Subaru purists, rejoice! The STI you remember is finally back - in the form of a razor-sharp sedan with the dearly missed rear wing. When Subaru launched the third-generation STI back in 2008, it was a softer, less-hardcore version that left many enthusiasts scratching their heads, and to further their bewilderment it was only offered in a hatchback.
That was then, and this is now - Subaru is looking to once again capture the hearts of enthusiasts with the new '11 Subaru Impreza WRX STI. By the looks of it, mission accomplished.
At first glance, the new STI is lower, wider and meaner-looking than its predecessors. Thanks to some serious fender work and aggressive styling, the STI sedan has an unmistakable road presence. There's really nothing to dislike about the styling of the STI and WRX, which now share the same widebody sheetmetal. From the large blacked-out air inlets and integrated lip spoiler up front to the quad-tipped exhaust and striking rear spoiler, both models command respect everywhere they go. And don't think all these visual improvements were for just for show, Subaru improved the sedan's drag coefficent over the hatchback by 5 percent; in layman's terms, that means the new aero gives the STI a higher top speed.
Everyone agrees that the new look is a winner, but what's underneath it all? Many owners complained that the older model was too civil and not raw enough. Thankfully, Subaru listened and put a lot of effort into chassis and suspension tuning with excellent results. The '11 STI sedan and hatchback are sharper, more precise and better responding to driver inputs than their predecessors, thanks to a slew of new suspension components. The front springs are 16 percent stiffer over last year's model and 53 percent in the rear with complementing larger sway bars providing less roll and flatter handling. The springs also lower the car by 5mm, but the real story is in the bushings. A spherical pillow ball bushing in the front control arm replaces the old rubber bushing that would exhibit large amounts of flex under heavy load. This technology is usually reserved for motorsports applications, but it's one of the main reasons why the handling has been so vastly improved on the new STI. The rear subframe receives similar treatment with stiffer bushings in all the joints. This all adds up to an STI that feels real again, ready to tackle any tarmac challenge with extreme confidence.
Leaving nothing untouched, Subaru improved the interior with a new cluster, a sophisticated audio system (with Bluetooth, iPod control and USB input), trim color options and an available leather and moonroof option. A long-overdue and much-needed function on previous generations is the one-touch, up-and-down power window function (now standard on all '11 models).
There's nothing too exciting to mention about the drivetrain because the '11 STI retains the same 2.5-liter turbocharged boxer four-cylinder as previous years. It still delivers a hefty punch from the 305 hp and 290 ft-lbs of torque that's adequate enough to keep you entertained. Although for the 2.5-liter displacement, the turbo seems to be a tad laggy in response - nothing a tune and some exhaust work won't fix though. The smooth-shifting 6-speed manual is vastly superior to the WRX's 5-speed, but then again, so is the entire drivetrain. Looks aside, the WRX shares almost nothing with the STI. If you can afford the price tag, always choose the STI over the WRX. Even if you have thoughts of buying a WRX and then converting it to STI spec, those dreams will die quickly when you realize that even the shells of both cars are different. The STI has additional frame reinforcements and uses higher tensile steels in the chassis to help cope with the higher horsepower and handling loads it will experience. Bottom line, you'll never be able to build a true STI from a WRX.
The laundry list of new items and parts goes on and on for the STI, but the real question is how does it all work as one big package? For that, the STI needed a good ol' fashioned butt-kicking around a racetrack. For comparison sake, Subaru provided a '10 STI hatchback to demonstrate the differences between the two. Driving the '10 STI, we were reminded of all the shortcomings of the old STI: too much body roll and understeer, and just like that, those symptoms have all but disappeared in the new model. Sure, there's still a slight tendency to push with the front end on the '11 STI, but only at the jagged edge. The handling is now extremely neutral with vastly improved turn-in while exhibiting much better roll stiffness. Dare we say it feels like the raw-and-ragged GDB ('01-07) STI of years past that we initially fell in love with? That said, it's still remarkably civil while driving around town and provides a large amount of utility that few performance sedans can match.
In our books, the Mitsubishi Evolution X is still the champion in the AWD performance sedan segment, but the '11 STI has delivered a big blow to the heavyweight and is in line to make a run at the title. With some key aftermarket modifications, we're betting it'll be ready to deliver a knockout punch.
'11 Subaru WRX STI
Engine 2.5-liter EJ25 turbocharged boxer 4-cylinder
Horsepower 305 at 6000 rpm
Torque 290 ft-lbs at 4000 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual w/ DCCD control
MSRP $33,996 (sedan); $35,995 (hatchback, BBS wheels come standard)
'11 Subaru WRX
Engine 2.5-liter EJ25 turbocharged boxer 4-cylinder
Horsepower 265 hp at 6000 rpm
Torque 244 ft-lbs at 4000 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
MSRP $25,495 (sedan & hatchback)