2011 Impreza New Car Test Drive
The Subaru Impreza has been a bestseller for years, and it set sales records in 2010 while others struggled. That's because of how much it offers for the money, including standard all-wheel drive. It packs in a lot, for its size and price. The 2011 Impreza is in its fourth year of this generation.
All Subarus are highly capable cars, and the Impreza is the backbone of the line. It deserves to be a top choice in foul weather or on rough roads. But it's an easy car to live with even in the best of conditions. It's comfortable and easy to drive. The interior is simple and straightforward, and everything is easy to operate. Cargo capacity after the 60/40 rear seats are dropped is excellent.
The Impreza is solid and safe, the ideal size for running around town while holding its own on the freeway with trucks and big SUVs. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at 20/27 mpg with manual, 20/26 mpg with automatic.
The Impreza comes in 4-Door sedan and 5-Door hatchback versions.
For 2011, the turbocharged Impreza GT has been discontinued, as attention has turned toward the hot WRX, which we review separately.
The four-door sedan looks traditional, while the styling of the five-door is sporty and somewhat edgy. The 5-door costs $500 more, but it offers more utility than the sedan with its larger cargo capacity, easier parking with its shorter overall length, and even better cornering with less rear overhang. Many people nonetheless prefer the lines of a simple sedan.
The Impreza Outback Sport comes only as a five-door. It's prepared for travel on unpaved roads and can easily carry gear for outdoor work or activities, from sports to dogs. Outback Sport includes 17-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, a raised suspension, foglights, all-weather package, and cargo tray. The new 2011 Outback Sport Special Edition adds a power moonroof and removable TomTom navigation system, the audio system upgrade including Bluetooth and USB, iPod and satellite radio capability, and it's value priced.
The Impreza has a smooth highway ride and responsive cornering, thanks in some part to its relatively long wheelbase (103.1 inches), and the low engine placement, an advantage of the horizontally opposed position of the four cylinders. This lowers the center of gravity and improves the balance, contributing to agile cornering. What's more, the Impreza shares the quick WRX steering rack, with 2.8 turns lock-to-lock, and a tight 34.8-foot turning circle. You can definitely feel it, and it's good.
Out on the highway, there's plenty of speed from the 170-horsepower engine, with 170 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm, for good acceleration. There's no lacking in power at any rpm range.
The standard 5-speed manual gearbox works well. The optional 4-speed automatic works okay, too, including when you have to floor it, passing trucks or slower traffic on a two-lane highway. Most cars have 5-speed automatics nowadays, but the Subaru engine has enough flexibility in its power band to work well with a 4-speed. The Subaru Impreza WRX and WRX STI are fast and fun to drive, yet reasonably practical for everyday use. Loosely based on the Impreza compact, the WRX versions are economical to operate in light of their performance and, more than ever, make excellent cars for commuters who like a little spice in their daily drive.
The 2011 Subaru WRX lineup has expanded. The 2011 WRX gets the widebody treatment of the STI for both sedans and hatchbacks, and three trim levels for each. The 2011 STI adds a four-door sedan in two trim levels to the existing five-door hatchback and considerable running gear upgrades. All of them add iPod control and Bluetooth, and some four-doors have the option of leather upholstery heretofore unavailable.
WRX models are very good and seem to get better every year. Following a complete redesign in 2008 the WRX got a power increase and suspension retune in 2009 and aero upgrades for 2010. The 2010 Special Edition STI took the handling to the next step with suspension uprates based on the home-market spec C cars, and the 2011 WRX STI goes even further.
Despite their racy appearance and serious performance, the WRX is reasonably refined. The current WRX models are smoother and more comfortable than pre-2008 versions, and easy to live with during the typical commute. Their cabins are roomier than previous versions, with an overall improvement in appointments and finish quality. They're offered with high-grade audio and an optional navigation system.
The WRX and STI achieved cult status among driving enthusiasts and boy racers, but more than ever that image is too narrow and confining. These cars have decent room in the back seat and good cargo capacity. Their all-wheel-drive system can legitimately be considered a safety and foul-weather advantage, even if, with the powerful, turbocharged engines in the WRX, it's marketed as a performance enhancement, a role it also fills.
These are drivers' cars: no automatic transmission is offered. Yet buyers seeking a smaller car with lots of safety features should like the WRX. All models come with all-wheel drive, electronic stability control, a sophisticated anti-lock brake system and good crash-test performance; a good set of winter tires make them near unstoppable in bad weather.
From about $26,000, the WRX models come well equipped, with nice seats, automatic climate control, a good stereo and more horsepower than all but a couple cars in this size/price class. Both are powered by a 2.5-liter, 265-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder, arranged in Subaru's familiar horizontally opposed, or flat-four, configuration. The WRX offers a bang for the buck that surpasses many more expensive sports sedans.
