2009 Subaru Impreza WRX Review

Not new, but definitely improved

2009 Subaru Impreza WRX Review

Last year if you wanted a serious performance machine from Subaru there was really only one option, the wickedly fast and genuinely expensive WRX STI. But after releasing the newly redesigned line of Imprezas in 2008, Suby went back to the engineering department for 2009, asking for a little more from the mid-level WRX. And they got it!

FAST FACTS

1. For 2009 the WRX gets more power, a stiffer suspension and some STI aero bits.

2. Output is rated at 265hp and 244 ft-lbs, up from 224hp and 226 ft-lbs.

3. WRX models are priced from just $24,995 ($33,395 CDN), roughly $10,000 less than the STI.

Now for a base price that’s almost $10,000 less than the STI you can get a WRX that delivers serious performance thrills.

One of the main reasons for this is the WRX’s added output, with horsepower increasing from 224hp to 265hp and torque rising from 226 ft-lbs to 244 ft-lbs. This was achieved through the use of a larger turbocharger and more boost pressure, as well as a larger diameter exhaust system and high-flow catalytic converter.

The added power makes for a slight decrease in fuel-economy around town, while highway mileage improves. The 2009 WRX is rated at 18/25 mpg (city/highway) versus 19/24 mpg for the ’08 model.

When mated to a five-speed manual transmission the Suby’s flat-four absolutely rockets the car to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds, which is about a second and a half faster than last year’s model. While we give kudos to Subaru for only offering the WRX with an enthusiast-friendly manual transmission, the five-cog box seems a bit rudimentary. We’d love a six-speed unit that would not only improve acceleration further, but would also improve fuel-economy and give a more relaxed feel out on the highway. But then no one would buy an STI.

As this is a turbocharged motor, you don’t get the full experience of power until 4000 rpm when full torque kicks in. Still, this car is wickedly fast even in first gear. When the tach hits four grand, were it not for the WRX’s amazing AWD system, this thing would simply cook tires.

Speaking of tires, the WRX has even more grip than before, thanks to significantly wider rubber. Instead of the old 205/50/17 no-season junkers, the new model gets 225/45/17 high performance summer rubber.

So just point the WRX in the direction you want to go, mash the throttle and hold on. The now-standard Vehicle Dynamics Control (a combined traction and stability control system), will keep the tires in check. Or switch it off for some real fun.

MORE PERFORMANCE BANG FOR YOUR BUCK

Responding to complaints in 2008 that the car’s handling was as toned-down as its look, Subaru has tightened things up considerably for ‘09.

Along with new shock settings, the front springs are now 43 percent stiffer and the rears are 42 percent stiffer. Sway bars have also been thickened by 1mm each and now measure 21mm in the front and 16mm in the rear.

There is noticeably less body roll in the corners and for an AWD car it exhibits far less understeer than expected. With some careful throttle modulation it’s easy to add extra grip to the rear tires and slice a precise line through a corner.

Unfortunately, with all the suspension changes the WRX seems to have the same old ride-height, with enough wheel gap to go rally racing.

SOFTER LOOK GETS STI-TREATMENT FOR 2009

Now last year’s redesigned Impreza drew complaints from hypocrites everywhere, saying that the car’s styling was too soft. They, no doubt, were the same folks who critiqued Suby’s earlier provocative looks.

For ’09 the WRX keeps all the nice soft lines and great Euro hot-hatch look and adds some STI details that work perfectly with the dark-painted 17-inch wheels and that massive hood scoop.

Sedan models aren’t so lucky, but the five-door hatch gets an STI-styled front grille, rear spoiler and aggressive rear diffuser. The formerly-optional aero package is now also standard equipment.

Maybe I’m just a sucker for hatchbacks, but the WRX is an impressive looking machine from most any angle, especially out back. I even like the boy-racer white taillights. The only thing that’s missing is a nice dual exhaust setup, something that does come on the sedan.

RACE-INSPIRED, BUT OTHERWISE ECONOMICAL INTERIOR

In the fashion of squeezing powerful engines into small cars, the WRX retains much of the Impreza’s simple and economical interior. And yet in true Japanese style, the simple interior is still very nice. With just a few silver plastic accents in the right places it helps to class-up the joint.

The obvious goodies include black-checkered upholstery with red stitching on two very well bolstered seats. Aluminum pedals also stand out, as does the red stitching on the leather steering wheel.

The sporty three-spoke wheel gets a few silver accents and features cruise controls as well as redundant audio controls. Other standard features include power windows and locks with remote entry and a four-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system with MP3/WMA playback capability.

An upgraded 10-speaker audio system comes as part of a Premium Package, something we recommend more for its cold-weather attributes. These include two-mode heated front seats, heated mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer – a simple bit of technology that can really make a difference in winter driving, to which the WRX is so well suited.

Rear seat room is actually quite spacious and thanks to the placement of the doors, getting in and out is incredibly easy. And all that rear seat room doesn’t impinge on cargo room with an impressive 19 cubic feet of space with the seats up and 44 cu.-ft. with the rear seats folded. Unfortunately the trunk space isn’t carpeted, meaning all your stuff will slide around and break while you toss the WRX into corners with blissful ignorance.

THE DRIVE

I’ve already gushed about the WRX’s acceleration, but there’s more to the car than that. It’s one of those vehicles where there really isn’t anything wrong, but there are ways it could be a little better.

The gearbox is a good place to start. Along with it “just” being a five-speed, both the length of the stick and the throws are considerably longer than they should be on such a car.

As for the clutch pedal, it’s quite heavy, and while that’s not likely to bother anyone during normal use, it could induce leg cramps if the freeway turns into a parking lot. On the up-side, the layout of the pedals is perfect for a little heel-toe action, something most other automakers (besides BMW) never seem to get right.

Something else potential buyers really should remember about the WRX is that despite it’s amazing performance it is, by definition, a highly modified Impreza. That is to say, it’s a glorified economy car. Don’t look for doors that thud like a Mercedes or an Audi S4, you won’t find them here. If you want that, and this level of performance, you’ll have to look at what the German’s have to offer… and you’ll pay for it.

To many, I suspect, the hopped-up economy car aspect is more of a turn-on than a drawback, especially when it comes to the sticker price. As it stands, the WRX is a bargain, starting at $24,995 (33,395 CDN) and coming in at $27,495 for the Premium model.

In pretty much every other way the WRX performs impeccably and had me wishing there was one permanently parked in my driveway.

THE VERDICT

When compared to its main Mitsubishi rival, the Lancer Ralliart Sportback, power output is pretty much equal, although the WRX gets to 60 mph faster. Cargo room is about the same, as is the fuel economy rating – although we should note that in our test the WRX came in well above the EPA rating, posting an average of 25 mpg (which is the number the EPA lists for highway mileage).

If there’s any drawback to the WRX, it’s that you can’t get it with an automatic transmission. As mentioned earlier, we like the enthusiast approach but no doubt an auto-box would help move more units.

Last year the WRX didn’t hold a candle to the Lancer Ralliart and with Mitsubishi bringing the Sportback model to market for 2010, Subaru was faced with a competitor that has the same functionality and better performance. The ’09 WRX changes all that and puts Subaru back on a level playing field.

RELATED READING

2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart Sportback: First Drive

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