Coming into Subaru's model lineup between the base Impreza and the Impreza WRX, the 2009 Subaru Impreza GT offers more power than the former, but fewer cabin tech options than the latter. Like all Subarus, the Impreza GT has all-wheel-drive and decent fit and finish in the cabin. The sedan body style looks good, with a hood scoop giving it a little more aggressive appearance. But the available options for the car are limited. For example, although it's supposed to be sportier than a base Impreza, it only comes with an automatic transmission, and the only cabin tech is a stereo.
Test the tech: Automatic to 60 mph
The 2009 Impreza GT gets a similar engine as the WRX, a turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-liter flat four-cylinder, tuned up to put out 224 horsepower at 5,200rpm and 226 pound-feet of torque at a nice, low 2,800rpm. That's a lot of power for this relatively small car, but where the WRX gets a manual transmission, the GT has to make due with a four-speed automatic transmission. Subaru tries to make up for the slushbox by including sport and manual modes, so we put it to the test by conducting zero to 60 mph tests using each mode.
For our first run, we left the car in its standard drive mode and put pedal to metal. The car didn't feel particularly fast off the line, but we didn't feel any excessive turbo lag, either. Giving power to all four wheels, it rolled forward without drama, and we had no problems controlling it. The transmission made some shifts and in 7.21 seconds we were past 60 mph. Digging deeper into the performance computer, we found the car made it to 30 mph in 2.50 seconds.
On to the second run, we moved the gear selector to sport mode. Again, the Impreza GT didn't feel fast off the line, but we saw the revs go higher before each gear change, which is the behavior we would expect. This time, the car got to 60 mph in 6.73 seconds, a half second gain over our previous run. 30 mph was reached in 2.33 seconds.
Then we went to manual mode. On our first run, we watched the tach as we got the car moving. About 5,500rpm we hit the shifter. The ensuing gear change didn't feel like a hard snap into gear like some sport-tuned automatics, but the standard slushbox shift. After third gear we made it to 60 mph and checked the time: 7.18 seconds. Only a little better than standard drive.
Thinking we could do better, we resolved to hold the gears up to redline, so started another run. When the needle ticked over 6,000rpm, we hit the shifter. The automatic transmission thought for a moment, then made its slushy shift. We watched the tach needle rise again, waiting for that magic moment, but at just over 5,000rpm the car decided it didn't like what we were doing and upshifted early. The car's intervention gave our second attempt a time of 7.67 seconds, although the time to 30 mph was 2.32 seconds.
We came away from these tests entirely unimpressed by the transmission, and scratching our heads over why Subaru wouldn't put a manual in this car. Although the manual might make it harder to distinguish from the WRX, the automatic just doesn't do the engine justice.
In the cabin
Subaru interiors have fit and finish quality equal to that of Honda, and the 2009 Subaru Impreza GT is no exception. Although appropriate for a car in the mid-20s price range, the materials show good quality. The design is unassuming, but nice, and we particularly like how the switchgear is inset on the steering wheel. A sunroof is standard on the GT.
But the GT doesn't have much going for it in the cabin tech department. Although navigation is available on other Impreza trims, you can't get it in the GT. Likewise, Bluetooth is available on some trims, such as the Impreza Premium and the WRX STI, but not in the GT. That leaves the stereo, an unremarkable head unit with an in-dash six-disc changer. You can play MP3 CDs in it, and the interface is pretty easy to work, with dedicated buttons for scrolling through folders. Satellite radio, either XM or Sirius, is an option, as is an iPod kit. There is also a standard auxiliary input in the console. Fortunately, this head unit is a standard double-DIN system, making it easy to upgrade to a more feature-rich unit.
Similar to the head unit, the six-speaker audio system isn't particularly interesting. We tried it with a variety of music and found that it is about average for today's cars. The sound is passable, but it won't do anything for your music. The bass isn't punchy and the mids can be muddy, while highs can be on the shrill side. Fortunately, the system isn't very loud, so these faults aren't accentuated.
Under the hood
Lacking much in the way of cabin tech, the real story about the 2009 Subaru Impreza GT should be about performance. The engine uses a variable valve timing system Subaru calls active valve control, and its 224 horsepower is only about 40 less than that of the Impreza WRX, and 55 more than in the nonturbo base Impreza.
In normal driving in the city and on the freeway, the engine delivers enough power to make the car peppy, although we felt as if the automatic transmission held back its true potential. That transmission makes the car feel more like a commuter than a sport driver. The car was easy to drive in traffic, showing no ill behavior, with reasonably precise steering. We didn't feel much turbo lag, a side benefit of the sluggish transmission.
To test out the all-wheel-drive, we took the car on some mountain roads, pushing it hard in the corners. Here, the sport mode in the transmission revealed its limitations, as it merely has higher shift points, but doesn't aggressively downshift. When we could get some acceleration out of a corner, the wheels felt grippy, the all-wheel-drive doing its thing. The suspension limited body roll enough that we didn't feel the car was wobbly.
The Impreza GT has the full range of electronic road-holding gear, starting with the electronic limited slip differential on the all-wheel-drive system and a electronically controlled transfer clutch. Traction control works on all the wheels, as well, and the car uses electronic brakeforce distribution with its antilock brakes.
Rated at 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, the Impreza GT isn't an economy superstar. During our testing, we came in at 21 mpg, solidly in the middle of that city/highway range. For emissions, the GT merely meets California's minimum LEV II rating.
The 2009 Subaru Impreza GT has a base price of $26,995, with most options dealer-installed. As such, our test car was the base model, its $665 destination charge bringing the total up to $27,660. At this price range, the Impreza GT has few competitors, as all-wheel-drive sedans are few and far between. In fact, the GT faces its strongest competition from its own stable, where a WRX can be had for just a few thousand dollars more. That means a navigation system, a more powerful engine, and even a manual transmission, leaving us to wonder why Subaru makes the GT-trimmed Impreza.
Although we like the build quality of the Impreza GT, it gets a failing grade for cabin tech, as no modern options are available besides the iPod integration. This is not what we would call a tech car. It does somewhat better on performance, mostly on the strength of its all-wheel-drive and road-holding gear. The transmission is the main thing that holds it down. For design, the car is passable, if not particularly good-looking. It will blend in with the Toyotas and Hondas on the freeway.