What's New for 2009
After a full redesign last year, the 2009 Subaru Impreza receives a number of significant changes to the high-performance WRX model. Responding to complaints that the WRX had become too soft, Subaru firmed up the suspension for '09, and there's 41 extra horsepower for good measure. Also, the '09 WRX is only available with a manual transmission, as last year's WRX automatic is now known as the Impreza 2.5 GT. As for base Imprezas, they pick up standard four-wheel disc brakes, stability control and Subaru's incline start assist or "hill-holder" feature for the manual transmission.
Since the 1990s, the Subaru Impreza -- particularly the hopped-up WRX version -- has enjoyed a cultlike following, initially fueled by its success in both real (World Rally Championship) and make-believe ("Gran Turismo") racing. Earlier this decade, the WRX finally made it stateside, giving both Speed Channel and PlayStation junkies something a little more satisfying to manipulate with their hands besides a TV remote or video game controller. However, last year's complete redesign of the Impreza lineup left those die-hard fans angry at the Japanese performance car gods for softening the WRX virtually beyond recognition. The 2009 Subaru Impreza should assuage their concerns, as the WRX model is back to its rip-snorting self, and the base Impreza continues to be an intriguing alternative to the compact-car status quo.
Last year's WRX was indeed a head-scratcher. On top of the bland exterior styling endemic to all new Imprezas, Subaru thought it would be a good idea to soften the suspension of this edgy turbocharged model. Like the tepid styling, the latter "improvement" was ostensibly intended to imbue the Impreza with broader appeal to the masses. The car's ride quality was no doubt improved, but it gave this former street thug all the attitude of a Corolla, albeit one with a turbocharged engine.
Fortunately, the 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX got its mojo back, thanks to a firmer suspension and 41 more hp. As if to emphasize its rediscovered high-performance identity, the WRX is now only available with a manual transmission. However, last year's version of the softer, gentler, less-powerful WRX with an automatic transmission actually continues on, rechristened as the Impreza 2.5 GT.
As for the regular 2009 Subaru Impreza, it's a midpacker in the highly competitive compact segment. Strong engines, standard all-wheel drive and solid crash test scores are certainly points in its favor. However, compared with rivals such as the Mazda 3, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mitsubishi Lancer and Volkswagen Jetta, those assets are offset by subpar fuel economy, an outdated automatic transmission and the lack of a few high-tech features such as fully integrated Bluetooth (you must buy the microphone separately), keyless entry and ignition and a hard-drive-based navigation system. As a high-performance street rod, the WRX (or the even more capable WRX STI) is a top choice. As a compact sedan or hatchback, the regular Impreza holds its own, but we'd recommend taking a close look at its many appealing rivals as well.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Subaru Impreza is available as a compact sedan or a four-door hatchback. There are five main trim levels: 2.5 i, Outback Sport, 2.5 GT, WRX and WRX STI.
Base 2.5 i models come with 16-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, a CD/MP3 player, cruise control, tilt steering and full power accessories. A touch of luxury is available via the premium package, which adds foglights, alloy wheels, a power sunroof, an upgraded 10-speaker audio system (with a CD changer, an auxiliary input jack and steering-wheel-mounted controls) and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. The premium package is also the only way to get the optional satellite radio and navigation system.
The Outback Sport comes in the hatchback body style only and features much of the 2.5 i premium package's equipment as standard along with a raised suspension for extra ground clearance, 17-inch alloy wheels, a chrome grille, a two-tone exterior color scheme, heated outside mirrors, heated front seats, unique cloth upholstery and a windshield wiper de-icer. The 2.5 GT is essentially last year's WRX with an automatic transmission, and it comes with a 224-hp turbocharged engine, 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, a power sunroof, heated front seats, automatic climate control and electroluminescent gauges.
