Subaru WRX STI, Always a Snarling Sports Car, Eats Up the Snow

After a week of Northeast winter driving behind the wheel of the 2011 Subaru WRX STI, it’s safe to pronounce this a snarling sports car that easily eats up snow-laden driving conditions with confidence.
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This past summer I had the opportunity to drive the 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI at its press introduction in Aspen, Colo. It was fun playing with the impossibly fast and well-handling sports sedan in the summer playground that is Aspen.

At the time, part of me really wished I could flog this car through a heavy snowstorm. After all, the beauty of this car is it’s a Subaru. It’s meant to be driven through all kinds of inclement weather with nary a concern.

Well, the motoring gods and Mother Nature worked in concert to deliver me the Subaru WRX STI right before the gullywhomper of a storm that would dump 24 inches of snow on my Connecticut driveway. After more than four hours clearing a driveway that normally takes an hour to clean, I was ready to take the STI out into its element – and it didn’t disappoint.

This year’s version of the Subaru WRX STI is wider and lower this year for noticeably better handling, which is important at the 158-mph top speed the high-boost 305-hp turbocharged/intercooled Boxer engine teamed with a 6-speed manual transmission is capable of. But it’s also key when traversing snowy corners. The STI just kept itself planted and firmly in control.

Of course, all of the snow on the ground and the cold temperatures just wreaked havoc with the STI’s fuel economy. It hovered in the 14 mpg range most of the time except for one 240-mile roundtrip to Middleboro, Mass., where it edged up to 18 mpg. OK, so I’m blaming the snow but I was also partly to blame. I enjoyed feathering the accelerator so I could hear the distinctive turbo whine every now and then.

Safety features abound in the STI. It has both stability and traction control that are operated through a multi-mode vehicle dynamics control that can entirely turn off both controls (but you don't dare with the STI – especially in snowy weather). Other standard safety features include brake assist, 3-point seatbelts for all seating positions, advanced frontal airbag system, side-curtain airbags, front seat side-impact airbags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters and headrests for all three rear seat positions and safety pedal system.

One point I need to emphasize is the WRX STI is a powerful vehicle. I liked it in the snow because I understand its capabilities (ably demonstrated on a mud track by a rally driver in Colorado). It’s not for the inexperienced driver, a class that includes some folks in their 40s – so I’m not just targeting teenagers. Invest in a performance driving school if you’re going to buy the STI. You’ll enjoy the car a lot more when you understand its full capabilities.

Subaru has also introduced an improved WRX, the somewhat tamer sibling of the Impreza WRX STI. Somewhat tamer is a relative term because it features a 265-hp turbocharged/intercooled 2.5-liter Boxer engine teamed with a 5-speed manual transmission that produces 244 lb.-ft. of peak torque at 4,000 rpm. Even at altitudes of 12,000 feet at Independence Pass it delivered spirited performance. Acceleration came quickly and passing was accomplished with no turbo lag.

Subaru has gone outside its box with the 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI - the hot sports sedan that is lusted after by rally car enthusiasts and teen drivers everywhere. Two versions are offered: a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback. It's the former you're going to want (if you crave these types of things) because it has a huge wing mounted on the trunk. Clipped in the previous generation STI, the rear wing spoiler resumes its rightful place on this generation's model.

There’s no doubt this is a car built for speed but there is also a sense of refinement to it because of the Subaru Intelligent Drive technology that is only found on the WRX STI. The driver selects among three modes: intelligent with a more relaxed throttle response; sport, which as expected, delivers quicker throttle response, and sport sharp that tweaks the engine's electronic throttle mapping for even faster throttle response.

The handling of the STI is fairly phenomenal when compared to the 2010 model. That point was reinforced during some track time at Aspen Motorsports Park. The previous generation didn't handle apexes and curves as well as the 2011 version with its improved drag coefficient, and the rear spoiler design that contributes to stable high-speed handling and achievement of zero lift.

As odd as it sounds, Subaru has transformed the WRX STI into a daily commuter through interior refinements. As one Subaru exec joked, it's no longer just a toy for boy racers. It has a leather-wrapped tilt and telescoping steering wheel that features control switches for Bluetooth hands-free phone function. You can also get leather seats and a sunroof. That's something previous generation owners didn't care about.

Subaru even points out that thanks to compact layout of the double-wishbone rear suspension that helps minimize intrusion into the cargo area (or trunk as we mere mortals call it), the four-door version of the WRX STI can hold three professional size golf bags. What is this world coming to? Golf clubs and the STI mentioned in the same sentence outside of a police report about a road rage incident?

The standard WRX is so powerful and so refined that it almost begs the question, why bother with the STI? If it's raw power with strong rally driving capabilities you crave and a wing that telegraphs your passions, the STI is going to be your beast. If you are sated by discrete power that's announced only by vehicle badging - and you have no desire to throw your sedan through mud and gravel, the WRX is going to be your preference.

VITAL STATISTICS

  • Wheelbase: 103.3 inches
  • Length: 180.3 inches
  • Width: 70.7 inches
  • Height: 57.9 inches
  • Curb weight: 3,384 lbs.
  • Engine: H4, 2.5-liter DOHC, turbocharged with intercooler
  • Horsepower: 305 hp @ 6000 rpm
  • Torque: 290 lb. ft. @ 4000 rpm
  • EPA estimated mpg city/highway: 17/23
  • Base price: $34,720 with $725 destination
  • As-tested price: $38,070 with $725 destination
  • Also consider: Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, Hyundai Genesis Coupe R-Spec 2.0

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