From the July 2009 issue of Automobile Magazine
by Amy Skogstrom
, Andrew Peterson, David Zenlea
, Eric Tingwall, Evan McCausland
, Jeffrey Jablansky, Joe DeMatio
, Mike Ofiara, Phil Floraday
, Rusty Blackwell
Photographs by: Andrew Trahan
The $295 for this WRX's STI short-throw five-speed manual seems like money well-spent. This was the first thing I noticed when I wheeled the Impreza WRX out of our parking structure: the lovely gearshifter action and clutch-pedal take-up. A great manual transmission really can make your day.
Overall, this car feels so much more grown-up, and in a good way, than the ratty-tatty first-generation WRX. There's enough refinement here to satisfy someone who really wanted a BMW, but couldn't afford it - not that $33K for this Subaru is exactly cheap.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
Wow, I haven't sampled a WRX since Subaru bumped up the engine's power last summer. The increase in horsepower and torque really makes this car more fun to drive, and the boom from the SPT exhaust system gives you an extra reason to run the engine up to redline. I didn't drive the car hard enough to really make any judgments on the effectiveness of the chassis upgrades, but I took one off ramp fast enough to experience a little lift-throttle oversteer. Childish, but fun.
Other than the STI front lip, this white WRX is a great little sleeper. It doesn't look as fast or as fun as it actually is, though it's still not an STI. Given the practicality of the hatch, I can immediately see how someone would choose the WRX over a Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, at least until we get the Sportback variety here. Even then, Mitsubishi doesn't have a line of parts to compete with SPT. If you can't afford a new WRX, you can still buy SPT parts for a late-model car. That's a very smart move on Subaru's part.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
As a wagon lover, the WRX hatchback is a dream car: big power, reasonable price, and practicality in a fun-to-drive package. Yes, you can get more power with the STI, but let's be honest: 265 hp is plenty in a compact wagon. Excellent handling and steering complete the sporty package. I'm rather fond of the WRX shape. It's a shame that Subaru has botched the styling with minor elements like the front fascia and those huge clear tail lamps.
Clutch feel is excellent and the short throws of the STI five-speed stick are great for quick driving. But I still think there's room for improvement. Moving the shifter into or out of a gear requires a forceful push or tug and is fairly notchy. Combined with a tight shift pattern, these traits really make it easy to flub a gear change, especially when driving casually.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
I don't think people these days properly appreciate the sheer quantity of really fast and affordable cars presently on the market. Recession and fuel concerns notwithstanding, a guy or gal of reasonable means can choose from more than a dozen performance machines that will carve corners and do sub-six second 0-to-60-mph times without breaking a sweat. As a result of this veritable cornucopia of Ford Mustangs, Nissan 370Zs, and Dodge Chargers, some really good cars somehow become lost in the mix.
I think the current WRX is a perfect example of such a car. It is more or less dismissed by many enthusiasts for a variety of reasons - not as hardcore as the original, not close enough to the mighty STI, not enough power - that miss the fact that this is a whole lot of fun for not a lot of money.
Our tester, loaded with $32,779 in tasty go-fast options, was a total blast on the back roads. Precise, nicely weighted steering matches up with a similarly well-weighted clutch pedal for a wonderful tactile experience. As Phil noted, it's easy to get the back end to step out, but all you have to do to rein it in is stab the throttle a bit and let all-wheel drive sort everything out. Add in a wonderful, snarling exhaust note, and you have a car that allows you to pretend you know what you're doing without getting into too much trouble.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
This WRX is all about the burbly, racy exhaust note! The sound is well worth the $800 that this SPT add-on costs. It's quite hard to overshadow the overall performance of the revised Impreza WRX, but that exhaust note is the easily strongest impression that I took away from my drive in this car.
Being a huge fan of stick-shift wagons, I wish I could say that same about the gearbox, but like some of my colleagues, I found the action to be a bit sloppy. I typically adore notchy Japanese gearboxes like those in so many Hondas and Mitsubishis, but I got lost in this vague-ish H-pattern on more than one occasion.
I'm not usually a fan of white cars, but this rally wagon might sneak under the radar as a bit of a sleeper. That's never a bad thing in a car that compels you to drive much more enthusiastically than you ought to.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I have to say that I feel exactly the opposite of Rusty - the exhaust note doesn't do that much for me but I like the short-throw shifter. This is tempered by the fact that my time with the WRX was limited to around-town runs to the grocery store and the golf course, plus a couple of thirty-mile stints on the freeway. In that type of driving, a racy exhaust note wasn't exactly high on the desirability list.
