By on November 16, 2021

On a recent Buy/Drive/Burn that featured some alternative Japanese compacts from 2008, frequent commenter theflyersfan suggested a second look at the same three cars, but in hotter variants. Today’s the day, and it’s 2009.

Note: To keep things fair we didn’t step up to the full-tilt Impreza and Lancer, as the less hot Mazdaspeed 3 can’t compete.

Mazda Mazdaspeed 3

Mazda introduced the Mazdaspeed 3 for the 2007 model year, and it continues largely unchanged for its final year in first-gen guise. Produced in Japan at Mazda’s plant in Hofu, all Mazdaspeed 3s are four-door hatchbacks. All examples use the same 2.3-liter turbocharged inline-four, an L architecture engine that shares its block with Ford’s 2.0-liter EcoBoost. Two-hundred and sixty-three horses travel to the front wheels via a six-speed manual, which is the only transmission on offer. Today’s trim is the fully loaded Grand Touring, which asks just $24,455 and makes the Mazda a value leader.

Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart

The Ralliart is the sportiest, fastest Lancer that does not wear an Evolution badge. Unlike other trims of the standard Lancer, the Ralliart gets more power for 2009. The 2.0-liter inline-four is turbocharged and smaller than the naturally aspirated 2.4-liter found in less sporty trims. Two-hundred and thirty-seven horses travel to all four wheels via the six-speed automatic. Fitting its sporty performance, the Ralliart sedan is considerably more expensive than other Lancer trims, at $26,690.

Subaru Impreza WRX

The current Impreza is in its second year for 2009, and a new turbocharged 2.5-liter engine joins the lineup. Thanks to that engine, the WRX experiences a bump in power over last year; a considerable 41 horses. The power enhancement means a total of 265 horses, which proceed through all four wheels via the six-speed manual transmission. Today’s sedan selection is the WRX Premium, which is a step down from the significantly more expensive STi. WRX asks $27,495.

Three fairly hot compacts, all of which offer much more performance and driving excitement over their standard trims. Which one goes home with you?

[Images: Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru]

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37 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Hot Japanese Sport Compacts From 2009...”


  • avatar
    2kriss2kross

    Buy Mazda. I live somewhere where rust isn’t an issue and it’s a hatch. This car along with the contemporary 6 steered Mazda to a better direction to where they are today. Just got my license around this time and I listed after these heavily.

    Drive Mitsu, another car I lusted for along with the Mazda. Wouldn’t buy though because Lancers of these generations don’t hold up well at least the ones still around here, interior quality is a notch below the Mazda, and not 100% confident in Mitsubishis quality

    Burn Subaru. Never quite get the Subaru hype though I live somewhere where I don’t really need AWD perhaps that’s why. This gens styling isn’t my favorite and their interior looks costcutted to hell and I don’t trust Subaru’s reliability, at least around this time.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Buy the Ralliart. This is an easy one. I know most people were never too keen on these but I always *really* liked them. I couldn’t really swing the price in 2009 but they were still making them in 2013 when I had the budget. Test drove one, was still into it. Checked out the Lancer forums and they told me to buy a Mustang. Ended up with a Charger R/T, which was still fun but quite different. I wonder how my preferences today would be if I bought the Mitsubishi instead.

    Drive the Mazda. I’ve had some friends with these. They are fun cars and the hatch is nice.

    Burn the WRX. The wing is too small.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Glad this one came up…

    Buy the Mazdaspeed3. My sister had one, a friend of mine still has one as a weekend car, and they still drive great. Rust hasn’t been an issue, and they are a riot to drive. Combine this with the RX-8 and MX-5 and this might have been peak zoom-zoom time for Mazda. Please, for the love of God Mazda, bring this back. You have the turbo, you have an AWD 3, so beef it up, boost it more, and watch out.

    Drive the Subaru. Another friend of mine had the WRX wagon. It was an absolute blast to drive and the AWD got him through the worst winters in the Mid-Atlantic, but even he got tired of the cheap feeling interior, squeaks and rattles, and even some transmission grind at low miles. But if I had a weekend fling in the snow, give me the WRX.

