2009 Subaru Impreza GT ($26,995).
Price as tested (including $695 delivery charge): $27,690.
Rarely are vehicles as polarizing as the Subaru WRX.
This wild car and its high-performance brother, the STI, are the closest you can get to driving a European-style rally racer on the streets of America. The WRX is loud, raw and abrasive, which is exactly why people like me love it.
It's also why people like my wife hate it. A couple of years ago, the last time I drove a WRX, she absolutely detested it, complaining that the engine hurt her ears and the seats hurt her back. As far as she was concerned, it was a four-wheeled torture device. My praise about its driving dynamics didn't do a thing to change her mind.
Apparently Subaru caught on to the fact that some people like the basics of a WRX -- a turbo engine and all-wheel drive -- but hate all its rough edges, so the company is introducing a new car for 2009 called the Impreza GT.
The GT is like a soft, mild version of the WRX, with a 2.5-liter turbocharged engine that makes 224 horsepower. That's less than the 265 horses you'll get in the WRX and 305 hp in the STI, but it's still plenty of pep. And it's far quieter.
It has a softer suspension, too. While the STI feels like Subaru completely removed the shock absorbers and replaced them with columns of concrete, the Impreza GT is much more reasonable. It's still fun to drive, but it has a far smoother ride that works better for everyday driving.
Unfortunately, it has an interior that seems like it's inspired by the Little Tykes Cozy Coupe, the vehicle of choice for 3-year-olds. Everything is covered in hard plastic. Everything. It's like being locked inside the Toys "R" Us warehouse.
Aside from the economy-car materials, the interior is pleasant. It's not roomy, but cozy, with just the right amount of space without getting excessive. Anything smaller would feel cramped. Anything bigger would feel bloated. It's the perfect size for a fun-to-drive sedan.
Like most Subarus, the Impreza GT is a great car for people who have to drive on icy roads. Its all-wheel drive system is designed for exactly that situation, and the All Weather Package can add dual-mode heated front seats, heated side mirrors and a windshield wiper de-icer. This is just what I'd want it I lived in the North.
The only transmission available is a four-speed automatic, which makes sense. People who want the mechanical connection of a manual transmission would opt for the WRX anyway.
That doesn't mean the GT has completely abandoned its WRX-like attitude. A big hood scoop feeds air to an intercooler, for one thing, and its gauges have the same wonderful red glow as the faster Subarus.
Pricing starts at $26,995, which is $2,000 more than the WRX, but it also includes more standard features, like an automatic climate control system and the automatic transmission.
Considering the Impreza GT has the WRX's spirit without all its drawbacks, a lot of drivers could find it appealing.
Pros: It has plenty of power from a turbocharged engine, and it's comfortable to drive around town with a soft suspension and relatively quiet cabin. It's a more reasonable alternative to the WRX.
Cons: The WRX offers more power for less money, and you can't get a factory navigation system like all the other flavors of the Impreza. It also has too much hard plastic in the cabin, making it feel cheaper than it is.
- Style: 8
- Performance: 7
- Price: 6
- Handling: 7
- Ride: 7
- Comfort: 8
- Quality: 6
- Overall: 7