Oh Canada, our great neighbor to the north. I never knew much about the country other than they have a totally different policy with regards to herbal substances, house the largest population of Chinese outside of China and have some of the most beautiful women I've ever laid eyes on in my life. I also discovered that Vancouver Island is not a small island at all and at 20 minutes by air from the mainland, is filled with stunning scenery and back roads so wide open (albeit technically narrow) and unmanned, you'd be hard pressed to find a cop waiting for you around the bend to pull your ass over for traveling at unsafe speeds. It is the absolute, most perfect setting to test out Subaru's latest Impreza offerings: the WRX and 2.5GT. Welcome to Vancouver, you're aboot to experience one hell of a ride.
What you may have been used to from the Impreza's past is a base model version, a 2.5RS, WRX and STI. Subaru maintains a four-model lineup for the '09 Impreza but changed the level names, now giving you the Impreza 2.5i (base model), 2.5GT, WRX and WRX STI. On this drive, we focused on the 2.5GT for a short period then switched over to the WRX where we had plenty of seat time. However, the changes don't stop at name-calling. The 2.5GT is the 2.5RS replacement, more or less, and the WRX is a completely altered machine from the previous generation.
Impreza 2.5GT: First Things First
Although aimed at the female buyer, the 2.5GT isn't for sissies and won't make you any less of a man if it's all you can afford to get into. Coming in both 4-and-5-door variants, it's powered by a 224 hp, turbocharged Boxer engine - not neck-breaking fast, but zippy, and is mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission, which basically means: point and shoot. The drivetrain on the 2.5GT uses a different Symmetrical AWD system from the WRX, featuring an electronically-controlled variable transfer clutch that distributes power based on acceleration/deceleration and available traction, giving you the best grip at all times.
Looks-wise, it's less sexy than the WRX and STI but you get lots of standard features, including a power moonroof, more leg/storage room (thanks to a longer wheelbase) and 4-wheel ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. Those of you who live in extreme cold during the winter season will love the front heated seats, heated side mirrors and a de-icer for the front windshield. A brisk hour long drive up Vancouver Island's eastern side starting from Port Nanaimo through its mountainous midsection to Port Alberni proved that while the 2.5GT is not the most thrilling mode of transportation, the turbo keeps it peppy and the ride comfort is smooth as silk. Everyday commuter? Why, yes, thank you for asking. It's the kind of car you'd want to buy as a daily driver and feel confident that you would not fix it up, otherwise you probably should get the WRX, which I'm ready to get into.
Now Playing: One Sick Ass Car
The latter part of the day would be left solely to driving the better of the two models: the WRX, and bless Subaru's heart for doing so. Externally, the difference between the WRX and 2.5GT aren't staggering because neither chassis (4- or 5-door) are as wide as the flagship STI, but you get plenty more car over the 2.5GT when stepping into a WRX. Most notably, the WRX carries the STI-style grille, rear STI-style gate spoiler (5-door only) and a standard Aero Package to set it apart. Turn the engine over and you hear and feel that nice, familiar Boxer growl. The instrument panel lights up and does a funky, little dance (it does this on the 2.5GT, too, and does a goodbye number when you shut down as well) as you get comfortable and buckle yourself in. Second, grab that shift knob and move the shift lever to First gear. Yes - a manual gearbox! Things are feeling good and you haven't even left the parking lot. But once you do, let it rip kid, because now there's 265 hp and 244 lb-ft. Do the math: that's an extra 41 hp and 18 lb-ft over the previous generation.
From a standstill, the WRX moves a lot more quickly than one would anticipate. At 13.3 psi, the turbo spools nicely and the power comes on very linear, though not as aggressive as the STI. Our drive continued onward towards Tofino, located on the western coast of Vancouver Island, but getting there required more standard driving, traveling downhill on a long single-lane highway, giving plenty of opportunities to wind the motor up and test other motorists' patience. Comparable to Mitsubishi's Evo X, the faster its driven, the smoother and more controlled it feels, and allowing the needle to rest at 85 mph or greater seems just as comfortable as it did when it was driving patiently at 40. But Subaru had other plans for us to test the WRX's true nature.
