2010 Subaru WRX Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
November 29, 2009

The 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX and STI may not appeal to everyone; a lack of refinement and poor fuel economy make these poor daily drivers. Despite this, both cars are extremely entertaining, very comfortable, and safe.

The editors of TheCarConnection.com have driven both the sporty 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX and the high-performance WRX STI to bring you their expert take on these enthusiast vehicles here in a Bottom Line. TheCarConnection.com has also consulted what the most authoritative auto critics have written about the Subaru Impreza WRX and STI to produce a conclusive full review that gives you all the pros and cons, along with other choices.

The Subaru Impreza WRX and STI are compact, performance-oriented sedans and hatchbacks based on the mainstream Impreza. Last year, after hordes of loyalists complained about the changes implemented with a 2008 redesign, the WRX was fortified to address concerns that it was too soft and that power delivery wasn't fast and furious enough to fit the Rex's personality. Subaru answered with 41 extra horsepower on the WRX model, wider wheels and tires, and new anti-roll bars.

Styling on the 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX sedan can be summed up in one word: bland. The hatchback, on the other hand, speaks to the rallying heritage of the Impreza with more cohesion. Still, with each successive redesign, the WRX and the STI seem to stray further from their angry, purposeful origins and closer to a mainstream look that’s kinda cute, kinda ugly. Staying on for 2010 is a functional hood scoop that signifies to onlookers that these are the performance variants of the Impreza family. Note that for 2010 the WRX gets a new exterior side sill design.

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A 2.5-liter horizontally opposed "flat" four produces a healthy 265 horsepower in the WRX, while a different version makes 305 horsepower in the STI. One major caveat is a significant dollop of turbo lag, especially below 3,500 rpm where both cars can feel a bit lifeless. Rev it beyond this speed, however, and the engine takes on a completely different personality, happily shoving your cheeks back to your ears as it races to redline. The horizontally opposed engine emits a low rumble at low revs, and much of this noise seeps into the cabin. It becomes increasingly vocal when you keep it in the boost—something we’re sure enthusiasts will love but others may find annoying after some time with the car. The manual gearbox is best at keeping the engine on the boil, but the linkage is a bit balky. The optional four-speed automatic available on the WRX, however, is in desperate need of more gears. Fuel economy leaves much to be desired, but given the performance, you can almost overlook this. The 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX tops out at 25 mpg highway in the mileage stakes and is rated at only 18 mpg in the city. The more powerful STI, meanwhile, gets a 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway rating.

With any sports car, the engine is only part of the story, and this is especially true in the case of the WRX and STI. Subaru engineers have done a sublime job with the suspension tuning. Despite thicker anti-roll bars and stiffer springs being introduced last year, both the WRX and STI soak up bumps, ruts, potholes, and coarse surfaces with aplomb. The ride is beautifully smooth and isolated; the handling wonderfully direct and taut. At highway speeds, apart from a little engine rumble and wind noise from the side mirrors, the cabin is very quiet.

Slide behind the steering wheel of either the WRX or STI and you’re greeted by a well-lit instrument cluster that’s dominated by a large, centrally mounted tachometer. It's flanked on the right by a smaller speedo in Porsche fashion, and all the gauges are clearly marked and readable in an instant—gone are the tacky boy-racer and econo car designs of past generations. A pair of racing-style bucket seats is positioned up front, and while they are incredibly supportive, we did have some qualms. Namely, the seats come with a fixed headrest (the entire seatback is just one long piece) that some testers find uncomfortable. Note that STI model gets more upmarket Alcantara trim, and for 2010, black Alcantara with red stitching replaces last year’s gray and silver stitching. The rear compartment is happily much bigger than the car's tidy exterior dimensions suggest. Headroom in back, a sore spot for most small and even mid-size cars, is fantastic even for those unusually long in the torso. Trunk space is reasonable at 11.3 cubic feet, and fold-down functionality for both sides adds a world of convenience. For both style and practicality, we think the hatchback's the way to go. One issue in the STI especially is that it throws up a bit more road noise and a rather jittery ride.

The 2010 Impreza WRX and STI are two of the safest vehicles in their class, scoring full marks in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) front and driver side impact protection and four stars in all other categories. Additionally, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awards both the 2010 model WRX and STI a "Top Safety Pick" for their good performance in front crash-test protection. On top of that, all Impreza variants come with side impact and side curtain airbags, electronic stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with brake-force distribution and brake assist, and daytime running lamps as standard. Manual models also get hill start assist.

The 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX and STI are a bit on the pricey side, even in base form, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that you get a lot of bang for your buck. You can easily hook up your iPod to the WRX radio's auxiliary port, though true USB compatibility is a stand-alone option. Six speakers come as standard, but opt for the Premium package and you get a much better-sounding 10-speaker system. A subwoofer is available with both options, as is a navigation-and-satellite-radio unit. For 2010 the navigation system also includes Bluetooth wireless capability, with a microphone installed in the overhead console.

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2010 Subaru WRX

Styling

While the styling of the 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX’s and STI’s exterior won’t be to everyone’s tastes, the interior will certainly leave a good impression on most palates.

