2008 was a major disappointment for Subaru Impreza WRX fans, as the WRX lineup lost some of its enthusiast appeal and was refocused toward general buyers. A loud chorus of complaints from WRX fans led Subaru to rethink the 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX, and the result is a much more WRX-like, and significantly more capable, hatchback and sedan lineup.
The 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX is much more powerful than last year's model, which Edmunds reviewers attribute to "a larger, STi-based turbocharger, wider-diameter exhaust and less restrictive catalytic converter." The total power boost, according to Edmunds, is "a welcome 18 percent gain in horsepower." Cars.com reports that the engine on the Subaru Impreza WRX is a "265-hp, turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 244 pounds-feet of torque," and reviews read by TheCarConnection.com simply rave about this new powerplant. Meanwhile, the Subaru Impreza WRX STi gets a "305-hp, 2.5-liter H-4," according to Cars.com. Reviewers point out that both engines need to be revved hard to get solid power, with Jalopnik warning that "below 4,000rpm, you've got nothing, but above that it flies." Car and Driver agrees, noting that, "for max power, the revs need to be above 4000 rpm." Zero-to-60 mph times for the 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX are rather impressive, all things considered—Motor Trend states that "sixty mph comes in 4.8 sec, and the five-door, five-passenger hatchback we tested covered a quarter mile in 13.5 sec at 101.1 mph." The Subaru Impreza WRX STi is slightly quicker on both counts, thanks to its extra 40 horsepower.
While the engines that underpin the 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX lineup's performance numbers earn high marks for their high-rev performance, some reviewers find fault with the transmission. The only available transmission on the Subaru Impreza WRX is a five-speed manual, while Cars.com points out that the Subaru Impreza WRX STi is available exclusively with a "six-speed manual w/OD." Jalopnik reviewers report that the transmission is "notchy, requiring a firm, accurate throw," although the "clutch is surprisingly light." Motor Trend laments that "the biggest—some might say only—shortcoming is the shift linkage, which feels the same as last year" for the regular Subaru Impreza WRX, although ConsumerGuide praises the Subaru Impreza WRX STi for the fact that "its shift and clutch action are smooth and precise."
One of Subaru's corporate trademarks is the fact that all-wheel drive comes standard on every model. This feature, part of Subaru's rally-racing heritage, is great for handling and overall performance but takes its toll on fuel economy. Car and Driver warns Subaru Impreza WRX STi owners to expect "frequent fill-ups," and regular WRX owners don't have it much better. According to the official EPA estimates, the Subaru Impreza WRX should return 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, while the Subaru Impreza WRX STi gets just 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.
The handling of last year’s WRX was heavily criticized for sacrificing too much for the sake of ride comfort. Fortunately, that also has been corrected this year, as Edmunds reviewers point out that "beefed-up spring rates and stabilizer bars help the 2009 Subaru WRX correct last year's mushy and uninspiring handling." Jalopnik reports that these performance imports are "ultimately extremely capable, but pushing it hard initially requires an unnatural level of trust as the chassis lacks that nth degree of feedback." Edmunds also remarks that the 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX's "steering, while precise, could stand to gain a bit more resistance and feedback." Ride quality isn't great, but Cars.com does note that the Subaru Impreza WRX "offers better everyday livability than Mazda's performance hatch," although ConsumerGuide mentions that the "STi is expectedly stiff and occasionally jarring over bumps." When it comes time to stop, few cars do it better than the Subaru Impreza WRX lineup—ConsumerGuide says that "stopping control is very good on all models," while Jalopnik refers to the brakes as "competent and confidence inspiring."