The 2008 Subaru WRX left many of us wanting more. Expectations were high for the all-new model, but after experiencing its distinct lack of sportiness, the disappointment from fans was palpable. Unlike the previous-gen WRX, it was an underachiever: underpowered and underwhelming with a lot of understeer.
Thanks to a raid on the parts bin of the higher-performance WRX STI, the WRX sedan is much improved for 2009. Wider and stickier tires, a revised suspension that pilfered components from the STI, along with beefed-up spring rates and stabilizer bars help the 2009 Subaru WRX correct last year's mushy and uninspiring handling. The engine also enjoys an upgrade that includes a larger, STI-based turbocharger, wider-diameter exhaust and less restrictive catalytic converter. These updates contribute to a welcome 18 percent gain in horsepower with a more usable power band.
From behind the wheel, the 2009 Subaru WRX Sedan is deceptively adept. The stiffer-but-still-soft suspension lacks the feel and confidence of other sharp-handling sport compacts, but this four-door WRX is easily tossed into difficult curves, emerging with its composure intact. Even when it's pushed to the limits, there is little drama or protest from the tires.
For 2009, the WRX sedan definitely has its mojo back, slotting in nicely behind its more athletic STI stablemate. Mitsubishi's new Lancer Ralliart is the closest rival to the WRX, and its arrival likely contributed to this 1-year-old's upgrades. Either car could serve as a poster child for the all-wheel-drive sport compact market, and they offer remarkably similar features and content. Yet because of their distinct personalities, we recommend driving both before making a decision.
Our 2009 Subaru WRX Sedan Premium test vehicle came with the standard 2.5-liter intercooled and turbocharged four-cylinder engine, mated to a five-speed manual transmission that drives all the wheels. Thanks to a larger turbo borrowed from the WRX STI, output jumps to 265 horsepower and 244 pound-feet of torque (up from last year's 224 hp and 224 lb-ft). Even more notable than the bump in peak power is the manner in which it's delivered — there is a decent amount of low and midrange grunt, and power is spread more evenly up to the 6,500-rpm redline. The well-spaced ratios of the manual transmission's five gears capitalize on the power band's large sweet spot, though a 6th gear would probably alleviate some of the engine's highway buzz.
In testing, our WRX four-door accelerated to 60 mph in a brisk 5.2 seconds on its way to a 13.7-second quarter-mile at 98.7 mph — easily outperforming the Subaru's nemesis, the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart. Fuel consumption estimates from the EPA are 18/25 mpg (city/highway) and 21 mpg in mixed driving conditions. As entertaining as the new WRX is, under our less-than-conservative right foot it managed only 18.4 mpg, identical to our results with the Mitsubishi.
The suspension changes for 2009 are the most noticeable improvement, creating a chassis that feels far sharper than last year's marshmallow-soft setup. Under heavy cornering the WRX still exhibits a healthy dose of body roll, though from the driver seat, the full extent of the sailboatlike lean isn't nearly as obvious as from the roadside. The new, stiffer suspension creates a far more tossable WRX, but it remains undisturbed over rougher surfaces, displaying an impressive reserve of compliant travel. After a few hours on tight canyon roads, it was hard to fault the new setup, since the WRX sedan willingly tackled every turn without losing its composure.
The 2009 Subaru WRX Sedan's steering, while precise, could stand to gain a bit more resistance and feedback, especially when you're sawing away at the wheel while bounding from turn to turn. The lighter steering feel makes close-quarter city driving and parking a breeze, however. The brakes remain unchanged from last year, which is to say they're on the soft side, but they perform exceptionally when called upon. In testing, we stopped our WRX from 60 mph in an impressive 107 feet with little or no evidence of fade.
Despite the added handling prowess of the 2009 Subaru WRX Sedan, ride quality and comfort do not suffer. At highway speeds, it feels well-planted, with little road noise making its way into the cabin. Front seating is pleasantly comfortable, even during long stints behind the wheel. Additional side bolstering would be a welcome addition for those with sporting intentions, but the grippy surface materials do an admirable job of keeping passengers in place. Though lacking a multitude of adjustments, most drivers will be able to find an optimal seating position. The rear seats provide ample headroom, but lack the contour and sporty nature of the racy front seats. As with the front buckets, the grippy upholstery stations passengers with Velcro-like tenacity.
From behind the wheel, outward visibility in our 2009 Subaru WRX Sedan Premium test car is excellent. Legible gauges remained so in practically any lighting situation, with a simple layout centering the larger tachometer prominently behind the steering wheel. An additional readout mounted atop the center stack displays time, temperature and fuel economy. Simple and intuitive climate control knobs are likewise well-placed, but the same cannot be said for the radio. Miniscule, closely spaced buttons lack tactile references and are barely legible, making glance-free operation difficult at best. Fortunately, the steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise control buttons are operated with far more ease.
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. The split-level trunk limits cargo height and makes it difficult to load multiple items such as luggage and golf bags, as larger parcels tend to follow gravity backwards to the lip. The 60/40-split fold-down rear seats allow for more cargo, but at the expense of passenger capacity. Child seats are easily installed on the flat rear bench with a minimum of jostling or reduction in front-seat legroom.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2009 Subaru WRX Sedan's dowdy styling tends to downplay its acceleration and handling capabilities, though the graceful sloping nose and aggressive hood scoop hint at its performance potential. From the rear doors back, the styling screams econobox, with homely taillights and wheels that look proportionally small compared to the slablike rear quarter panels.
The interior appears handsomely designed, with tasteful matte metallic trim framing the center console. 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. Furthermore, the space between the instrument pod and dashboard presents a rather sizable gap, with sharp plastic edges. Though a minor flaw, it blemishes an otherwise successful execution.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2009 Subaru WRX Sedan Premium is an excellent choice for drivers seeking four-door fun without breaking the bank. The sedan's sedate styling is a plus for those averse to the boy-racer image of the high-performance STI, while the all-wheel drive should appeal to those who live with inclement weather.
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