“Late apex, onto the power, straight exit, accelerate, a little braking, now over the curve…..!”
These were the emphatic guidance points from my Subaru WRX drive instructor as we took Aspen Motorsports Park’s 8-turn, 1.1-mile track as if we were in a race against time. The brief moments spent in top gear gave me a much better perspective on why the all-new WRX STI sedan was able to break Subaru’s previous “fastest ever” record by 4 seconds at famed Nürburgring racetrack with a time of 7 minutes, 55 seconds. Impressive. Pilot Tommi Mäkinen, was equally as impressed. “The car was controllable with precise and faithful handling even on tricky corners. I could easily predict the car’s behavior,” Mäkinen stated.
With a division that is as talented as Angelina Jolie, Subaru is able to entertain customers with not only daily road vehicles but also performance and rally editions – all of which are off-road and all-weather capable due to the company’s stalwart Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive (AWD) system. I became an undaunted believer during a Maryland winter storm a few years back that left the majority of the State stranded. Getting to the airport for a “can’t miss” event in Las Vegas was the task. Low and behold, our 3-month loaned Legacy crept through an intolerable snowstorm at normal speeds while most of the rest of traffic was slipping and sliding like kids on ice skates. That experience helped me understand why the brand is where it is today.
Subaru is riding high! Literally, as we spent three days in the great town of Aspen in Colorado enticing ourselves with new technology and performance from WRX and WRX STI vehicles in elevations 12,000 feet above sea level. Sales are up 30% from this time last year (through July 2010); new customers are crossing over to the all-wheel drive Japanese brand, while current customers are patting themselves on the back for making a wise choice with a company that has superb safety ratings with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, good lease residual values and consistently rates high in consumer guides. The WRX line attracts a younger and adventurous buyer, as it should. The 2011 model line, which re-introduces the 4-door sedan, is injected with enhanced motoring technology, which is understood by the tech savvy enthusiast. And the equation is really simple. WRX owners want performance and would ultimately purchase a WRX STI income permitting. The kinetic energy is the same between the two, which is why it’s aesthetically difficult to differentiate either model from a bird’s eye view. Subaru doesn’t want the STI to stray to far off from its donor visually, yet, the power output and agility is set aside for a higher tier.
Wider is better when talking about performance. “The new wide-body designs for the 2011 WRX give this performance icon a new level of street presence,” said Tom Doll, executive vice president and COO of Subaru of America, Inc. Yep, a wider track (front & rear) of 1.5 inches is the key upgrade for the new WRX. A wider body means less roll and better stability. Its base 17” wheels are bigger, engine is stronger and the rear subframe bushings are enhanced. The WRX runs with a turbocharged 2.5-liter Boxer engine producing 265 horsepower and 244 pound-feet of torque. A 5-speed manual is the sole transmission for this Subie. Front styling of the 5-door is upgraded and mimics the 4-door, which features strong fender flares with sharp lines and a functional hood scoop for fresh air to the intercooler. A new and larger black grille is added, along with quad tail pipes.
VDC (Vehicle Dynamics Control) traction and stability control is standard and assists the AWD system which allows torque distribution to either rear or front wheels by way of a viscous coupling locking center differential. Yet, the system doesn’t allow for torque vectoring which would push power from side to side as well. However this system is full-time and doesn’t need VDC first, like many general AWD systems from other manufacturers. In this case VDC is secondary and kicks in when absolutely necessary like in the beginning stages of the vehicle spinning out of control.
The audio system has been upgraded to feature auxiliary input, XM/SIRIUS and Bluetooth. GPS navigation is optional. New trim panels and instrumentation upgrades the vehicle, but the interior is not the WRX’s strong point — styling is. Both the 4-door and 5-door models start at $25,495 ($725 destination charge included) while the Premium starts $27,995 and the Limited $28,995.
The aforementioned Nürburgring record was accomplished in a Subaru Tecnica International or simply STI, Subaru’s halo vehicle. The Nürburgring features the world’s longest racetrack lap and allows for vehicle evaluation in every road condition. It’s why Subaru has been testing there for 20 years now. Several factors can be attributed to the newly achieved record. A new suspension offers greater high-speed performance (especially cornering); the newer and bigger 18-inch wheels are 17.6 pounds lighter; the turbocharged 2.5-liter Boxer engine churns out 305-horsepower, and an extra 3-mph have been added to the STI’s top speed. A 6-speed manual transmission and 3-inch wide quad pipes are exclusive to the STI. Brembo brakes are the key to reversing all of these speed numbers.
Technology management systems include the Multi-Mode Driver Controlled Center Differential (DCCD), Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-DRIVE) and Multi-Mode Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC). SI-DRIVE allows the driver to select between three variations of the vehicle’s dynamic capabilities. Intelligent mode is for smooth driving, Sport is for all around sportiness (provides quicker throttle response) and Sport Sharp which is ideal for track situations. Riding on highways and curvaceous uphill and downhill roads, we kept the vehicle in Sport mode, which really makes a difference. DCCD uses sensors to commingle an array of vehicle activities like, steering input, torque transfer, RPM etc. Three automatic modes include Auto which allows the vehicle handle moderate and choose where and when to distribute torque, Auto (-) takes away most of the locking so the driver can use their skills to manipulate the STI, and Auto (+) which provides more lock for wet, sandy or gravel surfaces. Then, there are six manual settings to further control the differential. Lastly, the Multi-Mode VDC can be set in three modes: VDC Normal, Traction and Off. So you can imagine the prep time exerted before hitting Aspen Motorsports Park! During our hot laps we set the STI in Sports Sharp and Auto (-). This gave us optimal acceleration and produced less understeer.
For the first time, the STI can be had in two styles like the WRX: sedan and 5-door hatch. A massive yet aerodynamic wing (achieves zero lift) adorns the 4-door while a spoiler fits atop the hatch on the 5-door. Pricing for the STI 4-door starts at $33,995 and $37,345 for the Limited while the 5-door goes for $35,995.
I ended my day with the most exciting activity of them all: the rally course. It was pure fun and amazement tossing the WRX through trails, bumps, holes and hard turns as if it were a Tonka Toy. By far, drifting on dirt is much more pleasing than drifting on asphalt There’s nothing like riding high!