Racy styling full of wings, vents and add-ons has always been part of the WRX appeal, and Subaru seems to once again have accepted this inevitably.
When the current-generation Impreza WRX cars were introduced for 2008, they were more subtle, perhaps more holistic, than their predecessors. The aggressive look flowed less from accoutrements on their bodies and more from their basic shapes. That changed quickly. A year later, Subaru made the optional Aero Package standard equipment. That added front and rear under-bumper spoilers and aerodynamic-looking side-sill grounds effects. For 2010, the side sills are even more pronounced.
The current-generation are the largest WRX models ever, which translates to more room inside the car. The four-door sedan, developed specifically for the United States, is more than six inches longer than the five-door hatchback.
In side view, the most prominent bit of WRX design is a sharp crease that extends from the front wheel arch and runs just above the door handles all the way to the rear. It helps create the impression of a wedge, and emphasizes the aggressive flare of the side sills between the wheels.
From the rear, the WRX sedan and hatchback are distinguished by more than the obvious trunk lid, or lack thereof. The sedan has conventional red taillight lenses, while those on the hatchback are clear. The four-door has a low-profile rear trunk spoiler, while the five-door shares an even more aggressive rear spoiler and diffuser with the STI. The four-door features dual tailpipe outlets, and the five-door has a single, larger exhaust outlet.
American buyers overwhelmingly prefer sedans to hatchbacks. In the case of the WRX, we will take the hatch, however, and not just for its practical benefits. We'd say it's the more handsome car. Its roofline runs in a single, elegant curve from the base of the windshield to that spoiler at the top of the rear glass. Also, its rear overhang is considerably shorter than the sedan's. Shorter overhangs are generally better for handling, in addition to other benefits.
WRX and STI have an aluminum hood, which reduces weight in front and helps distribute the car's mass more evenly over the front and rear wheels. Both cars feature the latest evolution of what Subaru calls its Ring Frame Reinforced body design. Think of RFR as a safety cell in roughly a cube shape around the passenger compartment, made of stronger, hydro-formed steel sections. The idea is more strength and rigidity without an undue increase in weight, and it may help explain the excellent ratings in NHTSA crash tests. The first objective of RFR is better occupant protection, but the structural improvements pay dividends in many respects, from more responsive handling to improved smoothness in just about every aspect of the car's operation.
The STI is available only as a hatchback, and it's the raciest looking WRX of all, particularly with the optional forged, thin-spoke BBS wheels. The STi was first created as a homologation car, or a required street-legal copy of Subaru's winning World Rally Championship competitors. Its fenders bulge more prominently than those on the other WRX models to stretch over extra-wide tires, and all its various vents and air deflectors are functional. The STI unitbody also has some significant enhancements compared to other WRX models, starting with extra high-strength steel at suspension mounting points and key structural joints.
When the WRX and STI were redesigned for 2008, their interiors were more understated, or subdued, than they'd been in years. Since then, however, Subaru has re-introduced details such as aluminum alloy covers for the foot pedals, red stitching on the seats and steering wheel for 2009, and embroidered WRX logos to remind occupants of what they're sitting in, in case the howl of the free-revving turbocharged engine isn't enough. For 2010, the line-topping STI model gets new black Alcantara upholstery with red stitching, instead of gray Alcantara with silver stitching, for a bolder presentation.
In general, this WRX line feels less confining, perhaps more airy, than its predecessor, the pre-2008 models. The glass seems more expansive, even though the side windows are now framed in the doors, rather than pressed against weather-stripping on the roof and roof columns, as they were on the previous generation. Features, too, are more upscale. Niceties such as a sophisticated anti-theft system, cabin air filtration and an outside temperature gauge come standard, while a navigation system is optional.
The front bucket seats in the WRX are upholstered with a soft, black-checkered fabric, double stitched in the fashion of a luxury car, and they provide a good compromise between support and comfort. There's enough side bolstering top and bottom to keep occupants snug during fairly aggressive driving, but there's also plenty of give in the cushions.
The seats in the STi are more like aftermarket performance seats, which means harder and more heavily bolstered. They're even better for hard driving, but the snugger fit leaves less squirm room during longer, more relaxed travel, and they demand more energy to climb in and out of. The seats come in black Alcantara with red stitching.
Overall, the WRX driving position is excellent. In front, a feeling of roominess is noticeable in shoulder room. Seat adjustments are simple, but they allow people of various sizes to get properly situated. Most drivers will be able to reach all controls, including those for adjusting side mirrors, without lifting head or shoulders from the seatback. One minor gripe regarding the armrests: They're positioned such that each elbow rests at a slightly different height. Then again, serious driving doesn't involve armrests.
Gauges are easy to read and illuminated in orange. The trim is a metallic silver plastic. You'll find more attractively grained plastics and maybe richer looking trim materials in this price range, but nothing in the WRX looks cheap enough to kill the deal. That's at least partly because the dashboard layout is so straightforward and effective.
The size and shape of the dash is roughly symmetrical on both the driver and passenger sides, with a big, outreaching center stack of controls and displays in the middle. All gauges are clustered directly in front of the driver. The four dash vents are fully adjustable and large enough to move plenty of air.
An LCD sits under its own hood at the top of the center stack, with temperature indicator, time and other information. At the bottom sit three big climate-control knobs: one each for temperature, airflow direction and fan speed, easy to grab with barely a peripheral glance, operating with a nice tactile sensation that conveys the amount of adjustment. In between are the standard audio controls or the optional navigation screen. Both are good sized and easy to manipulate. While the audio knobs aren't as big as those for the air conditioning, volume, source and tuning can also be adjusted with buttons on the steering wheel spokes.
In back there's decent hip room and headroom. The rear door openings are large, and shaped in a way that eliminates a big head duck required to get in. Sliding in and out is easy, and the rear seatback is reclined at a comfortable angle. There's room enough in the back for two six-footers to stay comfortable for a reasonable period of time. There's not enough space for three, however, the middle spot is best left to a youngster.
Cargo capacity in the WRX is pretty good. With 11.3 cubic feet of trunk space, the WRX sedan falls toward the lower end of its size class, a bit less than what's found in the less-expensive Honda Civic Si sedan or the more expensive BMW 328i. Still, the WRX's rear seatback splits and folds forward. With the 60-percent portion laid flat, there's enough room to slide two golf bags in through the trunk, and still leave room for a third passenger.
Cargo space in the five-door hatch is much better. With 19 cubic feet, rear seat up, there's a lot more space than what's available in the typical small sedan's truck. The hatchback also allows taller objects to be contained within the car. When the rear seat is folded cargo capacity expands to 44.4 cubic feet, with easy access from the rear side doors to help push things in and out.
Cubby storage is average. The glove box is deep, holding more stuff than most, and there's a lined bin in front of the gearshift for phones, openers or glasses. There's a pair of cupholders in the center console, just right of the handbrake and hidden with a sliding cover in the STi. Another cupholder in each front door pocket is large enough for a 24-ounce bottle. The box in the center console has jacks for MP3 players and a power point. WRXs with the navigation system come with a video jack. This allows video games or DVD players to project on the navi screen, but only when the car is parked.
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