That didn't take long. After Mitsubishi finally unveiled a WRX-fighter with its 2009 Lancer Ralliart, Subaru has countered with an upgraded WRX as well as a new model that picks up where the old one left off.
It seems Subaru couldn't leave well enough alone. Once the engineers started fiddling with one aspect of the WRX, it lead to another, and another. The Japanese call this process Kyo-Ka, which translates to "strengthening." We call it fixing something that ain't broke.
What of the former unstrengthened WRX? It's been repackaged as a new model, dubbed Impreza 2.5GT.
Building a Better WRX
The first step toward a stronger WRX is getting more power from its 2.5-liter turbocharged boxer engine. A new, larger turbocharger works with a larger-diameter exhaust and freer-flowing catalytic converter to boost output to 265 hp and 244 lb-ft of torque, up from 224 hp and 226 lb-ft in 2008 models. The WRX will now only be offered with a five-speed manual transmission - those looking for an automatic will have to settle for the new 2.5GT model.
With greater power comes a greater need for traction, so wider tires will be fitted to the WRX's 17-inch wheels. New 225/45R17 summer performance tires take the place of the 205/50R17 all-seasons that were previously offered.
Increased power and wider tires will surely influence handling, which is why Subaru gave the suspension some strengthening as well. Spring rates have been increased all around - by 43 percent up front and 42 percent in the rear. The front and rear anti-roll bars each get a 1-mm increase in diameter and now measure 21 mm in front and 16 mm at the rear. The front upper damper mounts are now borrowed from the WRX STI.
Subaru will make it easy to tell a 2009 WRX apart from the 2008 model. Changes start up front where an STI-type grille resides. The Aero Package - formerly part of the WRX Premium Package - is now standard and includes side skirts as well as front and rear under-bumper spoilers. WRX sedans continue to wear a low-profile trunk-mount spoiler, while the five-door now gets the STI's hatch spoiler. Though the 10-spoke, 17-inch wheels are carryovers, they'll get a coat of dark gray paint. WRX interiors will now feature carbon black checkered upholstery offset by red stitching, and the aforementioned Premium Package now includes a power moonroof.
Introducing the Impreza 2.5GT
Lest all of those old WRX parts go to waste, Subaru has repackaged them in the 2.5GT. Engine specs are identical to the 2008 WRX, namely 224 hp and 226 lb-ft. As mentioned before, the 2.5GT will only be available with an automatic, which means it will use Subaru's electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system - the manual-only WRX uses a viscous-coupling locking center differential. Suspension specs match those of the pre-strengthened WRX. The 2.5GT looks like the outgoing WRX on the outside, and gets that car's cast-off interior as well. It will be available in both sedan and hatchback bodystyles.
How will Mitsubishi respond to Subaru's latest addition to the turbo all-wheel-drive wars? If more strength is what Mitsubishi is after, we'd welcome a Lancer Evolution with the 354-hp engine from its FQ-360 overseas. There's nothing like friendly competition, and, whatever the answer, we don't expect Subaru's latest salvo to go unanswered for very long.