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.
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