Cars and Facts

Subaru Impreza WRX Premium Review

Last summer, the air conditioner in my apartment died at the peak of a particularly torturous heat wave.  After one night of bizarre, sweaty dreams, I woke up feeling inexplicably, yet absolutely, convinced that I needed a new car.  I could taste the desire for something ludicrously fast, as if a speed demon had punched me in the face and my mouth was bleeding synthetic oil.  I had the sickening feeling that if I didn’t get this car soon, I would lose my mind.

What I needed had been ingrained into my brain as if from a holy edict.  The car could not be anything less than completely twisted.  The sort of sinister beast that would effortlessly manage 0-60 in a gasp and inspire in my passengers a psychiatrist’s delight of screamingly hideous nightmares.

My X chromosomes were not allowing me a Caterham.  This would be my only vehicle, so it had to seem somewhat practical, through ample head and leg room, space for friends and the dog, and, significantly, a respect for frugality.  The car simply had to be cheap to purchase, maintain, and to insure.  I was coming from a decade old Saab which had adopted a troubling habit of regularly requiring a mortgage payment to maintain, despite my adherence to the Saab 9-5 zealot’s maintenance schedule.  Though the behavior could be rationalized as the result of age, I was convinced it was spite and I did not want another spiteful car.

A final, yet crucial, criterion: at the minimum, my car would have to be faster than the 271 hp Honda Accord EX-L.  I would not be able to sleep at night knowing that a stock Accord could outrun any car registered in my name.  The Accord is a fine automobile, but it epitomizes, for me, the very essence of a family vehicle and I couldn’t allow myself the chance, however remote, of having my ass handed to me by a car with Cheerios all over the back seat.

I spent many an evening frantically scouring automotive specs on the internet, searching for an affordable, dependable vehicle suitable for the mundane that could also destroy large Hondas, and above all, make me cackle with insane glee.  This was a difficult task as seriously fun automobiles tend to be neither cheap nor reliable and usually are built under the assumption that you have one friend or another car.  Fortunately I had a vague idea of what I wanted.  When I lived in NYC, I used to trek out to the International Rally NY Championship, where my favorite cars to watch were always the top ones vying for the overall title – WRXs and Evos.  And I discovered that once you get enough dirt in your teeth from the sliding back end of one of these brutes, you get hooked.  Hacking up a mud loogie, I realized one September day out in the NY woods, a few years back, that I wanted a car with AWD, a turbo, and gobs of speed.

My harried research, rally cravings, and various less important factors resulted in a 4th gen Legacy as my top pick – either the Spec B or a manual GT Limited; however, finding one was an impossible task, and when I finally tracked down a used Spec B, I happened to see a customer’s WRX in the lot.  Though I had ignored the 2008+ WRX in my search (the pictures on the Subaru site were train wreck ghastly), seeing one in the flesh made my opinion pull a 180.  The sky brightened and I heard the chorus of a thousand angels humming the Fantasy Overture from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet.

Though it took me a while to find one at the price I wanted, I eventually bought a 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX Premium.  I was not participating in Cash for Clunkers, but my search coincided with the dwindling weeks of the program and new car lots were emptier than Nationals Park.  Countless times I’d pull into a dealership parking lot in increasingly remote parts of VA or MD and find it littered with decrepit Jeep Cherokees and faded Ford Explorers, their owners wandering about, resembling the cast of The Hills Have Eyes.  I grew weary of the response, “We sold the last one yesterday.  Why don’t you come back in a month?”

But fate was not cruel to me as I finally found a WRX Premium at the right price, buying from a place where a guy who claimed to have been the ultimate combination of both a deputy sheriff and a rally driver in a past life demonstrated to me firsthand the sheer tomfoolery of which the car was capable.  On a winding road, not yet out of the reach of interstate traffic, he hooned that car like I had never before experienced.  The steering wheel spun wildly through his hands as he regaled me with stories of utter speed limit destruction and mad escapes through the strategic use of rally tricks in his ridiculously modified Bavarian sleeper.  With an expert’s deftness, he drifted the AWD WRX around a series of insanely tight turns in the road that were clearly meant for much reduced speeds, not caring at all if anyone was coming the other way, the shriek of the tires out-roaring the howling engine.  This was a man clearly in his element at multiples of the speed limit – a man with more balls than brains.  Note to sellers – this sales tactic works.

