But over seven showery days—yes, only in the Pacific Northwest—including a couple of torrential downpours, this editor's hesitations were for naught; the 2011 STI and its performance tires only brought confidence through slick surfaces.
As reported in The Car Connection's full review of the 2011 WRX and STI, updated in recent days, the WRX and STI both now look nearly the same with a more aggressive look involving bulging fenders, different front-end details, and a lower-body aero details. And a new STI sedan has joined the lineup.
But while the WRX looks more like the STI than ever, and the two are hard to distinguish from a distance, the driving experience is more different than ever between the two vehicles. Most noteworthy on the STI for 2011 is that its suspension has again been redesigned and recalibrated, and it gets stiffer springs, bushings, and stabilizer bars; yet, thanks to a new pillow-ball bushing setup, at steering pivot points, along with various other strategic bushings, the ride doesn't get any harsher.
More nimble and more comfortable
That's what we observed in our first drive of the STI this past summer, in mountain roads near Aspen, but we couldn't completely back that point up until we tested the STI on some familiar, very coarsely surfaced highways and backroads. And it's all true; the 2011 STI feels more responsive, more confidence-inspiring than ever while at the same time seeming as refined as we remember, if not better.
The STI's engine—a 2.5-liter turbocharged flat four, making 305 horsepower and 290 lb-ft—carries over and still comes only with a six-speed manual gearbox. Reeling it all in is a special version of Subaru's all-wheel drive system that sends 59 percent of torque to the rear wheels in normal driving, or has three auto modes or six manual levels of center-diff lockup to cater the dynamic feel of the vehicle on the track—or on a wet, familiar closed curve.
While the clutch takeup in the STI is actually quite nice, it takes some getting used to how flat the engine feels just above idle and it's quite easy to stall if you're lulled by slow-moving traffic. Put your right foot into it and the engine doesn't really come to life until the 3,500-rpm mark or so; there it all changes and the STI's engine builds to a frenzy.
STI engine sometimes comes up flat
Which brings up one of the key differences between the STI and its more affordable WRX sibling. While the WRX suspension and all-wheel drive system aren't quite as capable and nuanced, its 265-hp engine can actually feel a bit stronger in everyday-style driving. With its more forgiving torque curve and faster turbo spool-up, appeals to those who need the car to be responsive at times when they might not be putting all their attention toward the driving experience.
The STI is the best choice for the driver who is very aware of—and wants to be very involved in—the driving experience, keeping an eye on revs, and being ever-mindful of what gear you're in.
And on that note, there's one very significant downside to the WRX and the STI. Neither of them can be had with any kind of automatic transmission. Mitsubishi's twin-clutch (TC-SST) unit that's offered in the Lancer Ralliart and Lancer Evolution would be our pick, if you have to have it. Otherwise, the linkage and feel of the five-speed (WRX) and six-speed (STI) manual transmissions isn't bad.
What is bad? Mileage. Over a week and about 100 miles of around-town driving, not all with a lead foot, the trip computer indicated just over 17 mpg—not very impressive at all for a four-cylinder vehicle that weighs less than 3,400 pounds. Seriously, you'll be lucky to see anything close to 25 mpg with the cruise control locked to the speed limit.
Excellent visibility, driving position
Outward visibility in the STI is better than most other new vehicles, let alone those with a performance tack. The seating position is low but upright—at once feeling sporty yet affording a nice view outward in all directions.
The 2011 Subaru WRX STI starts are $35,995, not including destination, and our test 2011 STI, optioned with the touch-screen navigation system and satellite radio, totaled more than $39k.
That's a high price, and if you don't need to worry about that, you should go for the STI. But for the rest of us, at about ten grand less, the base 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX offers quite the bang for the buck.