2011 Subaru WRX
2011 Subaru WRX. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2011 Subaru WRX

Ottawa, Ontario – The main problem with the otherwise-fun Subaru WRX has always been that it was only ever a hood scoop away from looking like a regular Impreza. The 2008 redesign that made the whole Impreza line look just a little frumpy didn’t help, nor did the engineering changes that softened up the reflexes of this sport-compact wild child.

The WRX has received a number of upgrades since 2008, including a new engine (the 265-hp motor that was added in 2009 as an option became standard in 2010) and suspension changes made in the last couple of model years addressed complaints that the WRX had gone soft, literally.

For 2011, both the WRX and its upscale STI sibling get significant updates that, in both cases, significantly change the character of each car, albeit in much different ways.

2011 Subaru WRX
2011 Subaru WRX. Click image to enlarge

Up first is the basic WRX, which now shares the STI’s more aggressive body work, including wider fenders and more aggressively-shaped front and rear bumpers. Finally, the WRX has the looks to back up the extra performance it gained with the 265-hp motor. As far as differentiating the WRX from the pricier STI, Subaru figures more WRX buyers will appreciate the upgrade than STI drivers will be annoyed that their car now looks like a “regular” WRX.

Subaru’s engineers took advantage of the wider fenders and increased the WRX’s track (the distance between the left- and right-side wheels) by 35 mm (1.4 in.) at the front and 40 mm (1.6 in.) at the rear. The 2011 WRX also gets new wheels; they’re still 17 inches in diameter, but are now eight inches wide (the 2010’s wheels were seven inches wide), which allows a larger tire (235/45R17 against last year’s 225/45R17). All of this is in the interest of improving the car’s cornering abilities. Firmer rear suspension subframe bushings are the other functional improvement that Subaru says contributes to better handling and grip.

This year’s new body and wider track, the suspension improvements (firmer springs and shocks) made in 2009 and 2010, and the stronger engine, all add up to a much different car than the 2008 WRX. The old car feels like a watered-down version of what a sport compact should be; this new one is a much more complete package.

2011 Subaru WRX
2011 Subaru WRX
2011 Subaru WRX
2011 Subaru WRX
2011 Subaru WRX. Click image to enlarge

Subaru gave journalists the keys to a bunch of WRXs and directions for a brief drive route that took us along some of the twisty two-lanes that wind through the countryside near Calabogie, just beyond Ottawa’s western city limits. The car loves being pushed through corners, where the extra grip afforded by the updated suspension hardware and larger tire contact patches is apparent. If there’s one criticism the changes don’t address, it’s a lack of torque from the engine when it’s spinning below about 2,500 r.p.m.

This is still a fairly quiet and refined car – that was one thing I always did like about the 2008 redesign – but the extra power (compared to the old 225-horsepower engine) and handling prowess give this car a distinctly German flavour; think a quicker, racier-looking VW GTI. The standard all-wheel drive, which splits torque 50/50 front-to-rear at all times, which means no wheelspin (unless you’re driving aggressively enough to spin all four wheels at once).

The WRX was offered with the option of a four-speed automatic transmission through 2010; that’s gone for 2011, leaving the standard five-speed manual as the only gearbox, a nice surprise for enthusiasts used to watching one automaker after another abandon stickshifts altogether. The transmission is a fine piece, but I kept finding myself looking for a sixth gear.

Other news includes new quad exhaust outlets, revised interior trim, a new standard six-speaker stereo with MediaHub audio integration and Bluetooth hands-free capability. As before, the WRX is available in hatchback and sedan body styles, and a Limited package of leather seats, fog lights, power sunroof and satellite radio can be added to both hatch and sedan.

Pricing begins at $32,495 for the WRX sedan and $33,395 for the hatch, or $35,495 and $36,395 with the Limited package, all of which are the same as last year’s MSRPs.

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