Possessing genuine rally sport pedigree is something a few car companies have attempted to trade on over the years, but it’s never been more believable than in Subaru’s WRX. While Subaru is taking a recession induced break from the WRC scene it’s go-hard Impreza continues the rally-breed evolution that began back in 1992 with its first generation. While the rally bloodlines run stronger in the uncompromising Impreza STI the WRX remains far from a standard run about. The STI will always be the choice for those who aspire to performing dirt road power slides but the WRX is now closer aligned to its more coveted sibling than ever before. But does this mean the updated 2011 WRX is a balls-to-the-wall excitement machine? Car and SUV got belted into a WRX hatch to take a voyage of discovery… rapidly.
Over the years the WRX has seen more drastic costume changes than a Madonna concert and not all the different looks have been sexy, but the third-gen model has a definite raw charm. The big changes for the facelift are the inclusion of a wide body kit distilled from the STI, this has been like a course of steroids for the WRX and has resulted in a stockier more muscular look. While there are still thoughtfully placed clues on the STI like a more pronounced rear wing, only hardcore fans could now tell the difference between the two variants with a single glance.
Our hatchback test car looked suitably leery in plasma blue with rear tinted windows. Large lower air dams distribute breeze through the front bumper and at the rear a black plastic diffuser and quad exhaust tips look the business. Subaru’s trademark bonnet scoop keeps it prominent position and finishing off the ‘don’t mess with me’ look are lightweight 17-inch alloys cloaked in 235/45R17 rubber.
In the cabin the updates are much more subtle with only minor changes to some dashboard trim. It’s an attractive interior design with dark plastics and silver accents, a variety of shapes are used and there’s a nice flow from the dash through to the doors. The switchgear is logically laid out with a simple series of dials for climate controls and there’s a slightly dated looking yet highly functional stereo. The instrument cluster looks fantastic with a bold, red-lit tachometer taking centre stage. Other highlights include alloy racing pedals and a leather wrapped steering wheel that is the perfect thickness and houses cruise, phone and audio buttons. While the WRX interior looks great some of the plastics are hard and don’t have a quality feel but it’s not a huge concession to make.
Driver and shotgun passenger are treated to charcoal sports bucket seats finished in cloth with red stitched detailing. They are well bolstered for lateral support but may prove a touch firm on longer jaunts. The WRX is a compact vehicle and although taller drivers can get comfortable there isn’t a generous amount of headroom on offer. In the backseat space is fairly limited as well, two adults can enjoy the ride back there with some adjustment of the front seats but three may struggle to be comfortable especially if the WRX is being thrown around corners.
Even though it’s not the top spec model in the Impreza range the WRX still gets a lengthy equipment list with Bi-Xenon headlights, climate control air-con, Bluetooth, cruise control, keyless entry, retractable cargo cover, hill start assist, and a thumping 10-speaker CD stereo all included as standard kit.
Under the scooped bonnet there are no mechanical changes to the WRX’s 2.5-litre turbocharged boxer engine. Output remains a solid 195kW at 6,000rpm with 343Nm of torque. Does it go hard? It sure does, there is some turbo lag at low rpm but once that turbo spools up – it’s go time. The WRX pulls strongly all the way to its 6,500rpm redline and while you need patience if you get caught low in the revs it’s an exciting steer and a rapid point-to-point machine. For the record, the WRX will sprint from standing to 100kph in 6 seconds flat and won’t quit until it reaches a 209kph top speed. It’s a performance vehicle but its also very well-mannered in urban traffic and can be driven quite smoothly off-boost when required. Fuel consumption isn’t too crippling for a speed merchant at 10.4l/100km on the combined cycle.
The flat-four boxer engine is mated exclusively to a five-speed manual transmission and while a sixth gear would be welcome, it’s seldom missed. The ratios are well spaced with second gear being particularly strong. The clutch pedal is fairly light and catches at the right point but the gearshift is quite long and doesn’t have the notchy feel many drivers prefer. That said, it’s hard to fault the WRX powertrain, it offers a solid whack of power when desired but knows how to relax during cruising and in stop/start traffic.
High-level handling characteristics have long been a strong suit for the WRX and that remains true for the latest model. With the new sheetmetal the WRX has a wider track further improving grip and ability. Subaru’s symmetrical AWD system is excellent and uses clever electronics to make the WRX feel light and nimble with an ability to carry serious speed through corners. The WRX suspension has been tweaked for the 2011 model and includes new sub-frame bushings. Grip is fearsome with a limited slip rear diff and conventional front diff set-up working hard to make sure the WRX has limits beyond the nerves of most drivers. The WRX feels so reassuringly composed at its limit that any driver can feel like a skilled rally ace, and it’s this characteristic that continues to make the model so popular.
Away from amateur rally antics the WRX has a surprisingly compliant ride and only deep potholes or road bumps send shocks through the cabin. It’s a comfortable ride quality that wouldn’t be out of place in any mid-size sedan and not one you’d expect in a low-priced performance machine.
Safety systems on the WRX are lead by a strong braking package with large ventilated discs and the front and solid discs out back. Electronic aides include brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution and a stability control system. There’s also ABS braking and hill assist that works in first gear and reverse. All passengers get three-point seatbelts and there are child locks for the rear doors. Six airbags round off the safety package and the WRX scored a maximum 5-stars in ANCAP testing.
The phrase ‘bang for your buck’ is bordering on cliché, but that’s exactly what you get with the 2011 Subaru WRX. For $45,990 you can pick the body shape you desire and you get a good-looking, safe and practical performance car. While the STI remains the pinnacle of Subaru’s sports offerings the WRX still has the ability to excite any driver. But the WRX isn’t a one trick pony; it can also relax during speed limit cruising and is suitable for congested urban use. So if you have less than $50k to spend but want a practical daily driver that can still go hard on request then the WRX remains the car to beat.
What we like:
- Strong Performance on a budget
- Wide athletic stance
- Comfortable ride quality
- High handling ability
What we don’t like:
- Smallish back seat
- Could use a sixth gear
- Still quite thirsty
- Some interior plastics feel cheap
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo