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Subaru WRX shines with STi upgrades for 2011

A quick glance and you may not even notice that there’s something different about the WRX this year.  Take a closer look and you’ll see that the world famous all-wheel-drive sports car has been tweaked. We dive in to the 2011 model, take it for a spin, and find out what’s new.

Specifications as-tested

Model Year: 2011
Make: Subaru
Model: WRX Premium

Engine: 2.5L turbocharged 4-cylinder / 265 hp at 6000 rpm and 244 lb.- ft. of torque at 4000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Drivetrain: Continuous all-wheel-drive with 50:50 distribution

EPA Fuel Economy: 19-mpg city/ 25-mpg highway
Observed Fuel Economy: 22.3mpg

Base MSRP: $25,495
As tested MSRP: $30,720

Standard Equipment: Traction & stability control,  all-wheel-drive

Equipped Options:
Satellite Radio & Navigation System [$2,000]

Required Fees:
Delivery Charge [$725]

Driven: 2011 Subaru WRX - Photo: Zane Merva/AutoInsane.com

Subtle and not-so-subtle changes

It didn’t take long for the current generation WRX to get a boost in power. First on sale in 2008, the all-weather sports machine got a 41-horsepower increase the very next year; from 224 to 265.  Now only two years later, the car has gotten another noteworthy upgrade.  This time it’s the exterior appearance, vehicle dimentions,  and suspension pieces that have been tweaked.

Typically, Subaru has differentiated the more expensive STi from the common-man WRX through the use of an STi specific body,  suspension pieces, wider rubber, and more horsepower. Not anymore. Starting this year, the WRX gets all the wide-body/suspension goodies straight from the STi. Although the STi will still have more horsepower, it will now look almost indistinguishable from the WRX in both 4-door and 5-door forms.

The combination of this year’s suspension tweaks and the horsepower upgrades from 2009 are staggering.   The WRX now carries a 2-inch wider body and suspension track.  It’s a menacing, low slung look that also helps the WRX grip. The 2011 is poised, solid, and feels like a civilized street-ready rally car.

Throw the new WRX into a sharp corner on a dirt road and you’ll find it drives like a rally car too.  Although other brands have tried to master all-wheel-drive, we always come back to Subaru as the de facto standard. No other car can match the predictability the WRX offers in the range of road conditions that it can.  In the summer, you’ve got a fast sports car that hugs corners like no-other. In the winter, you have a safe and dependable vehicle that will get you through anything.  Rain, snow, sleet, sunshine; you’re having fun and getting where you need to go.

Driven: 2011 Subaru WRX - Photo: Zane Merva/AutoInsane.com

Despite the wider body and track, weight gain has been kept to a minimum.  The 2011 model is only 34 lbs heavier than the 2010. It’s hard to spot a body panel that hasn’t been changed on the outside, but the interior remains largely unchanged from prior years.  In the cockpit, for 2011 Subaru has added bluetooth and iPod support to the base 6-speaker radio. Our optioned-up “Premium” tester was equipped with the optional Navigation System.

We liked the extremely supportive front seats in the WRX.  They gave plenty of grip around corners without being overly stiff on long drives.  For those cold mornings, the seats also offered two-levels of heat.

Driven: 2011 Subaru WRX - Photo: Zane Merva/AutoInsane.com

2011 versus 2010 – WRX Dimensions

2011 2010
Width 70.7 in. 68.5 in.
Wheelbase 103.3 in. 103.1 in.
Front track 60.2 in. 58.9 in.
Rear track 60.6 in. 59.1 in.
Wheels 17 x 8-in. 17 x 7-in.
Tires 235/45R17 225/45R17
Curb weight 4-door: 3,208 lbs
5-door: 3,208 lbs
4-door: 3,174 lbs
5-door: 3,174 lbs

Driven: 2011 Subaru WRX - Photo: Zane Merva/AutoInsane.com

Conclusion

The original all-weather sports car now looks even better with new STi bodywork.  Suspension and track changes add even better handling to an already great car. One of the few vehicles that’s just as much fun to drive in the winter as it is in the summer.

Strengths

  • Staunch turbocharged engine is smooth and powerful
  • The best all-wheel-drive system on the market, period.
  • Predictable handling, tossable, well centered

Weaknesses

  • Interior plastic trim/console is very shiny and hard feeling
  • Get the navigation system and you lose iPod compatiability
  • Can we please have a 6-speed manual?

AutoInsane.com exclusive 360 Video Walk-around in HD

Driven: 2011 Subaru WRX Photo Gallery

First Drive: 2011 Buick Regal delivers smooth style & solid European handling

Last week I had the chance to sample the completely new 2011 Buick Regal on the roads and highways of Southern California.  We’ve been foaming at the mouth at a chance to get behind the wheel of the Regal ever since it was introduced in LA last year. Could the car that was almost a Saturn really deliver as a Buick? Lets find out.

