The guys at Subaru PR aren't dummies. They know how to set up bowling pins and knock them over. When introducing the significantly revised 2009 Subaru WRX to the press, they had us drive the new 2009 Subaru Impreza GT first.
The Impreza GT for 2009 is essentially the 2008 WRX. Follow? Media types and WRX enthusiasts have panned the 2008 WRX for being un-WRX-like: too soft, too comfortable, too mainline, too conservative. So we drove what is now called the Impreza GT, and for an Impreza, it's just fine. Then we drove the 2009 WRX. With 265 horsepower (41 hp more than the 2008 WRX and 2009 Impreza GT), the added power is felt immediately. Beyond power, everything is sharper and more focused. Our takeaway? The WRX is back.
Subaru is a small company, and its teams in the U.S. and Japan listened to the chorus of criticism regarding the 2008 WRX. Compared to the likes of Toyota or General Motors, Subaru's small size helped it to quickly divine and execute a solution.
Now the 2009 Impreza line looks like this; Impreza 2.5i, GT, WRX, and STI. All but the STI are available in four-door sedan and the shorter five-door wagonette. The 2.5i makes 170 horsepower; the GT, 224 hp; the WRX, 265 hp; and the mighty STI, 305 hp.
Outside, there 2009 Subaru WRX looks a lot like the 2008—a shape that was all new last year. To differentiate the 2009 WRX from the GT (a good idea), the WRX sports an aero package, unique alloy wheels, and specific spoilers. Inside, the interior gets spiffed up with black upholstery featuring red seam stitching.
The turbocharged 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder produces 41 more horsepower due to a host of changes, including a larger turbocharger, higher max-boost limits (13.3 psi vs. 11.4 psi), and a bigger intercooler. While more power is always a good thing, it's the way the flat-four delivers the power that we like so much. The power comes on early so there's no turbo lag, but there is a ramp-up effect to the oomph. Technically, the power curve isn't linear, and the car has more personality because of it.
Zero to 60 mph comes up in approximately 5.4 seconds, a time aided by Subaru's trademark all-wheel drive that splits the engine's 244 pound-feet of peak torque 50:50 between the front and rear wheels. The sprint is accomplished 1.5 seconds quicker than last year's WRX and the 2009 GT. The WRX only comes with a five-speed manual gearbox. If you want an automatic (a four-speed), you'll need to settle for the Impreza GT. The WRX's power gains exacted a tiny toll on fuel economy, which now stands at 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway, only 1 mpg less in the city cycle than in 2008.
Unlike most other performance vehicles, the WRX is as accomplished off-road as it is on the pavement. We drove a gravel-road rally stage in a stock WRX equipped shod with knobby tires and found the car to be tossable, controllable, and frighteningly quick on a road surface so rough and loose that I wouldn't have wanted to drive a "normal" vehicle more than about 20 mph. In the WRX, we hit 50-plus mph and lived to tell.
Inside the WRX, things are as comfortable as any other Impreza. The space is roomy with an excess of headroom. Materials and fit-and-finish are good for a car in this class. The little touches added to the WRX's interior (over the GT) inject some visual pizzazz. The rear seat is comfortable for two and three in a pinch. The rear seat backs fold in both models, but there is an odd hump in the pass-through of the sedan restricting the height of cargo that can be stuffed in that space.
Regarding safety, Subaru is Japan's Volvo. Along with standard all-wheel drive, the WRX includes these standard safety features; anti-lock brakes, traction control, vehicle dynamic control, remote keyless entry, and six airbags (side curtains extend into the rear compartment). The WRX's instrumentation is a two-tiered affair, with analog gauges in front of the driver, and LEDs on the dash's top-center section. The LEDs were easy to read, but at times the red-on-black markings on the gauges were difficult to decipher. Plus there's no boost gauge, although Subaru does offer one as a stand-alone accessory.
In terms of features, the WRX is well equipped. Subaru addresses interior details like few other manufacturers. One item we particularly like is the lighted ring around the ignition switch. In addition to the standard play-every-format-on-a-CD audio system, air filtration system, custom LED interior illumination, and outside temperature display, there's available navigation system with video inputs. One conspicuous omission in this age of iPods is a USB interface. While all manner of MP3 players can pipe a signal into the sound system via the Aux input, Subaru doesn't offer any way to fully integrate an MP3 player like some other manufacturers (Ford's SYNC and Chrysler's Uconnect come to mind).
With the 2009 Subaru WRX, the faithful can rejoice that their hero has returned anew, better than ever, and ready to rumble.