The styling of Subaru’s cars has always been very distinct, and the exterior of the 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX and STI is just as polarizing as anything else in Subaru’s past. However, TheCarConnection.com's research shows that the interior of the Subaru Impreza WRX and STI, which was redesigned in 2008, is loved by most.

The 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX is available in either sedan or hatchback body styles, while the high-performance Subaru Impreza WRX STI comes exclusively as a hatchback. Reviews of the sedan are average, as Edmunds finds, reporting that "from the rear doors back, the styling screams econobox, with homely taillights" and a wealth of uninspiring trim elements. The hatchback, on the other hand, is a different story; Jalopnik’s testers say that the STI model “isn't what you'd call traditionally handsome," but they praise its "air of purposeful muscularity," which is enhanced by the "wildly flared arches, huge hood scoop and restrained rear wing." In a nod to the unorthodox design, Car and Driver notes that the Subaru Impreza WRX and STI feature "love-it-or-hate-it styling." Jalopnik, meanwhile, laments that "the controversial looks will keep it from mass-market acceptance." The 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX and STI feature one tiny styling change for the latest model year: the addition of a newly designed side sill.

Step inside the 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX or STI and you’ll be forgiven for thinking it was designed by a completely different company. It’s a huge improvement over the rather Spartan interior that characterized previous versions of the Impreza. Jalopnik describes the "swoopy and odd" interior as "positively refreshing," while Edmunds raves that the "legible gauges remained so in practically any lighting situation, with a simple layout centering the large tachometer prominently behind the steering wheel." For buyers eyeing the 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX equipped with the optional navigation system, ConsumerGuide notes that "the navigation system itself is easy to negotiate," something rare in this segment.

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2010 Subaru WRX

Performance

A strong engine with lots of character combined with sure-footed handling and a refined ride mean the 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX and STI remain true enthusiast vehicles.

Last year's improved performance for the WRX was enough to satisfy most reviewers, who had mostly good things to say about the way this sport sedan or hot hatch handles. Meanwhile, the STI's even more impressive performance places it in contention with many more expensive vehicles.

With any sports car, the engine is only part of the story, and this is especially true in the case of the WRX and STI. Subaru engineers have done a sublime job with the suspension tuning. Despite the thicker anti-roll bars and stiffer springs introduced last year, both the WRX and STI soak up bumps, ruts, potholes, and coarse surfaces with aplomb. The ride is beautifully smooth and isolated; the handling is wonderfully direct and taut. At highway speeds, apart from a little engine rumble and wind noise from the side mirrors, things are very quiet in the cabin.

The 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX is much more powerful than the previous models, which Edmunds reviewers attribute to "a larger, STI-based turbocharger, wider-diameter exhaust and less restrictive catalytic converter." Cars.com finds that the engine on the Subaru Impreza WRX is a "265 horsepower, turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 244 pounds-feet of torque," and most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com are positive in regard to the powerplant. Upgrading to the STI model gets owners a "305 horsepower, 2.5-liter H-4," according to Cars.com. Reviewers point out that both engines need to be revved hard to get the most from the engines, with Jalopnik noting that "below 4,000 rpm, you've got nothing, but above that it flies." Car and Driver agrees, advising that, "for max power, the revs need to be above 4000 rpm." Acceleration times for the 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX and STI are impressive. Motor Trend reports 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 there’s much praise for the engines in the 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX and STI, the same can’t be said for the transmissions, which disappoint most reviewers. The Impreza WRX is available with a five-speed manual or an optional four-speed automatic, 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 shortcoming is the shift linkage" 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."

A strength of both the WRX and STI is a symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, but unfortunately, the added traction comes at the cost of fuel economy. Car and Driver warns Subaru Impreza WRX STI owners to expect "frequent fill-ups," and regular WRX owners should take notice too. According to 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 the previous Impreza WRX is criticized for sacrificing too much for the sake of ride comfort. That, however, is corrected with the latest generation, as Edmunds reviewers point out that "beefed-up spring rates and stabilizer bars help” the WRX and STI when it comes to steering accuracy. Jalopnik reports that performance imports like the WRX and STI 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 points out that the 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX’s and STI’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 liveability than Mazda's performance hatch," although ConsumerGuide mentions that the "STI is expectedly stiff and occasionally jarring over bumps."

In terms of stopping power, few cars in this segment are better than the Subaru Impreza WRX and STI. ConsumerGuide says that "stopping control is very good on all models," while Jalopnik describes the brakes as "competent and confidence inspiring."

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2010 Subaru WRX

Comfort & Quality

The 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX has comfortable seating, but cabin materials could still use some improvement, especially considering the STI's price.

The 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX and STI score well when it comes to versatility and passenger room, but a few of the reviews read by TheCarConnection.com note some materials quality issues.

Both the sedan and hatchback versions of the Subaru Impreza WRX and STI offer seating for five, though larger adults may find long trips a bit of a struggle. Jalopnik reviewers claim that the Subaru Impreza WRX's "Alcantara-covered Recaro seats look great and feel better, and any true driver's car that can accommodate four adults in comfort is a winner in our book." Edmunds similarly notes that "front seating is pleasantly comfortable, even during long stints behind the wheel" of the Subaru Impreza WRX STI. In back, Edmunds reports that "the seats provide ample headroom.”

