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The editors of TheCarConnection.com have driven both the sporty 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX and the high-performance WRX STI to bring you their expert take on these enthusiast vehicles here in a Bottom Line. TheCarConnection.com has also consulted what the most authoritative auto critics have written about the Subaru Impreza WRX and STI to produce a conclusive full review that gives you all the pros and cons, along with other choices.
The Subaru Impreza WRX and STI are compact, performance-oriented sedans and hatchbacks based on the mainstream Impreza. Last year, after hordes of loyalists complained about the changes implemented with a 2008 redesign, the WRX was fortified to address concerns that it was too soft and that power delivery wasn't fast and furious enough to fit the Rex's personality. Subaru answered with 41 extra horsepower on the WRX model, wider wheels and tires, and new anti-roll bars.
Styling on the 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX sedan can be summed up in one word: bland. The hatchback, on the other hand, speaks to the rallying heritage of the Impreza with more cohesion. Still, with each successive redesign, the WRX and the STI seem to stray further from their angry, purposeful origins and closer to a mainstream look that’s kinda cute, kinda ugly. Staying on for 2010 is a functional hood scoop that signifies to onlookers that these are the performance variants of the Impreza family. Note that for 2010 the WRX gets a new exterior side sill design.
A 2.5-liter horizontally opposed "flat" four produces a healthy 265 horsepower in the WRX, while a different version makes 305 horsepower in the STI. One major caveat is a significant dollop of turbo lag, especially below 3,500 rpm where both cars can feel a bit lifeless. Rev it beyond this speed, however, and the engine takes on a completely different personality, happily shoving your cheeks back to your ears as it races to redline. The horizontally opposed engine emits a low rumble at low revs, and much of this noise seeps into the cabin. It becomes increasingly vocal when you keep it in the boost—something we’re sure enthusiasts will love but others may find annoying after some time with the car. The manual gearbox is best at keeping the engine on the boil, but the linkage is a bit balky. The optional four-speed automatic available on the WRX, however, is in desperate need of more gears. Fuel economy leaves much to be desired, but given the performance, you can almost overlook this. The 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX tops out at 25 mpg highway in the mileage stakes and is rated at only 18 mpg in the city. The more powerful STI, meanwhile, gets a 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway rating.
With any sports car, the engine is only part of the story, and this is especially true in the case of the WRX and STI. Subaru engineers have done a sublime job with the suspension tuning. Despite thicker anti-roll bars and stiffer springs being introduced last year, both the WRX and STI soak up bumps, ruts, potholes, and coarse surfaces with aplomb. The ride is beautifully smooth and isolated; the handling wonderfully direct and taut. At highway speeds, apart from a little engine rumble and wind noise from the side mirrors, the cabin is very quiet.
Slide behind the steering wheel of either the WRX or STI and you’re greeted by a well-lit instrument cluster that’s dominated by a large, centrally mounted tachometer. It's flanked on the right by a smaller speedo in Porsche fashion, and all the gauges are clearly marked and readable in an instant—gone are the tacky boy-racer and econo car designs of past generations. A pair of racing-style bucket seats is positioned up front, and while they are incredibly supportive, we did have some qualms. Namely, the seats come with a fixed headrest (the entire seatback is just one long piece) that some testers find uncomfortable. Note that STI model gets more upmarket Alcantara trim, and for 2010, black Alcantara with red stitching replaces last year’s gray and silver stitching. The rear compartment is happily much bigger than the car's tidy exterior dimensions suggest. Headroom in back, a sore spot for most small and even mid-size cars, is fantastic even for those unusually long in the torso. Trunk space is reasonable at 11.3 cubic feet, and fold-down functionality for both sides adds a world of convenience. For both style and practicality, we think the hatchback's the way to go. One issue in the STI especially is that it throws up a bit more road noise and a rather jittery ride.
The 2010 Impreza WRX and STI are two of the safest vehicles in their class, scoring full marks in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) front and driver side impact protection and four stars in all other categories. Additionally, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awards both the 2010 model WRX and STI a "Top Safety Pick" for their good performance in front crash-test protection. On top of that, all Impreza variants come with side impact and side curtain airbags, electronic stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with brake-force distribution and brake assist, and daytime running lamps as standard. Manual models also get hill start assist.
The 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX and STI are a bit on the pricey side, even in base form, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that you get a lot of bang for your buck. You can easily hook up your iPod to the WRX radio's auxiliary port, though true USB compatibility is a stand-alone option. Six speakers come as standard, but opt for the Premium package and you get a much better-sounding 10-speaker system. A subwoofer is available with both options, as is a navigation-and-satellite-radio unit. For 2010 the navigation system also includes Bluetooth wireless capability, with a microphone installed in the overhead console.