Wes Siler, our road test boffin, keeps saying the 2009 Subaru WRX mixes power and practicality, outdoing every other performance car on the market. He's also got a big mouth; let's see if he's right.
In fact, Wes talks about it so much I've decided I have to hate the WRX. It's not what you'd call good looking, it's got the wrong image for someone who produces the third most popular Lutheran podcast on iTunes and it's a five-door hatch, the hallmark of boring cars.
I decided to put Siler's claims to the test in a local patch of dirt I found. It's where any rally-bred car should excel, but it's also rutted, full of concrete obstacles and covered in a mix of loose gravel and hard-packed mud. So it's not the best place to push a car that doesn't belong to you. Duly noted.
The first test is the slalom. I pick a section of dirt that's primarily uneven soil and, since I don't have cones, the few weeds sticking through the earth will have to do. Off goes the traction and stability control. Initially, the Subie's 265 HP 2.5-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine, with its new, larger turbo feels like most economy cars when you mash the go pedal. There's a rather anemic response as the needle climbs. Not good so far.
Then you hit the 3k mark and things take off. The WRX goes from a standstill to 60 MPH in approximately 5.4 seconds, which makes it only three-tenths of a second slower than both the Challenger R/T and Nissan 370Z. I'm convinced after driving it the Subaru goes from 0-to-20 MPH in 4.4 seconds and makes up the rest in the last second when the turbo kicks in. On dirt, squirming sideways under power, it feels even faster.
Thanks to a drastic series of upgrades between the 2008 and 2009 model, there's little body roll as I toss this bright blue jellybean back-and-forth. The all-wheel drive moves power moves effortlessly between the wheels without any input from me other than the gleeful application of more throttle. This will not do if I'm going to prove Wes wrong.
I move the car towards a dustier part of the compound, hoping the moonlike surface will provide just the right amount of shifting surface to undermine the Subaru's chassis. I shift into second and lean heavily on the gas. Flicking the steering wheel right-to-left in an attempt to slide does little to shake the WRX's confidence. It just digs in deeper.
There's only one surface up to the task, though I'm wary to take it. The rally version of this car is built for handling the kind of gravely road I'm contemplating attacking, but it isn't something you'd expect a production car to do. I start rehearsing what I'm going to tell the tow truck driver in my head.
Looking over the hood of the WRX you see the massive hood scoop. It's not a distraction. It's more like the sight on an assault rifle — and all I want to do is keep pulling the trigger.
The lack of objects to run into or cliffs to fall off of inspires some confidence as I hurl myself towards a road that prudence would suggest taking at 5 MPH. Quickly approaching a dip I decide to abruptly change direction, awaiting the slide that'll follow. Cautiously, I let off the gas a bit before fully committing to the turn and, as predicted, the WRX heads towards the tree line with its nose pushing across the gravel.
Before I stamp a mirror image of the Subaru stars in the closest tree, my typically slow instinct kicks in and I manage to remember this car has an engine and I should use it. There's a loud noise as the Subie breathes in the dusty air and a noticeable shift as it reaches down with all four wheels and leans back on the rear tires. At this point I can't be sure if the car is moving over the ground or the planet itself is being moved below me but the end result is WRX pointed the right way.
Siler may look like an over-coiffed, under-fed hipster, but he's he right about this car. The 2009 WRX is both faster and more fun than either its mid-$20K price tag or its awkward looks justify. Now I just need to make it home before anyone from my church group sees me.