One walk around the Regal and it’s immediately recognize as a Buick, which is a very good thing. Despite being more stylistically reserved than its big brother, the LaCrosse, the Regal looks youthful, classy, and elegant. There are very few hard creases in the bodywork, lending to a fluid in-motion look even while sitting still. It’s impressive considering only minor styling changes were made to convert the Regal from its originally intended form as a Saturn Aura.

2011 Buick Regal

The Regal will be avaliable with two engine options; a base four-cylinder and more powerful turbo-charged four cylinder. Both use direct injection.  The base four produces 182-horsepower while the turbocharged four (avaliable later this year) increases output to 220-horsepower.  Both engines will be mated to a 6-speed automatic and the turbo will have a 6-speed manual as an option.

Buick claims the Regal’s main competitors are the Volvo S60 and Acura TSX. I’ve yet to drive either the Volvo or Acura, so I can’t give direct comparisons. However, in a pure stats game, the Regal is left underpowered compared to the upscale engines in both the S60 (300hp) and TSX(280hp). Only the TSX offers a base four cylinder, of which the Regal bests by 10hp (172hp vs 182hp).

Where Buick really turns on the heat is in price. The Regal starts at a relatively cheap $26,995 for the base four and $29,495 for the turbo.  Acura starts their base TSX at $29,310, while an optional V6 starts at $34,850. Volvo offers a turbo-6, which starts the S60 at $37,700.  As you can see, the Regal holds a substantial price advantage over both rivals.

2011 Buick Regal

The Regal, which is sold as an Opel Insignia in Europe, has a noticably European weighted chassis tuning. In short, the days of Buicks driving like a boat are officially over.   The turbo model also has the added benefit of an adaptive suspension and steering system.  Called IDCS (Interactive Drive Control System), the car changes steering angle and suspension damping both automatically and with the aid of three driver selectable modes. Buick describes it like this:

“IDCS allows the driver to choose between three different operating modes that change the suspension settings, throttle response, shift pattern and steering sensitivity through the variable effort steering system. The three modes deliver three types of experiences:

Normal – balanced and optimized for all driving situations

Tour – optimized for comfort and relaxed driving on long journeys

Sport – optimized for road holding; enthusiast driving .”

It works largely as advertised. Switching between modes yields a noticeable change in the driving dynamics of the car. It’s really impressive. In fact, the Regal is downright fun in Sport on winding roads. However, push the car and the steering gets noticably foggy and hard to place. It’s not horrendous and 99% of owners will never notice, but you’d never catch an Audi doing the same thing.  Base engine models come with an also competent, although stiffer, suspension and steering feel. Both suspensions were extremely well poised on the highway.

The base engine, while not anemic on paper, is embarrassingly slow on the road. I understand it’s the “fuel economy” option, however even in that area it falls short. The I4 is rated at 20mpg city, 30mpg highway. The more powerful turbo I4 only falls slightly behind at 18mpg city and 29mpg highway. The turbo is an overall spectacular engine.  It pulls hard from lower RPMs thanks to a twin-scroll turbo and delivers usable power in the middle range.   Although I didn’t get a chance to drive the turbo with the six-speed manual, I’d sense it would be the combo to go with.

2011 Buick Regal

Inside, the Regal continues to impress. The car extends GM’s recent streak of high quality and high fit & finish interiors. Three console finishes are avaliable; piano black, satin metallic, and Kibo-patterned wood (pictured above).  The multimedia infotainment system has a usb/iPhone port, an aux port, supports streaming bluetooth stereo, and bluetooth hands-free phone use. It’s controlled by an iDrive like knob mounted on the middle console. After a few minutes using the system, it’s extremely easy to change settings and navigate menus on the road and without looking down.  I do hold two complaints; that the chrome ring around the gear-shift often reflected the sun in my eyes and the mass of brown buttons in the center stack looked overly mono-tone and hard to distinguish at quick glance.

It’s exciting to think that the redesigned 2010 Chevrolet Malibu will be a closely related version of the same platform. I’m personally looking forward to the just announced Regal GS that is due later this year. It will feature an even sportier suspension tuning and a more powerful engine.  I can’t wait to sample the Regal in depth more in the future. It’s an intriguing and compelling offering that will continue to drive the Buick Renaissance forward.

Strengths

  • Outstanding fit & finish
  • Supportive seats- comfortable for hours on end
  • Rock solid and unflappable on the highway

Weaknesses

  • Base engine is anemic, underpowered and provides little additional fuel mileage
  • Rear seats lack headroom, even for average folk
  • Adaptive suspension and steering felt ambiguous when pushed too hard (GM says they are still refining software settings)

2011 Buick Regal

First Drive Conclusion

Forget the base engine and go with the turbo. It’s an entry level premium car that can hang with more established European rivals in a more affordable wrapper.  If you really want a true sports sedan, better wait for the high-performance GS model slated for later this year.

Video Walkaround

2011 Buick Regal Photo Gallery


Required Disclosure: The lodging,  transportation, and access to vehicles required to write this article were provided, free of charge, to the author by General Motors. AutoInsane.com routinely accepts such offers from automakers to expand our coverage, however no special treatment, bias, or special consideration is given in return.