The Impreza WRX features a 265-hp turbocharged engine, an aero body kit (including front and rear spoilers and side ground effects), 17-inch alloy wheels fitted with high-performance tires, a sport-tuned suspension, sport front seats and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with audio controls. As with the 2.5 i, there's a premium package for the WRX that adds a power sunroof, the upgraded audio system, heated front seats and side-view mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer.
The WRX STI ups the ante with even more power, front and rear limited-slip differentials, unique body styling, an upgraded suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, Brembo brakes, aggressive sport seats with Alcantara upholstery and a CD changer. The STI also includes SI-Drive, a three-mode system that allows the driver to modulate throttle response. The BBS package adds BBS wheels and foglights; the BBS and navigation package includes the former items plus a navigation system (which replaces the CD changer with a single-CD player), a trip computer and Bluetooth connectivity.
Powertrains and Performance
Impreza 2.5 i and Outback Sport models are powered by a horizontally opposed 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 170 hp and 170 pound-feet of torque. The Impreza 2.5 GT receives a turbocharged version of that engine that produces 224 hp and 226 lb-ft of torque. The WRX has a higher-output 2.5-liter turbo rated at 265 hp and 244 lb-ft. The WRX STI is more potent still, with 305 hp and 290 lb-ft. All engines send their power to all four wheels. Transmission choices for the 2.5 i and Outback Sport are a five-speed manual with incline start assist (which holds brake pressure for about a second when the clutch is depressed to simplify uphill starts) or a four-speed automatic with manual shift control. The 2.5 GT comes only with the automatic, and the WRX is five-speed manual only. The WRX STI comes with an exclusive six-speed manual transmission.
Performance of the non-turbocharged Impreza models is adequate, accompanied by Subaru's distinctive boxer grumble, but the turbocharged 2.5 GT and WRX provide more thrilling performance. The WRX STI is quicker still; in performance testing, we hustled this top-dog Impreza to 60 mph in just 4.8 seconds and flew through the quarter-mile in 13.3 ticks.
EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2009 Subaru Impreza start at 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined for non-turbocharged manual-shift Imprezas, and they go down from there. The automatic transmission exacts a 1-mpg penalty on the highway in base models, and the 2.5 GT model clocks in at 19/24/21 mpg. The WRX is rated at 18/25/21 mpg, and the STI predictably brings up the rear at 17/23/19 mpg. These ratings are generally below average, particularly for the base Impreza.
Standard on all Impreza models are antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints to help mitigate crash-induced whiplash.
In government crash testing, the Impreza scored a perfect five stars across the board for driver and passenger frontal and front side impacts and four stars for rear side impacts. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Impreza earned the top ratings of "Good" for frontal offset and side impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Larger door openings and rear doors that open to 75 degrees allow easy access to the 2009 Subaru Impreza's cabin. The doors have framed side windows -- a first for the Impreza and a rarity among Subarus -- that help quiet the interior. A 60/40 split-folding rear seat comes in the sedan and four-door hatch. Overall interior materials quality is solid, and the gauges and the center stack are attractively designed. As such, the Impreza's interior looks and feels a cut above that of many rivals.
The base Impreza handles satisfactorily for a compact car, and its tenacious all-wheel-drive grip is a boon in both spirited cornering and cold-weather driving. The naturally aspirated 2.5-liter boxer has more aural character than that of your typical economy car four-cylinder, and it delivers adequate punch when called on. The "new" 2.5 GT is essentially last year's WRX with the automatic transmission, which means it's decently fast in a straight line, but its performance is perceptibly blunted by the lazy four-speed auto. Moreover, the GT (like the previous WRX) is uninspiring when the road gets twisty, owing to its incongruously soft suspension. The reborn WRX, however, is back with a vengeance, featuring upgraded power (not that it was exactly slow in the first place) and considerably more athletic and confidence-inspiring moves through the corners, thanks to its firmer suspension and dedicated (summer only) performance tires. The WRX STI kicks it up a few more notches via its twin limited-slip differentials, powerful Brembo brakes, short-throw six-speed manual shifter and potent rush of acceleration whenever the throttle is tickled.