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Will the next-gen Subaru WRX and STI migrate to the FR-S / BRZ platform?

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Although previewed by the Subaru Impreza Concept at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show a year ago, it was still something of a surprise to see the production version of the 4th-generation Subaru Impreza unveiled at the 2011 New York Auto Show in April and going on sale as a 2012 model in November 2011. After all, its 2nd-generation GD (sedan) and GG (sportwagon) predecessor was offered for six full model years (2002-2007), whereas the 3rd-gen GE sedan / GH hatchback naturally aspirated Imprezas would have a scant 4-year life, the sort of new model cadence not seen since Honda abandoned it before the turn of the millennium. And, yes, the naturally aspirated clarification is vital, for the 4th-gen WRX and STI variants were nowhere to be found at the New York debut. When this author asked, everyone there from Subaru of America Executive Vice President / Chief Operating Officer Tom Doll and Product Public Relations Manager Dominick Infante on down turned coy and evasive as to when, precisely, we would see the next WRX and STI.

Three months later, however, Peter Lyon, writing for Motor Trend, made a novel prediction that garnered scant attention at the time, and was dismissed as fanciful rumormongering by some:

Remember the drama around removing the “Skyline” prefix from the GT-R when the all-new supercar debuted in late 2007? Well, it looks like nomenclature surgery is about to happen again, only this time Subaru is doing the separating. That’s right, the Impreza and famed WRX — joined at the hip since 1992 — are going their separate ways…the next WRX will take a completely different path of development and will not surface until 2014. We know this because Subaru president Ikuo Mori said at a recent shareholder’s meeting: “We will launch a new sporty car in 2014.” The WRX is that car.

“Apart from a few nuts and bolts, every part on the WRX will be unique. Even the engine and body. Obviously the WRX’s platform will be inherited from the new Impreza, but it will be radically modified and significantly shortened,” says our source.

The WRX…will employ the very best from Subaru’s parts bin, starting with an updated version of the company’s rally-proven AWD system and a turbocharged boxer engine.

“The first thing you must understand about our all-new WRX is that we have developed it from the ground up to win in motorsports events. That’s why we have focused so heavily on weight issues, not to mention a shorter wheelbase that permits faster, more precise turn-in. Marry that to our proven AWD system, and we think we have a winner”.

On the short list for the WRX’s powerplant is a turbocharged 1.6-liter boxer pumping as much as 270 hp, and a twin-charger system involving a supercharger is being tested as well. The car’s body is rumored to be a little bigger than a Toyota Yaris, while its tread width is said to expand significantly. As for the STI, we are told that the flagship will also employ the WRX’s 1.6-liter boxer turbo, but that the engine will be reworked to generate upwards of 300 hp for motorsport competitiveness.

The notion of an STI with over 187 hp per liter in a street engine is one that strains credulity (why not use at least the 2.0-liter FB20 instead of the 1.6-liter FB16 boxer four?), and I wouldn’t expect a new WRX to look like that latest Subaru Legacy / Honda CRZ mashup by way of Hot Wheels rendering that Holiday Auto came up with. Sure enough, though, as Subaru announced its 2012 model year lineup, we saw the unprecedented offering of a 4th-gen naturally aspirated-only Impreza selling alongside 3rd-gen WRX and STI models. Then, in late October, Diana Kurylko of Automotive News’ story titled Subaru separates performance models from Impreza garnered more widespread attention, even though it was far less detailed than Lyon’s earlier account. Kurylko notes that

Subaru will begin marketing its Impreza WRX and STI performance models separately from the conventional Impreza when the car is redesigned next month.

The “Impreza” name will be dropped for the derivatives, and they will get their own platforms when they are redesigned in 2013.

The WRX and STI variants will continue on the current Impreza platform until the 2013 redesign. The two sporty versions account for 10 to 15 percent of Impreza sales.

(Senior vice president of sales for Subaru of America Bill) Cyphers said the change will allow Subaru to market the WRX and STI more easily as performance cars and to give them interiors and features more appropriate for models that start at about $8,000 more than the Impreza. Cyphers would not give engine or performance details for the 2013 models, but he said the STI will continue to have an engine with 300-plus horsepower.

In his commentary article on the Automotive News story Viknesh Vijayenthiran of Motor Authority takes a stunning flying leap of logic when he suggests that the new Subaru WRX and STI could use an all-wheel drive version of the upcoming BRZ (Scion/Toyota FR-S) platform. Sure, we’ve written plenty about rumored and hoped-for additional Toyota and even Lexus derivatives of FT-86, but never really thought that Subaru might want its own additional offshoots as well. They’re certainly entitled. At the same time, though, even as rumors persist of eventual all-wheel-drive FT-86 platform models, we should remind you that moving the Subaru flat-four engine 4 inches down and 9 inches back (for optimum rear-wheel-drive handling and balance) versus the current Impreza tends to complicate if not preclude adding back the all-wheel-drive.

Hoping for further clarity, this author chatted up Subaru staffers at the 2011 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. They told us that the next Subaru WRX and STI would remain all-wheel-drive, would not be a BRZ derivative and would arrive some time during calendar year 2013 as a 2014 model, thus essentially confirming Lyon’s and Kurylko’s earlier reports and putting the current-generation GE Subaru Impreza WRX Sedan, GH WRX Hatchback and GR WRX STI on a 6-model-year (2008-2013) cycle, just like its immediate GD/GG predecessors.

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