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Used Car Review: 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX Hatchback

Analogue watches are just cooler than digital watches, right? Reading a book and turning its pages, or swiping the screen of your e-reader/tablet? Sometimes technology gets in the way of pure enjoyment. Digital info displays in the latest German cars are all very well and good, but seeing an analogue rev needle rush around the gauge to its redline is far more rewarding and a few blocks filling an LED space, isn’t it? That’s the appeal of this 2009 Subaru Impreza 2.5 WRX.

There are no sport buttons, no touchscreen media interfaces, no eco stop/start systems, no fiddly buttons on the control stalks. You turn the ignition, buckle up and drive off. To go faster, there isn’t a drive mode selector: you nail the accelerator pedal. To go slower and save fuel? You simply exercise self-control with that loud pedal. Simple analogue to the world’s digital fascination.

Under your right foot is an explosive 169kW of power transferred to the road via all four wheels. The traction’s incredible, forcing you into the back of your seat, the boxer engine rumbles with true personality and the punch of its turbocharged acceleration is addictive. Yet, it is a comfortable car that carries 5 adults with ease on any length of road trip and boasts the practicality of a hatchback.

Subarus aren’t all that popular in South Africa, however they sell in their millions worldwide. It was once a leftfield player on the global market, but the general public has fallen for the quirks that identify this vehicle from its many cousins and extended family on our roads. That could all very well be down to its motorsport birth, with names such as Colin McRae and Petter Solberg plastered on workshops and bedroom walls. The World Rally Championship was the platform Subaru needed to shoot from the sidelines to the mainstream, and the Impreza was conceived for that very purpose. It has since gained a cult-like following and status amongst car enthusiasts. Yes, this is one for the petrolheads.

The old adage was that to consider yourself a petrolhead, you needed to have owned an Alfa Romeo. That was surely the case in the 1960s and 1970s, but that charm has long since fizzled out. Where do the petrolheads get their fixes now? Subarus of all shapes, sizes and age.

The WRX derivative as tested here was born from the World Rally Championship stages. A fun car to drive, a great ownership experience to be had and a healthy dose of Japanese quality, reliability and build finish to make this a rather special car. This particular model, affectionately nicknamed “Stink Eye” was the first-ever hatchback Impreza model. It was divisive upon its introduction in 2008 and locally import was ceased of this bodystyle in 2012. The South African buyers prefered the sedan shape, it’s more iconic Subaru silhouette. But, under the skin lurked the same wild chassis and drivetrain.

With hot hatch-beating and sports car-bating performance at a relatively affordable price, this model is now a tuner’s favourite to embarrass sports cars on breakfast runs the world over…

And this particular one?

With a mileage of a little under 83,000km, a full service history with Subaru agents, and a clean record for accidents/damage, this one’s an unmolested Impreza 2.5 WRX. Neat, clean and raw, this one feels oh-so-right on the highways and even better through a set of tight curves. It has been meticulously maintained, with only changes to the standard setup: a rear anti-roll bar pinched from a WRX STI model as well as the 4-pipe exhaust system too.

As far as performance goes, it can accelerate to 100km/h in a little over 5.5 seconds and onto a top speed of around 210km/h. However, that’s not the full performance picture. It accelerates as quickly as Porsche Boxster from 80-120km/h and 0-180km/h passes by in an incredibly fast 22.6sec blur. With a brave driver, that speed could be exercised on both asphalt and dirt!

It is equipped with electrically-operated windows; an audio system with AUX input; cruise control; multifunction steering wheel controls; power steering; and a list of standard safety features. That’s about it. Unless you count all the mechanical gadgetry under the bonnet and under your seat… A massive intercooler; a high-revving turbocharger; complex all-wheel drive system; light, direct steering; over 300mm disc brakes; these all add up for peerless handling dynamics.

With a vehicle that’s 10 years old, a few nicks, scratches and dings are to be expected. The interior’s in excellent condition, befitting its low mileage usage. These Porsche-style seats are not only cool in design, but are also supremely comfortable. After a few hours in the seat, there were no sore backs nor numb bums. Would it be better with a leather upholstery?

Without getting into the technical bits and bobs of a Boxer engine and Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive technologies, these make for a drive unlike any other hatchback on our roads – new or old. Proven on rally stages, by millions of owners and die-hard enthusiasts, it is easy to fall in love with the easy-to-drive mechanicals. With 169kW of power underfoot and mated to short gearing, it provides an accelerative drive that pumps the adrenalin through one’s body from the get-go. More, please!

What to look out for on WRX models in general?

For one of this generation, the first thing to do is to study the Service History. If the owner is a sketchy on details, phone the workshops yourself. Check which items have/haven’t been replaced, what mileages, and what sort of condition the workshop thinks the car is in. The most common faults/issues with this generation of WRX is its engine: if it has been tuned and modified, it needs to have the engine forged for reliability and strength. A leaky head gasket is a common repair job, but is easily undertaken by workshops. That is a major service/repair, but the local Subaru dealership confirmed that those happen infrequently, with about 3 or 4 per year only. And, that’s about it. Thanks to Japanese Reliability.

What should I be paying for this Impreza WRX?

Well, that’s the magic question. The lower the mileage and cleaner the car, the higher the price. To put this into perspective, this particular one has 83,000km on the odometer and is stock standard is priced at R165,000. There are examples out there with double the mileage for R155,000. It is a tricky market value to figure out: settle on a budget and search high and low for one that best fits that criteria.

Also worth knowing?

The WRX is something of a halo model. Not as hardcore as the top-of-the-range WRX STI, but as Golf GTI beater the WRX offers high levels of road comfort with true rally-inspired performance credentials. And, you’ll be saving a whole whack on maintenance costs, fuel costs and on tyres.

What other Subaru models should I consider?

The Forester is a very popular model – with the same WRX engine – in XT guise. A larger, more comfortable vehicle with fantastic off-roading skills too, it is worth test driving and researching too.

What are the alternatives to the Subaru Impreza WRX?

Well, basically, you’d need to look at Porsche Boxsters for performance and that flat-four Boxer appeal and a Volkswagen Golf R for handling chops. And, those will set you back a few hundred thousand Rands for the same age and condition. The choice is quite clear.

Conclusion

By the end of my time with this Subaru Impreza, I’d gone from admiring the brand from afar and lusting after its rallying abilities. Having blasted one about, thoroughly examined it, I have put my daily driver car up for sale and I’ve put down a deposit to make this mine. That’s the first car I’ve ever fallen in love with and purchased. That says a lot right there. If you can, and want something a bit different, do it. Don’t driving boring, for heaven’s sake!

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