Quick Drive: 2009 Subaru WRX

March 30, 2009

Just posted here at TheCarConnection.com is an updated Full Review covering the 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX. Even though the WRX was just completely redesigned for 2008, our Colin Mathews contributed a new Bottom Line, and we had our research team go back and see what other sources had to say about the 2009 model. Why? Subaru has made a number of important but unseen improvements to the ’08 WRX, which was panned by many reviewers for being just too soft, with an engine tuned more for freeways than for high-rev hairpin exits.

The ’09 Subaru WRX looks virtually the same as the new-generation ’08 model—save for getting the STI’s grille and a few more aggressive cues—but a completely retuned suspension and 41 more horsepower make it worth another drive whether or not you had doubts before.

First, the engine gets a larger turbo, with more peak boost, and the cat and exhaust have been reconfigured to accommodate the heavier breathing. Larger turbos usually bring more pronounced turbo lag—the delay from the time you stomp on the gas until the turbocharger-assisted response—but there’s not so much of a difference here. The ’09 WRX gets 41 more horsepower, but don’t expect much burly character at the bottom of the rev range; you really only feel the difference when you wind the engine well past the 3000-rpm mark—and unlike the former WRX, it keeps building all the way up to redline. Those improvements in higher-rev response (or the larger turbo) somehow serve to exaggerate the engine’s lack of torque in the range below 2000 rpm. Just keep the revs up and you’ll be fine; by the way, if you want an automatic you’ll have to settle for the Impreza 2.5GT, which includes former 224-hp engine.

After sampling the engine’s responses with a week’s worth of around-town errands, I set out to get a better feel of the suspension changes on some of my area’s best (read worst) suspension roads, including a zigzagging ridge road that passes through a fault zone and is full of heaves, patches, and queasy drops, to see if the WRX still feels like a nimble yet practical driver’s car.

2009 Subaru Impreza WRX

2009 Subaru Impreza WRX

To those on a brief test-drive, the WRX won’t feel like the Mitsubishi Evo or Ralliart, or the Mazdaspeed3, or even the Dodge Caliber SRT4. All of those models have jarring rides and lots of cabin noise. In comparison, the WRX has a pretty compliant ride, and there’s initially a fair amount of body lean in moderate corners to discourage you from pushing harder; but once you do you’re rewarded with surprising poise. Throwing the WRX this way and that, through tight, low-speed esses, I found that the suspension does a wonderful job of hanging on over patchy surfaces without flustering occupants and having each impact boom into the cabin; it also unloads neatly. The suspension’s been firmed up a bit (higher spring rate, firmer dampers, larger anti-roll bars), but its layout hasn’t been changed and its best attributes still shine though; the steering communicates the road surface quite well, too.

From a dynamic perspective, it’s really hard to get in trouble in the WRX; despite the phenomenal grip of the suspension paired with Dunlop SP Sport rubber, it gives way progressively into a little bit of understeer before the stability control gently cuts in. You’d have to really provoke the WRX, with the stability control off, revs up and turbo cooking, to rotate the tail, but that much we didn’t try on our damp, tree-lined hairpins. Those who want a little tail-happiness should go straight to the WRX STI, which isn’t that much faster, with its peakier 305 horsepower, but control freaks will love the driver-controlled differential.

Overall, the WRX is now the right choice for performance-minded buyers who want everyday practicality, livability, and drivability. On a second take, Subaru has struck a near-perfect balance with a compliant high-performance suspension. Weekend track junkies will still probably want the STI, but for everyone else, unlike last year, you won’t be left wondering how much better the WRX could be.

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