EXPERT REVIEW

KansasCity.com's view


The Subaru Impreza WRX is a family sedan with sports-car performance.

The WRX and WRX STi have developed an almost cultlike following over the past few years because of their ability to accelerate hard and feel composed when tackling high-speed turns. Unless ultimate performance is your goal, the WRX is the more practical choice because it costs $9,000 less than the STi and it’s rarely possible to use the STi’s extra power on the street.

The Impreza was redesigned in 2008. For 2009, Subaru added a larger turbocharger and more boost to the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, bumping the horsepower from 224 to 265. A five-speed manual is the only transmission.

Large turbochargers often require more revs for maximum power, but Subaru tuned the WRX engine so it produces maximum torque, or pulling power, at 4,000 rpm like last year’s model. Acceleration at low rpms is a little soft, but once rpms scoot past 3,000 the surge is satisfying.

Subaru is dedicated to using horizontally opposed engines. The engine is flat and has two cylinders on one side and two on the other. The layout is similar to that used by Porsche and in older air-cooled Volkswagens.

A low center of gravity is one advantage of the flat layout, and that is beneficial to the car’s handling.

In addition to the added horsepower, improvements include a retuned suspension and wider, lower-profile performance tires. Summer performance tires are not good on ice and snow, and owners will be much happier with the car if they fit it with all-weather or winter tires.

The base price is $25,595. The test car was equipped with the premium package, navigation system and satellite radio, and its sticker price was $30,660.

A handy feature holds the car in place momentarily after you release the brakes while you’re stopped on a hill. This gives you time to release the clutch without the car rolling backward. It may seem like a small thing, but this feature improves the driving experience daily.

The WRX has always been a great-handling car because of its all-wheel drive that distributes drive torque equally to the front and rear wheels. If the front or rear wheels slip, the center differential compensates by sending more power to the wheels with the most traction.

Vehicle stability control and anti-lock brakes are important components of good handling.

In the past, the WRX styling was always a bit gaudy. The new car still has a huge air scoop in the middle of the hood to feed cool air to the intercooler, and the front fascia is dominated by large air intakes. The hatchback’s profile is not unlike that of an egg, but the sedan is more subdued.

The wide tires require large fender flares, and the rear haunches give the car a muscular stance.

A driver’s car must have good seats and a comfortable cabin. The WRX has front seats that do a good job of supporting the driver during enthusiastic driving. The steering wheel falls nicely to hand. The five-speed transmission linkage had rather long throws.

The gauges are large and simple. Red night lighting is relatively easy on the eyes, and it’s a nice change from the blue night lighting that is so popular these days.

Price

The base price of the WRX Premium with navigation is $29,995. Destination charges brought the sticker price to $30,660.

Warranty

The standard warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles, while the powertrain warranty is for five years or 60,000 miles.

2009 Subaru Impreza WRX Premium

Engine: 2.5-liter, 264-hp 4-cyl.

Transmission: Five-speed

All-wheel drive

Wheelbase: 103.1 inches

Curb weight: 3,263 lbs.

Base price: $29,995

As driven: $30,660

MPG: 18 city, 25 highway

To reach Tom Strongman, send e-mail to tstrongman@kc.rr.com.

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