SUBARU IMPREZA WRX REVIEW
Not only does it give the WRX vastly more aggressive visual style, but there are dynamic improvements as a result.
The widebody panels facilitate an increase in track width of 35mm at the front and 40mm at the rear, and tyres now have 10mm more tread width. Both endow the WRX with greater lateral stability, while the wider tyres increase overall grip.
Wheelbase has grown 5mm too, giving a slight improvement to high-speed stability.
Or at least that’s the theory. To demonstrate the 2011 WRX’s performance, Subaru Australia invited the media to Victoria’s Southern coast, where it was put to the test on winding backroads and gravel tracks.
The engine is unchanged from the MY2010 model’s 2.5 litre turbocharged flat four, which produces 195kW at 6000rpm and 343Nm of torque between 2500 and 4800rpm.
The latter numbers are important – at 2500rpm the WRX’s engine produces more torque than the STI manual, and the STI automatic’s peak torque figure is just 7Nm more than the WRX’s.
You can feel the difference on the road. With more low-down urge and an appreciably wide torque band, the WRX pulls cleanly from low RPM right up to 6000rpm, just 500rpm shy of redline.
The tractability of this engine is fantastic, and it allows a great deal of flexibility in how the car can be driven.
Whether using low-end torque to accelerate while in a higher gear, or using revs to provide maximum power in a lower gear, the WRX seems to be adaptable to either technique.
For maximum performance though, keep revs high. The turbo doesn’t start to supply peak boost until just under 2500rpm, and letting the tachometer needle drop below this number results in rather sluggish progress.
Like all turbocharged engines there’s a bit of throttle lag, but it’s a relatively brief pause that can be quickly adjusted to.
The sole gearbox available is a five-speed manual, which has a nice shift action and clearly defined gates.
An extra ratio would be of great benefit on the highway, but, given the WRX’s performance intent, it’s excusable. Besides, compared to the STI’s six-speed manual, the WRX’s five-speeder is 20kg lighter.
Power is taken to all four wheels with the viscous centre differential set to a default 50-50 torque split. The front differential is open, but the rear diff is a Torsen limited-slip item.
Aside from an increase in track width, the WRX’s rear suspension has also come in for some minor revisions.
Bushing materials have been changed in favour of stiffer items that give greater control over toe and camber. The 17-inch alloy wheels are made by Hitachi and measure 17x8 +53, with the OE tyres 10mm wider than before.
Although the wheel/tyre package is wider, each corner is now 400g lighter, improving suspension response.
Out on the road, the WRX is remarkably nimble. The level of grip it has in tight cornering is reassuring when the road is narrow and you’re not sure what’s over the next crest, and steering response is crisp.
However, the WRX lacks refinement, with sharp bumps and potholes eliciting loud clunks from the suspension and coarse pavement generating a great deal of tyre roar at highway speeds.
The tiller feels overly light too, but it does at least make reefing it from lock to lock a less straining exercise.
The suspension tune is near-perfect for blasting across poorly-maintained country roads. There is ample suspension travel and quite supple spring-rates and compliant damper tuning iron out even the lumpiest tarmac.
It’s no boat though, and body pitch and roll is kept to a minimum by the swaybars and dampers.
That said, we did manage to have the dampers riding on their bumpstops a couple of times.
Crossing a rapid succession of bumps tends to make each damper ‘pack down’, especially when one side of the car is already loaded up in a corner.
Even so, it proved difficult to upset the WRX’s composure, and its handling is impressively benign. Power out of a gravel-strewn corner with the stability control off and you can get the tail out, but on tarmac the WRX is very hard to unstick.
On a cruise down to Phillip Island from Melbourne airport, the WRX offered a comfortable and smooth ride – despite the aforementioned tyre roar.
The WRX is back wearing more muscle, and has the performance to back up its aggressive visual package.
According to Subaru Australia’s Managing Director, Nick Senior, endowing the WRX with the STI’s wide-body panels was “a conscious decision to appeal to the performance fans and enthusiasts” that typically buy Subaru’s high-performance models.
The company expects the WRX sedan and hatch to become even more popular now, with sales predicted to rise from the current level of 140 per month to as high as 175-182 per month.
In our opinion, the arrival of the 2011 Subaru WRX somewhat diminishes the argument for spending extra on the full-blooded STI.
With the WRX you get all the visual impact of its hi-po brother (minus the STI sedan’s lairy wing and bigger wheels, of course), with more than enough performance for the odd ‘spirited drive’.
The WRX STI still is the ultimate performance Subaru, but the WRX is an excellent alternative for those on a budget - or those without intentions of taking their car onto a racetrack.
At $39,990 for either sedan or hatch (plus on-roads), it’s a real performance bargain. Cheaper than the Mitsubishi Ralliart by almost $4000, the WRX offers tremendous bang for your buck.