Browsing through the 2011 Subaru Impreza lineup is akin to strolling down the cereal aisle at the supermarket. There's something here for everyone, ranging from the sensible base Impreza 2.5i hatchback to the wickedly fast WRX STI sedan. With such a wide-ranging lineup, it can actually take a bit of time to figure out what kind of Impreza you want.

The 2011 Subaru Impreza incorporates a number of changes that you'll want to pay attention to. Every Impreza trim level except the base model gets as standard equipment an updated audio system that features iPod integration and Bluetooth connectivity. There's also a new option for an inexpensive and removable (but dealer-installed) TomTom navigation system.

Those who crave performance will want to check out the 2011 Subaru WRX, which gets not only the STI's wide-body fenders but also improved handling thanks to wider wheels, wider track dimensions and stiffer subframe bushings. And then there's the STI itself, which gets a firmer suspension calibration and lighter wheels to sharpen its handling as well as a few more standard features (such as heated seats). This year is also the first year of the current-generation Impreza where you can order the WRX STI as a sedan in addition to the pre-existing hatchback.

This comprehensive lineup means the Impreza competes against a wide variety of other models. Base Imprezas go up against compacts such as the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf. The Outback Sport hatchback, with its increased ground clearance and extra body cladding, can even serve as an alternative to a compact crossover SUV.

The performance-tuned WRX belongs to the sport compact club that also includes the Mazda speed 3, Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart and Volkswagen GTI. Though lacking in features and refinement, the WRX is like Olympic runner Usain Bolt, as it boasts swift acceleration that beats them all. The WRX STI is a rally-bred performance machine that remains a compelling choice for Fast & Furious types drawn to big turbos, all-wheel drive and limited-slip differentials.

Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options

The 2011 Subaru Impreza is available in four-door sedan and four-door hatchback body styles. Trim levels include 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, Outback Sport, WRX, WRX Premium, WRX Limited, WRX STI and WRX STI Limited. The Outback Sport is hatchback only, while the WRX STI Limited is sedan only.

The 2.5i comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry, air-conditioning, cruise control, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, a tilt steering column and a four-speaker stereo with CD player. The 2.5i Premium adds 16-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a six-speaker stereo with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack, Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port.

Options for the base 2.5i trim include a rear spoiler, a unique grille insert, foglights, an audio subwoofer, satellite radio and a package that bundles a center armrest with an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a compass and a security system. The 2.5i Premium can be had optioned out with many of the aforementioned, as well as a sunroof package that also includes foglights, heated front seats, heated mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer.

The Outback Sport is similar to the 2.5i Premium trim level but has 17-inch alloy wheels, a raised suspension for more ground clearance, foglights, roof rails, bumper under-guards, unique exterior trim, special interior upholstery and a standard All Weather package (heated front seats, heated mirrors and windshield wiper de-icer).

The WRX is essentially a high-performance version of the Impreza that comes with a five-speed manual transmission (no automatic is available), a turbocharged engine, summer tires, a more aggressively tuned suspension, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column and special WRX trim and body styling. The WRX Premium adds the extra items from the 2.5i Premium as well as the sunroof package. Options include a dash-mounted navigation system, short-throw shifter and a turbo boost gauge. Stepping up to the Limited adds leather upholstery and xenon headlights.

The WRX STI is equipped similarly to the WRX, but ups the performance ante even further. It gains a six-speed manual transmission, 18-inch wheels, high-performance tires, Brembo brakes, front and rear limited-slip differentials, SI-Drive vehicle settings, an even more aggressively tuned suspension, a bigger hood scoop, xenon headlights, sport seats and faux-suede and leather upholstery. The WRX STI Limited adds foglights, 18-inch BBS wheels, the sunroof package and leather upholstery. A navigation system is optional on the STI trims as well.

Powertrains and Performance

Every 2011 Subaru Impreza comes standard with all-wheel drive. The 2.5i and Outback Sport models are powered by a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed (boxer) four-cylinder engine that produces 170 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission with hill-start assist is standard and a four-speed automatic is optional.

In performance testing, this normally aspirated 2.5-liter engine with the manual powered the Impreza from a standstill to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds.

The WRX has a turbocharged version of the 2.5 that cranks out 265 hp and 244 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual is the lone transmission choice. Its 0-60 time in testing was a snappy 5.3 seconds, while fuel economy estimates are 18/25/21. The WRX STI gets even more turbo boost for 305 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque. With its standard six-speed manual, the STI achieves fuel economy of 17/23/19 and, more important, reaches 60 mph in a blazing 4.5 seconds.

Safety

Standard on all Impreza models are antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints to help mitigate crash-induced whiplash. In Edmunds brake testing, a 2.5i came to a stop from 60 mph in 122 feet, a good effort. The WRX stopped in 114 feet and the STI did the task in 106 feet -- both very good.

In government crash tests, the 2011 Subaru Impreza scored a perfect five stars for frontal crash protection, five stars for front occupants in a side crash and four stars for rear occupants in a side crash. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Impreza its highest-possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.

Driving Impressions

The base 2011 Subaru Impreza rides and handles satisfactorily for a compact car, and its tenacious all-wheel drive is a boon for driving in bad weather. The naturally aspirated 2.5-liter boxer has more aural character than your typical economy-grade four-cylinder and also delivers adequate punch, at least when the manual transmission is specified.

On the other hand, the turbocharged Impreza WRX is an impressive performance machine for the money, featuring upgraded power and considerably more athletic moves through the corners thanks to its firmer suspension and summer performance tires. The WRX STI kicks it up a few more notches thanks to limited-slip differentials front and rear, powerful Brembo brakes, a six-speed manual transmission and a turbocharged rush of acceleration whenever the throttle is wide open. Ride quality for the WRX models is acceptable considering the performance, but some drivers might object to the extra levels of road noise.

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