First Drive: 2011 Subaru WRX STI

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Subaru has a knack for continuous improvement on its vehicles—particularly its performance-minded Impreza WRX and STI models.

And while it rolled out an all-new sporty Impreza WRX and high-performance STI for 2008, it gave the WRX a host of mechanical upgrades for 2009, with a few more tweaks last year. Now, for 2011, both of these rally-themed models get a more aggressive look, but it's the top STI that gets the most performance innovation this time.

First, the look: Line both of these models up side by side and they're closer than ever in appearance. Together, both of these models get a number of changes—most of which are now shared between the WRX and the STI. The new wide-body look brings a new grille, a new 17-inch alloy wheel design with wider tires, and a WRX spoiler for the sedan. Up in front, the lower air intake is wider and lower, the lip spoiler is resculpted, and blacked-out foglamp bezels further help the wide, low look. In back, both models get a more aggressive lower-body look with quad-tip exhausts, and of course alongside the front and rear fenders now bulge outward, giving the car more voluptuousness. Inside, the appearance is familiar, but there are new instrument clusters, a new audio system, and darker, more understated trim.

Both models remain offered in four-door sedan or five-door hatch bodystyles. But arguably, contrary to what we suspected in pictures, it's the sedan that benefits the most from the new wide-fendered look. From rear three-quarter angles in person, where the sedan has looked a bit dowdy and awkward since its redesign, the flared sheetmetal makes the whole design pop. The sedan also gets a more aggressive spoiler configuration that helps improve aerodynamics and raise top speed (to 158 mph for the STI). In our opinion, the hatch was already the better of the two bodystyles, and it also benefits a bit from the new look.

Closer than ever in look, but different in personality

The WRX and STI now share the same body structure, too, but powertrain and suspension is where they're quite different. While the WRX continues to get a 265-horsepower, 2.5-liter horizontally opposed (boxer) four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission—with viscous-differential all-wheel drive—the STI gets a 305-horsepower, 2.5-liter turbocharged boxer four, six-speed manual transmission and an all-wheel-drive system that includes the Driver-Controlled Center Differential (DCCD).

Even before looking at what the STI's extra toolkit does, there remains quite a difference between these two models, just in the way they respond to your right foot—even in how they sound. Start the STI up and take off gently and the engine sound is deep and pulsating, with more of a tuner note; the WRX sounds more like a 'normal' car.

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