Since then, I have owned the WRX for seven months so I believe I’m qualified to attest to its abilities.  Just to briefly summarize its features, under the hood is a 4 cylinder, 2.5 liter boxer engine producing 265 bhp (at 6,000 RPMs; though rumored to have a bit more ponies than officially stated) and 244 lb-ft torque (at 4,000 RPMs), as well as a VF52 turbo.  The 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX only comes as a 5-speed manual – the automatic is now the Impreza GT which has lesser specs.

On the inside, the 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX is only available with a black cloth interior with performance style seats.  The Premium package has a sunroof, heated seats, and a 10 speaker sound system (if you can do without all of that, the base model WRX can save you about $2,000).  Apart from the style and material of the seats, the huge tach, and the racing style metal pedals, the interior is very similar to that found in the other Imprezas and the Forester – a dark grey rubbery plastic lining the dash and the door handles, with a swath of silver plastic across the interior front.

Right off the lot, the 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX is a fun car that would satisfy most drivers who are looking for a cheap, fast, and practical vehicle.  Driving enthusiasts, however, would probably note a few negatives.  My opinion is that many of these aspects can be remedied easily and relatively cheaply.  The result is an affordable yet versatile daily driver and weekend racer that can challenge many cars twice its price.  My thoughts, more specifically:

Exterior.  Everyone seems to hate the 2008+ WRX design, and even its owners are divided between the hatch and the sedan body styles.  But the WRX has stayed true to its roots; its goofy appearance redeemed by its performance.  Japanese racing driver Masanori Sekiya once described an earlier STi as “an ugly girl with a beautiful heart,” and like previous WRXs, this one truly is so ugly that it’s cool.  I adore the hood scoop, the spoiler and the aero trim, and the 2009’s dark grey wheels are a nice touch.  As I mentioned earlier, the car also looks a lot better in person, and if you are considering one, the 2011 design is a clear improvement over the previous 3rd gen WRXs.  One minor issue I’ve noticed on the ‘09 (and ‘11) is the sedan’s inexplicable chrome strip above the rear license plate.  It’s an egregious eyesore, but an easy fix.  Why Subaru thought chrome was needed there boggles the mind.  I wound up concealing mine with paint that matched the body.

Interior.  I personally think the interior isn’t anything special but nothing to complain about.  Still, its quality seems to be a common gripe. For a $26,000 car, it’s not bad.  I also don’t mind putting up with cloth seats for an affordable car with more spirit than many $40,000+ cars.  Had I been offered the choice, though, I would have preferred the 2010 WRX Limited’s black leather, only as the cloth picks up dog hair like velcro.  One minor complaint concerns the cheap pleather that was used for the shift and ebrake boots.  I easily swapped these out with custom made leather boots from JPM Coachworks, a change that discernibly upped the quality of the interior without breaking the bank.

When compared to earlier WRXs, the fit and finish of the 2009 is improved.  It has better sound dampening, and so far does not seem as prone to random rattles.  I have no complaints about the comfort and I find the front seats particularly supportive when the urge to drive like a mad person strikes.  The car is also quite roomy.  For someone who is 5’9″, there is plenty of head and leg room, even for taller passengers in the back.  The 2008+ Subaru Impreza WRX is, I believe, based on a Legacy platform, so there is a bit more space available inside the car than in earlier models.

