I originally reviewed this car in March. Recently Subaru announced that despite the new 2012 Impreza coming out soon, the WRX and WRX STI models will carry over unchanged, which makes this review still valid. The review also tells a story of my own ’02 WRX. -KK
It was in the late 1990s that the term “JDM” became a household term. Thousands were drooling over the high-tech machinery available on the Japanese Domestic Market, and with good reasons too. America gave us cars that did not handle and while Germans were on their game, 911s and M3s were not attainable by most. Japanese have brought us the Supra, RX-7 and NSX, but again price was an issue. There were cars such as the GTI, Integra, and the DSM trio (when they ran) but we wanted the Evolutions, the WRXs, Type Rs – rewarding sports cars based on pedestrian production vehicles which made them affordable and actually functional.
In 2002 Subaru introduced the redesigned Impreza, and with it finally came the turbocharged all-wheel-drive WRX. The bug-eyed car was rather ugly but the idea of owning the Word Rally blue WRX they just saw hurling down a dirt road at 100mph on SpeedTV appealed to many. In September of 2002 I purchased my WRX. Six months later I promptly sold it.
While looking great on paper, ’02 WRX’s specs did not translate well into life. The supposed great handling was not that great; abundant body roll and dive were present, even after I installed a set of Eibach springs. The great power of the 2-liter turbo engine was an on-off switch at 3300rpm – all or nothing. I found the gearing to be annoying, especially at highway speeds and gas mileage to be downright unacceptable.
Completely redesigned for 2007, the new Impreza was not loved right away either, often compared to a Corolla. The car quickly received a facelift for 2009 and in 2010 WRX models received the same wide-body treatment as the STI. The big-winged STI sedan also made a comeback.
So how is the 2011 STI?
Well, it’s a complete hoot. It took Subaru ten years to make the car I wanted when I bought my WRX. 305-horsepower does not seem like much these days but unlike most cars the Scoobie has not gained much weight over the years; it is still under 3400lbs. The steering is direct and the suspension is damn in near perfect for street driving. There is hardly any turbo-lag and the gearing is perfectly spaced out. Sixth gear makes for more relaxed highway cruising but it maybe a little too loud for some.
The most remarkable thing is how much confidence the car inspires. Everything the car does is predictable. On public roads it takes a lot of restraint from driving like a complete hooligan because the damn car just wants to do everything quickly. I found that the STI required a lot of attention from me, hands at 10 and 2, no drinking coffee, no fiddling with the radio, not unlike a Porsche 911.
Despite being a ton of fun to drive, the STI is far from a perfect vehicle. For one, it is loud, and while the engine and exhaust do sound great, it will get tiresome on an extended highway drive – grand-touring car this is not. Also, the audio system, despite fancy tweeters and a subwoofer, is far from good, perhaps because of its economy car roots or and limited sound deadening materials which helps reduce the weight.
In the Driver’s Seat
The visibility from the driver’s seat is great in all directions, even with the big wing. The seat looks great and is comfortable but could use a little more bolstering. Thankfully the STI does not have those new annoying headrests that press against the back of your head, especially beneficial if you plan on wearing a helmet at some point. The shifter is great; precise and nicely weighted, with a nifty reverse lock-out feature.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel is nice but it could be improved. From design and manufacturing stand point, the cost wouldn’t be much higher to have a thicker M3-like steering wheel which would beautifully compliment the shifter. The rest of the interior is a model in simplicity which is a good thing: three knobs for HVAC control, and all audio/nav controls in one place on the touch-screen unit itself. Only the heated seat switches are out place, far back on the center console.
Near the shifter are the SI-Drive and center differential controls. SI-Drive is easy; basically three settings of gas pedal response. The center differential controls were more difficult to comprehend; you’d think that it would control the power split between front and rear wheels, but that’s not the case. Frankly and honestly, I could not comprehend exactly what these controls did, “initial torque control” the owner’s manual said but it was vague at best. I played around with the settings but at no point did I push the car hard enough to where these setting would become evident.
Typically sports cars conjure up images of a roofless two-seater with a trunk size of a lunch box. In my opinion the STI is a proper sports car, but a functional one. Cup-holders, cubbies, and other storage compartments are all in surplus. The trunk is large, if oddly shaped, and I was surprised to learn that the rear seat folded in the sedan – this was noticeably absent in my ’02 WRX. The rear seat is also spacious with a surprising amount of legroom making the WRX STI big enough for a young one-kid family.
The 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Sedan starts at $33,995. For that you get everything mentioned in this review besides the navigation system which is an $1800 option. The confusing part is that if you opt for the 5-door hatchback (which is also a few pounds heavier), you will need to add $2000 to that price. Subaru also gives you a choice of a Limited (limited to what exactly?) model for an extra $3350. With the Limited you get full leather interior (as opposed to the very nice cloth/leather treatment in this car) and a moonroof but nav is still an $1800 option. All cars also get slapped with a $725 destination charge.
Here is the kicker – some big-named car magazine recently noted that the regular WRX is similar in performance to the STI. Additionally, with the new wider body on the WRX, the two cars look pretty damn similar. The WRX ranges between $24,500 and $30,000 which is a substantial difference. If an enthusiast (who else would be buying this car?) spends just half of this difference on well-chosen after-market parts, he/she would definitely be able to attain STI-level of performance. Food for thought.
Subaru provided me with this car and half a tank of gas for the purpose of writing this review. I have spent $50 on parking and $50 on gas of my own money. Also noteworthy, this very car was used in Road & Track’s STI vs. EVO comparison . Judging by the pictures, the car caught air several times – I must say, it held up pretty well.