2009 Subaru Impreza WRX

Oh, but those peak numbers tell only part of the story. From behind the wheel, the new engine's manic pull to redline feels nothing like last year's asthmatic lump. Whereas that engine fell on its face suddenly over 5500 rpm, the new engine pulls hard right to its 6400-rpm fuel-cut, STI-style. The difference is monumental - the new engine makes more than 70 hp and 60 lb-ft of torque more than the old one at redline. Although its power peak is well short of the STI's 305 hp, the WRX weighs some 220 pounds less than the STI, and it feels almost as quick.

Of course, the STI is still the king of the Impreza line. The WRX makes do without the STI's flared fenders, nineteen-inch wheels, limited-slip differential, DCCD and SI-Drive driver-adjustable systems, six-speed manual (the WRX has only five forward gears), or Brembo brakes. Then again, the STI is available as a five-door only; if you want a conventional sedan, the WRX is your only choice.

Well, not quite - last year's WRX continues on for 2009, now called the Impreza 2.5 GT. It comes with a slow-shifting, decidedly unsporty four-speed automatic transmission that admittedly fits the car's personality. It uses last year's WRX engine and suspension. The resulting 2009 Impreza lineup makes much more sense - the base, normally aspirated 2.5i model complementing the 2.5 GT for non-sporty drivers; and the WRX and WRX STI for the kids (or kids at heart) who want some fun.

The WRX isn't perfect - the sedan in particular is not easy on the eyes. The five-speed manual is a little vague in its action, which is particularly disappointing because the STI's six-speed is bolt-action precise. The WRXdam still suffers from occasionally violent steering kickback over midcorner bumps, and its brakes fade quickly on back roads. Like all 2.5-liter Subarus we've tested, the engine is surge-y and suffers from significant turbo lag. The revised suspension rides wonderfully, but insufficient rebound dampening leads to wallowing during spirited driving. As a package, though, the WRX is finally back to what it always was - a fun, quick, and nimble four-wheel-drive compact car. And it remains an inexpensive one: we expect the WRX to start at less than $25,000, only a modest price increase for a major increase in personality.

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