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2009 Subaru Impreza: WRX vs Diesel

July 2nd, 2009
2009 Subaru Impreza Boxer Diesel

2009 Subaru Impreza Boxer Diesel

I decided to write a comparison between these two versions of the Impreza. Both of them have totally different turbocharged engines: 2.5 l gasoline vs 2.0l diesel. They have their unique characteristics, pros and cons. Of course this won’t be a comparison of performance – the winner would be pretty obvious here (WRX). It’s about a real life average Joe’s choice: whether to buy an icon – fun and performance car or a reasonable and economical diesel version, that not necessarily lacks the fun factor… And it turns out the choice is not so obvious.

Few weeks ago I went for a test drive to a Subaru dealer. Always wanted WRX, but on the other hand diesel means money saving… so I tried both of them the same day. I chose WRX (not STI) version for comparison as I’m considering a car that is possible to drive to work, with passengers, for vacation. As far as I don’t care for the comfort much, STI is too hardcore to drive… Especially on Polish roads.

Both compared cars…

look pretty much the same. I don’t know what was Impreza designer thinking when he created this “Lanos” copy. As the main Impreza’s competitor – Lancer, is getting prettier with every generation. Impreza is like a child in the fog: No actual direction with the design can be defined. And this 2009 version… It’s just not too pretty… Sorry.

Diesel I drove was a “RS”: what meant that it had bucket seats, some extra equipment and subtle body kit added. All this cost extra 5k Euro (almost 7k USD). WRX looks more sporty by default, so about the looks: it’s a draw. In both cases You get a hood scoop, pretty large alloys, but You still don’t look too extreme (like STI).

The interior

Subaru Impreza 2009 interior

The interior is the weakest point of the car

…is the weakest point of the car. I’m not some luxury and extra equipment fan. But there is a level that You expect from a car of some class. Honda or Renault are now pushing the boundaries of “plastics quality”. Subaru is few years behind… The car was new and yet You could hear the plastic squeaking from the front. The devil is in the details…

And the functionality: the dashboard computer didn’t show anything, but fuel consumption and mileage. The display looked like digital watch from the ’80s. Audio was really poor. No AUX plug for the iPod etc. It didn’t have the 3 blinks, when You “touch” the blinker. Not even the engine temperature meter is available in diesel! It’s substituted with a tiny icon that shows You when the engine is still cold. And what about overheating in summer?

I assume that some level of practicality should be a standard in this class. So this part didn’t look good. But You don’t buy Subaru for it’s luxury interior.

Diesel first

2009 Subaru Impreza Boxer Diesel Carsoblog

The diesel... Less fun, but cheaper...

Subaru released the diesel I tested, last year. It was the first diesel they built. And as a Subaru fan I was pretty sceptical for the new engine type idea. Subaru among other sporty brands (like Porsche, Bugatti, Aston or Maserati) didn’t have this type of engine at all. The brand has many fans among the drivers. Impreza is an icon of rally driving. So introducing diesel by Subaru, was controversial. On the other hand Subaru makes family SUVs and sedans (unlike others from the list). So the time has come: in 2008 they officially released the diesel.

And it was a success. To be perfectly fair with their fans and tradition started in the ’70s: they made it a boxer and connected to the famous 4 wheel drive. They put it to Legacy, then Forester and now Impreza. So far, so good.

It was a pretty cold and wet day, when I arrived to the dealer. I came with my “old fart” car – 2006 Ford Focus Diesel. The reason I mention this is quite important. The standard 4 cylinder diesel engine, no matter how modern and clean, always makes unpleasant “truck” noise and vibrates. Especially when cold. No matter, if this is a high end BMW or low end Hyundai. In BMW the interior is soundproof a little more than in low end cars, but You can “feel” and hear the engine any way.