In addition to a comfortable cabin, the 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX and STI boast a respectable amount of usable cargo room—on the hatchbacks, at least. Car and Driver finds that the Subaru Impreza WRX STI is "a practical hatchback packed in flaring fenders," with Cars.com mentioning the available "19 cubic feet" of cargo space, which is "competitive with the competition." However, for those sticking with the rather mundane-looking Subaru Impreza WRX sedan, Edmunds warns that "in terms of cargo space, the WRX comes up short—not just because of the fairly small trunk (10 cubic feet), but due to an uneven and sloped floor." In addition to the rear storage space, both versions of the Subaru Impreza WRX offer a small amount of interior storage, although ConsumerGuide notes that "interior storage is poor with a small center console and just average glovebox and door map pockets."

One area where Subaru has traditionally trailed its competitors is in terms of materials quality. While most reviewers appreciate the improvements made—especially with the WRX's 2008 redesign—Edmunds cautions that, "upon closer inspection, the plastic surfaces (which have the appearance of softer-touch materials) are actually textured hard plastic that seems to amplify the relatively low amount of road noise." Cars.com also reports that the Subaru Impreza WRX STI and regular WRX feature "relatively Spartan cabins with decent but not great materials quality." Finally, ConsumerGuide points out that, "while the materials look nice and show good assembly quality, they're comprised mainly of cheap feeling, hard plastic."

On the positive side, as some of the reviews have shown, overall assembly quality is fine on the Subaru Impreza WRX and STI. However, that's not necessarily reflected in terms of road noise. ConsumerGuide reviewers note that "the hatchback is particularly susceptible to wind, road, and bump noise."

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2010 Subaru WRX

Safety

Subaru is a leader when it comes to safety, and it’s no surprise that the 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX and STI are packed with the latest safety gear.

Subaru has built its reputation, at least in recent years, on two key attributes: safety and performance. Not surprisingly, safety is a strong point for the 2010 Impreza WRX and STI, and almost all reviews read by TheCarConnection.com praise the high crash-test scores.

Few vehicles rate as highly as the 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX and STI when it comes to crash-test scores—both sedan and hatchback. The Subaru Impreza WRX earns the IIHS's highest rating of "good" in both frontal offset and side impact tests on its way to being named an IIHS Top Safety Pick for 2010. The IIHS reports that the Subaru Impreza WRX's "good performance in front, side, and rear tests and standard electronic stability control" as the primary reasons for the award. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also rates the Subaru Impreza WRX and STI very highly. In the agency’s testing, the Subaru Impreza WRX earns perfect five-star ratings in both frontal impact categories and the side driver impact category, and four of five stars for the side passenger impact category.

The high crash-test ratings of the Impreza WRX and STI are just part of the story. Both models boast a number of standard safety features that work to keep occupants out of harm's way. To start, Edmunds notes that "from behind the wheel, outward visibility in our 2010 Subaru WRX Sedan Premium test car is excellent.” Cars.com reports that "all Imprezas include an impressive array of safety features," such as "standard side impact and side-curtain airbags, standard electronic stability system with traction control, standard antilock brakes with brake-force distribution and brake assist, [and] standard incline-start assist." Finally, as with any Subaru model, standard all-wheel drive proves invaluable during inclement weather.

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2010 Subaru WRX

Features

Now that the nav system includes a Bluetooth hands-free interface, the 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX and STI offer all of the most popular features and options, though you'll have to pay extra for many of them.

The 2010 Subaru Impreza WRX and STI are a bit on the pricey side, even in base form, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that you get a lot of bang for your buck.

In base form, both the Subaru Impreza WRX and STI come very well equipped. Jalopnik’s testers note that the standard "Stereo with Aux input sounds pretty good...but you won't want to turn it on [since] it covers up the engine noise," which they happen to be quite fond of. The base stereo, according to Edmunds, features "80 watts stereo output [and] four total speakers," as well as "speed sensitive volume control."

You can easily hook up your iPod to the WRX radio's auxiliary port, though true USB compatibility is a stand-alone option. Six speakers come as standard, but opt for the Premium package and you get a much better-sounding 10-speaker system. A subwoofer is available with both options, as is a navigation-and-satellite-radio unit.

For those interested in the high-powered Subaru Impreza WRX STI, ConsumerGuide points out several extras, including "Leather/Alcantara upholstery, AM/FM radio w/in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 changer, [and] steering wheel radio controls."

There is a generous list of options, though these can be a little pricey. The major optional item, according to ConsumerGuide, is the Satellite and Navigation Package for $2,000 that adds a "navigation system, satellite radio, [and] wireless cell phone link" for Bluetooth-equipped phones. For 2010, the navigation system also includes a microphone in the overhead console. One of the more unique features of this setup, as noted by Jalopnik, is that, "with the navigation system, the center console provides an input for MP3 players as well as RCA-type video jacks that can accommodate portable gaming devices," which display on the navigation screen anytime the vehicle is parked.

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8.2
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Styling 7
Performance 9
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 9
Features 8
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