CALIBOGIE, ON – The most important model in the Subaru lineup, in terms of brand image, is the WRX, a hotted-up version of the compact Impreza sedan. The WRX, in STi, trim earned a huge following on the world rally circuit and amongst video gamers and it has become an icon among car enthusiasts.
The WRX and WRX STi got a new platform in 2008, a revised suspension and serious power boost in 2009 (from 245 hp to 265/305) and only minor upgrades in 2010. For 2011, however, Subaru has given the WRX a serious upgrade and the STi version even more performance.
First the WRX. The 2011 version gets the same wide body previously exclusive to the STi, along with four exhaust outlets and new 17-inch wheels which are an inch wider, thanks to the extra room in the wider fenders. They now carry 235-mm rubber instead of 225-mm.
Despite being larger, they are also lighter. Other changes include darker interior trim, revised instrument faces for increased legibility, auto up/down power windows and an audio system with Bluetooth audio streaming capabilities, media hub and six speakers.
The wider body is not only for looks and bigger rolling stock; it allowed the engineers to widen the track 35 mm up front and 40 mm at the rear. The wheelbase has been lengthened 5 mm and stiffer rear bushings are used to enhance transient response without sacrificing any of the long-wheel-travel suppleness Subaru is known for.
The turbocharged engine is unchanged except for the more pronounced and definitive ·flat four· warble from the new exhaust system, A viscous limited slip centre differential distributes power 50/50 front and rear and a five speed manual is the only transmission offered.
Despite the new body, bigger wheels and upgraded audio system the price remains the same as the 2010 model at $32,495.
When it comes to the already blisteringly fast STi, the changes are subtle and evolutionary. But they result in what project general manager, Hiroshi Mori, proudly proclaims the fastest Subaru ever.
I shared a ride to the airport with Mori-san and the Nurburgring decal on his suitcase told the tale. That famous German race track and others in Japan played a major role in development of the latest STi which proved a significant four seconds quicker around the ·Ring· than its predecessor, despite lapping in temperatures only two degrees above freezing.
That performance showcases what Subaru is all about – maximum grip in all conditions. It also shows that Subaru recognizes that the previous version of the STi, despite its 305-hp engine, had become too soft, less raw. The 2011 STi returns to its roots as a no-compromise car for true performance enthusiasts. The big wing is back, resulting in a 5% improvement in aerodynamic drag and a top speed of 255 km/hr.
The 2.5-litre turbocharged engine is untouched, sending 305 hp to all four wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. Ventilated four-piston Brembo calipers up front and two piston ventilated rears arrest the STI with ease from high speeds repeatedly with no signs of fade while specially-tuned ·Super Sport· ABS takes into account the different tire loadings created by high speeds on the track.
A driver controlled centre differential allows you to vary the front-rear torque split, throttle response and level of electronic intervention when things reach the ·interesting point· which we were invited to sample on the private motorsport facility here..
The gains in race track performance are attributed to a combination of factors including a 15.5% increase in front spring rates and a whopping 53% increase at the rear. The anti-roll bars are 1 mm thicker resulting in less squat under acceleration and lean in the corners. New bushings in the steering system improve feel and the car sits 5 mm lower.
The 2011 STi gets new and lighter cast aluminum 18-inch Enkei wheels wrapped in high performance Dunlop sports rubber, new front bumper and fog lights, new dark interior trim and revised instrument faces, an available detachable touch screen navigation system and Pioneer A-series speakers.
The other significant change for 2011 is that the STi is now available in a four door sedan version, alongside the five-door hatch. The sedan is less expensive to produce than the five-door with its big rear hatch so the price of the 2011 WRX STi is actually $2,000 lower at $37,995 despite all the added technology and performance. You can·t find this level of all-season, all-condition performance in a family sedan for anything approaching this price.
Subaru tech is in demand
Despite being a subsidiary of the massive Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI) conglomerate, Subaru is one of the smaller players in the game. It has often attracted interest from companies seeking access to its AWD and engine technologies. In 1999 General Motors purchased 20% of FHI shares.
In 2005 Toyota acquired 8.7% of the FHI Shares from GM, which as its financial position worsened, divested itself of the rest of its FHI holdings. In the meantime, Toyota has doubled its stake in the company and co-develop a two-door sports coupe using the Subaru drivetrain. Speculation is that when it hits the market in 2012 the Toyota version will be marketed under the Scion brand.
STI = Subaru Technica International
The STI moniker used on the hottest Subaru · the WRX STi, stands for Subaru Technica International, the motorsport division of Fuji Heavy Industries. It specializes in the development of high performance Subaru vehicles. STi got its start in 1988 preparing Subarus for the World Rally Championship (WRC), vehicles which enjoyed tremendous success and earned Subaru recognition and respect around the globe.
While it has developed performance parts for other Subaru models, in North America, the STi name has only appeared on the WRX.
Subaru has always been different; from some truly strange vehicles like the BRAT, Baja and XT to use of four and six-cylinder horizontally-opposed or 'boxer' engines and full-time all-wheel-drive. "As a brand we are looking to provide Canadians with an alternative to mainstream cars," says Ted Lalka, vice-president of product planning and marketing for Subaru Canada.