The STI version is essentially its own car. STI stands for Subaru Technica International, the high-performance division that made the WRX famous through considerable success in the World Rally Championship. Nearly every major mechanical system is unique to the STI: six-speed manual transmission, special suspension and brakes, unique interior appointments and a high-tech, manually adjustable all-wheel-drive system. Yet the STI's centerpiece is a higher-tech version of the 2.5-liter four, generating 305 horsepower. Its quarter-mile acceleration times match those delivered by some muscle and exotic sports cars.
While the STI offers increased performance and driver involvement relative the WRX, few feel shortchanged in the WRX. Subaru's claim that buyers like both and the choice frequently comes down to price…the STI is about $9000 more than the WRX and offers more performance, and more potential, for the extra coin.
To be sure, the WRX costs more than your typical front-wheel-drive compact, and the performance and all-wheel-drive come with a mileage penalty. Still, we think the WRX models are a good deal, offering lots of performance for the dollar in a car that's easy to live with every day. Primary competitors for the WRX and WRX/STI are the front-drive Mazdaspeed 3 and Volkswagen GTI, and all-wheel drive Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart and Evolution.
The 2011 Subaru Impreza models come with all-wheel drive, 2.5-liter SOHC four-cylinder, making 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, and a choice of 5-speed manual transmission with Incline Start Assist or 4-speed automatic with SportShift ($1,000).
Impreza 2.5i sedan ($17,495) and 5-door ($17,995) come with cloth upholstery, 60/40 split folding rear seat, four-speaker AM/FM/CD, power doors, locks and mirrors, 16-inch steel wheels with all-season tires, and a 5-speed manual transmission with Incline Start Assist. Impreza 2.5i Premium ($18,495) and 5-door ($18,995) upgrade to a new AM/FM stereo with single-disc CD player and six speakers, auxiliary input jack, Bluetooth hands-free calling, iPod, USB port and satellite radio capability. Options include 17-inch 12-spoke alloy wheels, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and TomTom navigation system.
Outback Sport ($19,995) includes a heavy duty raised suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, front and rear bumper underguards, projector beam foglights, crossbars for the roofrails, heated front seats and sideview mirrors, windshield wiper de-icer, and a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel with audio and cruise controls. Rearview camera is optional.
Safety equipment on all Impreza models includes the Subaru Advanced Frontal Airbag System featuring side-impact air bags and full-length airbag curtains. Active safety features include ABS with Electronic Brake-Force Distribution and Brake Assist, electronic stability control with traction control, and all-wheel drive. The Impreza earned Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a lobbying organization for the insurance industry, with the highest rating in frontal offset, side and rear impact tests. The 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX ($25,495) comes in sedan and a 5-Door versions powered by a 265-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with 5-speed manual transmission. The WRX comes with fabric upholstery (checkered carbon black with red stitching), automatic climate control, power windows/locks/mirrors, AM/FM/Sirius/MP3/iPod audio with Bluetooth and auxiliary input jack, cruise control, electroluminescent gauges, quad tailpipes, 17-inch alloy wheels with summer performance tires. The hatchback also adds a rear wiper, spoiler, clear-lens taillights and cover, light and tie-downs for the cargo area.
WRX Premium ($27,995) sedan and hatchback add heated front seats, heated mirrors, wiper de-icer, power moonroof, trunk spoiler and fog lights. The Navigation Package ($2,000) features a GPS system with seven-inch screen, satellite radio, auxiliary audio/video jacks, CD/DVD drive and Bluetooth telephony. WRX Limited ($28,995) adds leather upholstery and HID low-beam headlamps, also available with Navigation ($30,995).
The WRX STI sedan ($33,995) and 5-Door ($35,995) is equipped similarly to WRX Premium grade. The extra money adds mainly high-performance mechanicals, starting with the 305-hp 2.5-liter engine, 6-speed manual, more sophisticated all-wheel drive system and upgraded chassis components. The 5-Door includes cargo cover, tie-downs, cargo light, rear wiper, and BBS wheels; navigation is optional. STI Limited sedan ($37,345) adds the BBS wheels, fog lights, moonroof, and comes with leather upholstery.
Dealer-installed accessories are numerous, ranging from wild spoilers and footwell illumination to more practical short-throw shifters, gauge packages, brake pads and performance exhaust systems. Many dealer-installed parts feature full factory warranty coverage.
Safety features include dual-stage front airbags, front passenger side-impact airbags and curtain-style head airbags. The WRX has achieved five stars for front impacts, five stars for front passengers in side impacts, and four stars in rollover tests from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Active safety features include Vehicle Dynamics Control stability electronics and four-channel, four-sensor anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD).