Although the Impreza lost some of its quirky Subaru personality during last year's "we're going mainstream" redesign, the 2009 WRX model has happily been restored to its former high-performance glory.
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