Suspension.  For me, the suspension is the perfect stiffness for daily driving.  I’ve driven for multiple hours at a time without discomfort.  I wouldn’t consider it soft, yet it can take on gravel and dirt just as effortlessly as asphalt.  For everyday use, body roll is minimal, but the harder one drives, the more noticeable roll and understeer becomes.  If you’re going to take this car to its limits, new sways and end links would cheaply reap handling gains.

Shifter.  The car desperately needs a short-throw shifter with firmer bushings.  Most owners opt for aftermarket replacements, which are substantially less in price (but not necessarily in value) than the SPT short shifter offered by Subaru as a factory option.

Exhaust.  Simply put, the stock exhaust is quieter than an awkward moment and the delightful Subie rumble is completely absent.  Why Subaru, why?!  Luckily, exhaust options are plentiful and make the WRX sound as menacing as it drives.

Tires.  The car comes with ultra high-performance Dunlop summers which offer grippy fun for maximum hoonage in nice weather.  I had to eventually swap mine out for something more snow friendly.

Premium audio system.  The 100 watt, 10 speaker audio system that comes with the 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX Premium can only be deemed “premium” when compared to a dying hearing aid.  I generally drive with the sound off anyway as I like to listen to my car, but for long rides better audio would be appreciated.

Fuel economy.  EPA estimates are 18 city/25 highway.  You could see gains on these numbers if you drove it like a q-tip.  It is physically impossible, however, to drive this car in a restrained manner. Also, it has to take at least 91 octane.

Now to get down to serious business – the WRX is immeasurably fun to drive and it is a bit challenging to break down an intangible feeling of driving enjoyment into specific attributes, but I will try my best.

Though it puts a damper on fuel efficiency, the AWD system makes the car immensely playful.  If you ever feel the need to get giggly, zip the car through corners, or toss it on trails or in snow.  I found myself particularly gleeful this past winter by driving one of the few cars able to tackle the unplowed streets of our nation’s capital.

I have not timed myself, but the 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX has been reportedly clocked doing 0-60 between 4.7 and 5.4 seconds, with 1/4 mile times between 13.5 and 13.7 seconds.  It is a very quick little car.  Although torque peaks at 4,000 RPMs, there’s plenty of power to get you there posthaste.  Once you hit 3,500 – warp speed ahead!  That’s when you blast into expletive-spouting levels of fun; the night and day change in speed likely due in part, however, to a decent amount of turbo lag.  This car can go ludicrously fast in a wink but it never feels less than absolutely planted, and don’t forget to keep an eye on the speedometer because speed limits are easily breached when 65 mph feels very much like 30.  The WRX is simply an animal.  I am absolutely convinced that Subaru engineers were ordered to undergo demonic possession in order to concoct a car this evilly fun.  You will make excuses to drive it.

I may be a mild-mannered, upstanding member of society, but it is difficult to resist the urge to hoon the WRX (on private roads, of course).  Having witnessed the effect of this temptation on several 2009+ WRX owners, I firmly believe that if you honestly can get behind the wheel of this brute, fully cognizant of all the power lying in wait beneath your foot – just aching to be tapped – and are immune to the need, the need for speed, and deaf to the revs of everyone daring you to race, then you are criminally boring possess admirable self-restraint.  And despite all that I have just written, insurance is surprisingly cheap.

Additionally, the WRX can’t be beat as a platform for an all-out tuned beast, and if you do decide on a tune, as with all Subarus, the only limits are your budget and survival instinct.  And open source tunes make horsepower and torque gains easily within reach.

The WRX is properly twisted.  It is an absolute driver’s car, a friendly fiend that plays along with you, indulging you, eagerly doing your bidding with a grin.  For the enthusiast on a budget, there is little else I recommend.  The possible negatives noted are easily remedied without setting you back too much, and without the fixes, the WRX is still a remarkable vehicle that can outperform many cars twice its price (and the Honda Accord EX-L).  Although the 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX Premium may seem buttoned down at first when compared to its earlier brethren, it’s as scary as you want it to be.  And if your car can’t get scary, it’s simply not worth driving.

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