So I got in the Subaru Impreza Diesel, started the engine… Expecting to hear something like famous “TDI truck sound” as the engine was cold after standing whole night. And heard… nothing. The engine was absolutely quiet. The boxer construction really stabilized the main problem of this type of propulsion. When You hear it You hardly know it’s a diesel and the vibrations are not present. It’s quieter than any diesel I drove ever in this class (and absolutely the best 4 cylinder). The only reason I hate diesels is not present in this case!

It’s a 2 liter boxer. That produces 150 BHP and 350 Nm (246 lb-ft) of torque. It’s not revolutionary, but the numbers are pretty good.

We started the test drive. It was planned to meet as many surfaces as possible: city roads, bumps, some off-road and a part closed for traffic. I wanted to check the 4WD in all possible situations.

How it drives?

Like every Impreza: sharp and responsive. Millions of words have been said around the world about Impreza’s handling. When You drive a Subaru You know that the car is composed perfectly. That the mechanics are always able to cope with the power (good news for the fans of chip tuning). The suspension isn’t too comfortable, but does the job and is a great compromise between driving pleasure and saving Your back from pain. I liked it very much. The gear changes are accompanied with cool “click” sound, that is a special rally feature :)

The engine delivers the power very smoothly. There is no point where it kicks You in the back with torque, to die a moment later. The revs are climbing steadily, without any sensation, but they allow You to reach 62 mph in 9 seconds. Not bad for just a 150 BHP diesel.

One another thing I noticed: the visibility is amazing. Impreza has huge mirrors that eliminate the blind spot totally. Considering that I didn’t know the car at all, so I should pay more attention to the road, this fact made the drive in traffic very confident and safe.

WRX is way faster

2009 Subaru Impreza WRX sedan

Or maybe fuel sucking WRX?

Of course 2,5 liter turbocharged gasoline engine (265 BHP, 343 Nm – 244 lb-ft) delivers more fun than diesel version. The sound is nicer. It’s faster than the diesel. These are obvious facts… But I was surprised that in both cases the driving experience was pretty similar.

After driving the slower version, I was expecting the WRX to shock me with something, but it didn’t… The handling and comfort are pretty much the same in both versions. WRX delivered slightly more grip, better brakes. But as it’s not a racing car, can You rally feel this advantage in every day driving?

So great news for the diesel. You can get a almost the same handling in a 150 HP, slower version, as You get in it’s sporty older brother. “Almost” makes the difference – huge 3 seconds more to reach 62 mph :)

While driving the WRX around the city, we heard some tire burning noise coming from the other side of the road – someone raced from the traffic lights. “Competition?” I thought loud. “No way, if it makes this noise – it’s not a competition at all” said the passenger :) Impreza wouldn’t burn tires, wouldn’t make a sound. 4wd bites the tarmac and just rockets from the start.This is Subaru style… Less spectacular, but way faster…

Why at all bother comparing these two cars?

We all want to have “fun cars”. The more power they have – the better. But at the same time we need some usability do drive to work, to go for a weekend trip. Also when the whole world shouts about ecology and oil prices, You have to consider it in wider: economical aspect. Meet the fun and reason factors somewhere in the middle.

And Impreza allows You to make this choice. I know that many producers offer the gasoline and diesel engines. What more… they offer 5 to 10 engine types and sizes. But if You’re a “piston head” the car must be fun… And not all producers make fun cars (ex. Toyota)… And Subaru does…

In both of compared cases You know You drive a Subaru. Impreza is composed, handles great and delivers incredible amounts of grip. You feel confident, that the suspension and brakes is precisely tuned for the performance. You get a legendary 4 wheel drive system. This fact alone can make You feel good as most of the cars on the roads (even more powerful) can’t compete with the traction on majority of the surfaces with this small car.

Which one to choose then?

Being a big child? Fun, fun, fun! Only WRX…

Being reasonable? The numbers: WRX is more expensive to buy than diesel version I drove: 36k euro vs 29,5k euro (about 50k USD vs 41k USD – European prices). Withouth the body kit and sport seats, its only 25k euro.

