there's no reason to become acquainted with the rev limiter. The only transmission choice is a five-speed manual, perfect for the car's character.

CONCLUSIONS: Yes, it's gotten a bit larger, but the 2011 Subaru WRX has lost none of its rally-replica-for-the-real-world character.

2011 Subaru WRX 5-door

Base Price			$ 28,995
Price As Tested			$ n/a at press time
Engine Type			turbocharged and intercooled aluminum
				 alloy horizontally-opposed
				 DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder with
				 variable cam phasing
Engine Size			2.5 liters / 150 cu. in.
Horsepower			265 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			244 @ 4000 rpm
Transmission			5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		103.3 in. / 173.8 in.
Curb Weight			3208 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		12.1
Fuel Capacity			16.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				235/45R17 94W Dunlop SP Sport 01
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBD, BA, VDC standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut / 
				  independent double wishbone
Drivetrain			longitudinal front engine,
				 full-time all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		19 / 25 / 22
0 to 60 mph				4.7  sec

Navigation system		n/a at press time
Destination charge			$ 725