Upon our arrival to the seaside town of Tofino, was a side road that dissolved quickly from paved surface to loose gravel, allowing us to take a quick stab at losing traction and let the car slip around. Probably not what the road was intended for, but still a neat type of surface to mess around on. At a small local airport, the landing strip was set up with a tricky autocross where its newly retuned suspension could be put to the test since the factory springs are a lot stiffer at 38mm (front)/34mm (rear) along with larger sway bars at 21mm (front) and 16mm (rear). As I drove the tight course, the car stuck well through the turns and could easily have been pushed harder if only I were a better driver.
Our last test of the day required a long drive back to Port Alberni and gave my co-driver, good old Cater Jung and I, a chance to switch off and take turns to see if the WRX-exclusive seats were sleep friendly, which they totally are. The WRX comes standard with a sub-par head unit that doesn't thump much if you're into bass heavy soundtracks. Not even the Premium Package does much in the way of sound, but it will give you heated front seats, fog lights, power moonroof, heated side mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer, much like the 2.5GT. The Optional Navigation Package is the crme de la crme with a touch-screen monitor, easy to read display and pre-installed Sirius(r) Satellite Radio that is worth the extra coin over the stock single disc.
When we reached our last and final testing zone, we met two of Subaru's former rally team drivers and support crew at a pseudo-rally course (remember what I said about open roads? This is it.) where a lightly modified (ie; gravel wheel/tire combo and front mudflaps only) WRX was waiting for us to play rally racer. Set up with a mic'd helmet and strapped in with a 5-point harness, I felt like a way uncooler version of Travis Pastrana. With my seasoned driver as my co-pilot, I attacked the course, taking note of his direction as we slid through blind corners, brushed up against tree branches and left behind a cloud of dust so thick it was a necessity to wait until it cleared before turning back. Opposed to the autocross, I really got to test out the WRX's controls and its sense of balance, riding on terrain that would not be possible unless having the features a WRX does. To see it push so hard in stock form is amazing - and this isn't even the STI! And to see a professional push it even harder? We both laughed when I asked probably the stupidest question he'd heard all day, when I asked how fast he had taken the WRX to on this makeshift course. He said, "I don't know. I'm too busy having fun with my eyes on the road." Words can't even begin to describe how bad f'in ass the car is. Thank you, Subaru, for delivering the goods.
That New Car Smell
'09 Subaru Impreza WRX and Impreza 2.5GTThe Sticker Under $25k est./TBA
Under The Hood 22.4L DOHC 4-cylinder, turbocharged/intercooled Boxer engine with Subaru AVCS (Active Valve Control System)
The Power 265 hp @ 6,000 rpm; 244 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm/224 hp @ 5,200 rpm; 226 lb-ft at 2,800 rpm
Scale Tipping (base trim level) 3,174 4dr/3,175 5dr; 3,240 lbs
Layout Front engine, AWD
Gearbox 5-speed manual/4-speed automatic with Sportshift
Stiff Stuff 4-wheel independent, front MacPherson-type struts with multiple-phase valving, steel lower L-arms, coil springs, stabilizer bar and negative-scrub geometry; Rear double-wishbone type with stabilizer bar
Rollers 17x7 10-spoke aluminum alloy wheels (grey painted for WRX); 225/45R17 Dunlop SP Sport 01 tires/205/50R17 all-season tiresStoppers Power assisted 4-wheel disc with standard 4-channel/4-sensor ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist
At The Pump N/A
The Pack Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X/Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart
Deep Thoughts We see the 2.5GT as a great gateway drug to the Subaru mafia, but you might as well spend the extra cashish on the Impreza WRX. Superb power and handling for a kick-ass price tag.