Expert reviewers at TheCarConnection.com consulted what the most authoritative auto critics have written about the 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX to produce this conclusive review. TheCarConnection.com editors also drove the Subaru Impreza WRX, and its high-performance variant, the WRX STI in order to interweave their expert opinion and help you make the right decision on a new vehicle.
The 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX has been substantially fortified after rally fans cried foul with the release of the '08 redesign. The '08 had morphed into a cushy GT with not particularly impressive power or traction; the '09 gains 41 horsepower, wider wheels/tires, and some stout anti-roll bars to right those wrongs. The '08 redesign's bonuses are still there: hugely improved interior feel and style, and a ride that magically blends comfort with tenacious handling.
Styling on the 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX sedan is ho-hum; the hatchback speaks to the sporty rally history with more cohesion. Still, with each successive redesign, the WRX seems to stray further from its angry, purposeful origins and closer to the amorphous world of the kinda-cute, kinda-ugly small car. A mammoth (but blessedly functional) hood scoop signals the insane levels of boost and thrust this little rocket contains, but it flutters curiously at speed.
Just one engine powers the Subaru Impreza WRX: the trademark horizontally opposed (flat) four-cylinder. At 2.5 liters and with 16 valves and dual overhead cams, the engine features a larger turbo for '09 that huffs out an additional 41 horses for a total of 265 hp. Alas, bigger turbos take longer to spool up, and as such, the engine can feel a bit lifeless below 3,500 rpm. Above that speed, however, the engine will happily shove your cheeks back to your ears. Thankfully, only a five-speed manual transmission is offered, a good ally to keep the engine on boost.
Fuel economy is a little disappointing for a small car. The 2009 WRX tops out at 25 mpg highway in the mileage game and is rated at only 18 mpg in the city. Also, while some of our testers like the smoothly thrumming four (the boxer four lacks much of the vibration inherent in an inline-four layout) and its low, growling sound, it is not a quiet engine by any means. It becomes increasingly vocal when you keep it in the boost. Enthusiasts will love all of the mechanical whirring; commuters might soon grow weary.
Scoring a coup in the refinement department, however, is the suspension. Despite thicker anti-roll bars for 2009 that work wonders with the tight, direct steering and low-profile tires, this Subaru soaks up bumps, ruts, potholes, and coarse surfaces with nonchalance. The ride is beautifully smooth and isolated; the handling wonderfully direct and taut. As well, it's nice and quiet inside apart from some wind rush around the A-pillars. Watch the speedo and rearview carefully; 90 mph feels and sounds like 65 in the 2009 Subaru WRX. Someone's been taking notes from BMW.
The 2009 Subaru WRX STI is an even meaner animal, with an especially edgy, high-performance demeanor. It gets a high-boost, 305-horsepower version of the 2.5-liter and is only offered with the six-speed manual, plus a number of suspension and chassis improvements that make it a hoot to drive on racetracks or curvy mountain roads. Unfortunately the STi has quite a bit more road noise and a rather jittery ride; it's just refined enough for enthusiasts to drive daily.
Front and center in the instrument cluster is the large tachometer; it's flanked on the right by a smaller speedo in Porsche fashion. All gauges are clearly marked and readable in an instant; none of the boy-racer silliness from past versions (or econ-car cheapness) makes its way past the '08 Impreza interior redesign.
Race-style seats are very supportive and quite comfortable in the front. The only nit we picked was an odd fixed headrest (the entire seatback is just one long piece) that canted some tester's heads uncomfortably forward. The rear compartment is happily much bigger than the car's tidy exterior dimensions suggest. Headroom back there, a sore spot for most small and even mid-size sedans, is fantastic even for those unusually long in the torso. Trunk space is middling at 11.3 cubic feet, and fold-down functionality for both sides makes it a cinch to tote the skis and snowboards the 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX is sure to carry. For both style and practicality, we think the hatchback's the way to go.
You can easily hook up your iPod to the WRX radio's auxiliary port, though true USB compatibility is a stand-alone option for a reasonable (and worthwhile) $159.95. The Premium package brings, among other niceties, a ten-speaker surround sound system (a navigation-and-satellite-radio unit is optional). Six speakers power the base system, and a subwoofer is optional for both radios if you gotta have more thump.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Impreza, upon which the 2009 WRX is built, a perfect five-star rating for front and driver side impact protection and four stars in all other categories; the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates it "good" in front crash-test protection and ranks it a Top Safety Pick for the category. All told, this vehicle is one of the safest in its class. Standard anti-lock brakes, all-wheel drive, acceleration to escape dicey situations, and confidence-inspiring handling make the WRX less likely to experience an accident to begin with.
- Furious high-rev power, especially from STi
- Comfortable, pleasant interior
- Great steering feel
- Compliant ride
- All-wheel-drive versatility
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- Engine noise at higher rpm
- Ropy shifter (manual transmission)
- Fuel economy
- Optional automatic has only four ratios
- STi is priced like a BMW