Fuel consumption: In WRX You can expect to reach about 14 mpg in the city, and average 25 mpg highway. Well… Subaru was always famous for it’s appetite. The diesel changes this opinion. It will give You about 25 mpg in the city when driving dynamically, and can easily reach 40 mpg on the highway! And that is a major difference.

At the same time torque is almost the same in both cases, even slightly better in smaller diesel! So if Your sense of reason doesn’t care for this extra 115 HP and about 3 seconds difference to reach 62 mph, diesel is a great choice. It’s much cheaper to buy and uses average 40% less fuel then gasoline version (data collected from the users, not official producer’s info). And still lets You drive a top quality 4wd car and icon that has almost 40 years of tradition and some sporty edge in it. What more chip-tuners already have an offer for You, that will make this diesel 180 HP one (and raise the torque to 400 Nm – 295 lb-ft).

I still don’t know which one to choose…

  1. Michael Monroe
    October 20th, 2009 at 05:03 | #1

    I say you get the diesel and spend $2,000 of those savings on a larger turbo (you can get bolt on turbo’s that use the factory connections and airbox) and reprogram the chip to close the hp gap and retain your fuel savings. Once they bring the Diesel to U.S. that’s my plan.

  2. October 20th, 2009 at 09:38 | #2

    Hi, Thanks for commenting.

    You’re right. There are tuners that already have plug-in packages for this boxer diesel. After tuning You get around 200 HP. But you have to note… Getting more would strongly decrease engine durability. As 200 HP would definitely give You some nice driving experience – it’s still no match for WRX (And WRX is “before” tuning).

  3. December 9th, 2009 at 00:25 | #3

    I would say instead of chipping the diesel add CNG to it and get 20% more power and get even better fuel economy. I am waiting for the Subaru Diesel.

  4. December 9th, 2009 at 10:51 | #4

    That is an option. Although it has more disadvantages than benefits (that is why hardly anyone does this with diesel).
    1/ You wouldn’t be able to use regular diesel in this engine, and
    2/ the CNG stations network is very poor (I don’t know where You’re from, but in EU You can’t rely on CNG accessibility).
    3/ CNG is good when You want to save money. But in this case You already did – You own a diesel :)

    Chip is more “user friendly” – doesn’t have any disadvantages. On the other hand: It makes some sense to add LPG to gasoline version, but most of Subaru owners would call this a “profanation” :)

  5. nomadhorizon
    January 11th, 2010 at 00:04 | #5

    I owned a US spec 2003 wrx for 5-6 years. great vehicle.

    I live in Istanbul, and the gas prices are about 3 times the US.

    As soon as I can find a reasonably used diesel impreza…it will be mine.

    I have other plans than just chip tuning. Im considering, going all out and swapping the turbo charger with a supercharger.(after the warranty runs out this time:)

    it should cost slightly more than upgrading to a bigger turbo with all necessary fuel pump upgrades, hoses, chiptuning and whatever else goes in there.

    but it will widen the powerband substantially. think about it. no more dropping the clutch, already means saving money, on the clutch and the transmission (wrx and lower impreza models are notorious for weak transmissions)

  6. Angela
    April 6th, 2011 at 15:50 | #6

    I had a WRX before and a standard Impreza before that – loved them both especially the WRX – most fun you can have with your clothes on. But insurance and fuel consumption were extortionate so having sold the WRX when I went to work abroad, on my return I bought a Toyota RAV 4 on the basis that it offers 4WD but is cheaper to insure and run – plus it got decent reviews in auto mags. Problems with engine just after warranty expired didn’t help but I hated driving it – so dull and souless. When I went to sell it I discovered Subaru had made an impreza diesel and so went off to drive one trying not to get over-excited given that it was a diesel and according to the stats wasn’t that nippy. Well I agree wholeheartdly with the review – its a gem, superb handling, feels surprising fast and has put a smile back on my face. And its insurance grp 13 and fuel economy seems good although haven’t done a precise estimate. Not cheap even second hand and these are hard to find – I bouth a 6mth old demo but worth every penny if you like a decent car to drive.

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