I'm a big fan of hatchbacks, and in the WRX the rear seats are a cinch to fold down - the seatbacks themselves are superlight and can be lowered and raised with one hand.
I've heard some grumbling about the styling of the WRX, but it has a very attractive side profile and looks nice in white, as in this example.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
After loudly extolling the virtues of the Four Seasons Mitsubishi Evo, I found myself puzzled, as to whether I felt the same about this tarted-up version of the Impreza WRX. Sure, it has a horsepower bump over the WRX (275 v. 265), but it's a piddling increase compared to the STI's 30-hp advantage. I'm not really a fan of go-fast appearance packages, save for Audi's S-line, and it seems that's what the SPT designation brings to the WRX.
For what it's worth, it was a hoot to drive, as much at home on the highway as it was carving up--er, gently guiding around corners for beauty shots--Belle Isle just outside Detroit. The high-revving engine is matched well to a balanced clutch and an excellent driver compartment.
As far as efficiency goes, Phil is definitely right, but I'd take the hatchback/wagon over the awkward the Impreza sedan any day.
Jeffrey Jablansky, Intern
I join Tingwall as a wagon lover here, and like the styling and practicality of the WRX hatchback. The car has plenty of power to make it fun on the back roads and has handling and nicely weighted steering to match.
The transmission and clutch have a very good feel to them, but occasionally the transmission would not want to go into fourth gear (don't know if anyone else experienced a similar problem). Reverse on this car is also annoying as it is not right below fifth, it's offset a little to the left and occasionally takes some time to find. Filling this car up is unusual as well. The fuel pump disengages extremely late and gasoline comes spilling out onto the ground or your shoes.
Overall, this is a very good car at a very reasonable price. The manual transmission on this car makes it far more engaging to drive than our 4S Lancer Evo. For now, I would have to say that I would take the WRX over the Evo. But if the Evo Sportback does in fact find its way over with a manual transmission, I might change my mind.
Andrew Peterson, Intern
Factory performance parts just don't do anything for me. $800 for an exhaust, $370 for a lip spoiler, $230 for a front strut-tower brace, are you kidding me? As an aftermarket parts junkie myself, I can appreciate the great sound of a boxer engine with a free-flow exhaust as much as anybody. But you can almost duplicate the same sound and power people are raving about here by going to any muffler shop and having one of the middle mufflers taken out and replaced with a straight pipe for about $50.
With over $2000 in Subaru performance parts added on (not including installation), this WRX is shockingly priced only $2200 shy of a base STI, which comes standard with everything you're trying to achieve: more power, and better handling, plus more.
With a base price of $30,690, I feel the WRX is overpriced for its intended audience. If I were going to buy this vehicle, I would save up a little extra dough and get an STI.
Mike Ofiara, Road Test Coordinator
As fun as this WRX wagon may be, Mike's right - that $32,779 price tag hovers awfully close to an STI. How is this a bargain?
It's not, but that isn't necessarily the fault of the SPT parts. This inflated sticker price largely stems from the fact that we started with an Impreza WRX Premium model. Sure, the sunroof, navigation, and satellite radio are nice--but are they worth the $3000 extra over a base WRX wagon, especially if you're trying to built a hot hatch-cum-rally weapon on the cheap?
And man, what a fun rally wagon this thing is. I had a blast ripping through some dirt back roads the other night, quick shifting through that delightful shifter in order to hear more of that sonorous exhaust. There's no denying this WRX isn't lightning-quick, but I wish it were a little more sure-footed. Our Four Seasons Lancer Evolution MR is a little less tail-happy through loose terrain, but that's a bit like comparing oranges to clementines.
Yes, Mike, I'm sure you could find a number of similar parts for this car through sources other than Subaru Performance Tuning, but I doubt they would carry a warranty, or keep the original factory warranty (relatively) intact. I think the extra cost is worth the extra peace of mind.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
2009 Subaru Impreza WRX (Subaru Performance Tuning version)
Base price (with destination): $30,690
Price as tested: $32,778.89
STI lip spoiler WRX $369.55
STI shift knob 5MT $169.95
STI short throw 5MT $295
STI shifter bushing $24.50
Strut tower brace-front $229.95
Chassis brace $199.95
SPT performance exhaust system $799.99 (plus installation)
18 / 25 / 21 mpg
Size: 2.5L DOHC turbocharged horizontally opposed 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 265 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 244 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
(275 hp and 254 lb-ft with SPT exhaust)
Weight: 3174 lb
17 x 7 in. aluminum alloy wheels
225/45R17 summer tires