    Burn the Mitsubishi. And I thought the Subaru interior looked cheap. I love the Evo. I wish Mitsubishi had the brass ones to bring it back. But owning one isn’t an option with a paltry dealer network, and even the Evo doesn’t feel finished. You buy it knowing what you are going to get: a $38,000 car wrapped in a $19,000 wrapper, but with the goods under the hood and at each corner.

    And I’m hoping a few years from now, we look at 2021-22 as we’re looking at these models. We still have cheap speed with VW, Honda, Hyundai, Acura (coming soon), Nissan with the new Z, Mazda with the MX-5, and entry Mustangs and Camaros. I still shed a tear at what we’ve lost at the alter of all things crossover, but there’s still some good stuff out there.

    Thank you Corey – your turn!

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      +1.
      Mazda will last
      Subaru will drive – AWD + low center of gravity
      Lancer, while might drive, will not last

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with your rankings here! The Mazda is the best all-rounder, and the Mitsubishi is the opposite. While I would enjoy having the all-wheel drive of the WRX on occasion, what I wouldn’t want to live with all the time is its lack of refinement and engine noise. It would be fine to borrow, especially if it were snowing.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Buy the Mazda – it’s a bada**, knows it, and makes no bones about it.

    Drive the Mitsu.

    Burn the WRX.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    None of these deserve burning. I can’t bring myself to type it.

    Buy Mazda, drive both Ralliart and WRX.

    OK, fine, I don’t want an email from Corey lecturing me about the rules. Find a regular Impreza, pretend it’s the WRX, and burn it.

  • avatar
    kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh

    Not sure what it is but here in Eugene oregon there are a ton of the mazdapseeds running around all of a sudden… have not seen a single example of the other two.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I wouldn’t actually kick any of these out of my driveway. But if we must…

    Buy: Geez – I guess the Mazda. Of the three I feel like it’s the one I would have bought at the time. I really liked them and still do. This gen is the best MS3 as far as I’m concerned.

    Drive: Evo-lite. I struggle with this since I really liked this one too. But not as much at the time as I did later as I came to appreciate what it had to offer. These were really great looking cars and while they suffered a bit at the hands of cheapness in places, they offered serious value for the money.

    Burn: WRX – only because I think this is the worst generation of the WRX looks-wise. That is until the upcoming one with the black (which will fade to gray) cladding ridiculousness. If this was the hatch, well, it would be even tougher to decide.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    As pictured, buy the Mazda and burn the other two, because trunks are dumb on compact cars.

    I’m not sure if it was available in ’09, but at some point the Ralliart was sold as a true station wagon. I bet they sold 1,000 of ’em, tops. But that’s a car I would have like to have owned.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    Surprised to be the first one here who would buy the WRX, and really it isn’t particularly close for me. Then again I’ve never been much of a Mazda 3 guy and AWD is legitimately useful where I live.

    The auto-burn status of the Mitsubishi means I guess I’m driving the Mazda.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Buy the WRX. If you don’t believe me check your favorite resale value source. Cry about your hurt feelings. Take your other car to the rallycross, strip, or stoplight. Wash your cheeks again.

    Drive the speed3. It feels fast unless an actually fast car pulls you. It’s pretty.

    Burn the Mitsubishi. There’s a reason they stopped selling.

  • avatar

    I had Ford Focus with 2.3L Mazda engine. It was very fast vehicle even without turbo. Subaru I find to be too crude for my taste and Mitsu is a Mitsu so:
    Buy Mazda
    Drive Mazda
    Burn Mitsu and
    Burn WRX

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Sell them all and get a Granada

  • avatar
    Mustangfast

    I didn’t realize the 2.0 ecoboost I drove home in tonight was born from the 2.3.

    Easily buy the speed3. Useful, practical, stylish and powerful. It will last unless you beat on it way too hard. I see these everywhere still. I still feel like it and the GTI define the segment, and plant flag poles at either end with the speed3 occupying the crazy end. I’m also a Mazda fan so I’m partially biased.

    Drive: gonna say the Mitsu. Just because it apparently has an auto which is unique from the others, and at least it looks good. It’s definitely the car that pulls the most above its normal version in terms of desirability.

    Burn: WRX. Or just wait for the head gasket to blow and watch it get pulled away on a tow truck. Honestly the styling earns the burn, way too soft and dull for a “sporty” car.

    • 0 avatar
      conundrum

      @Mustangfast. The turbo EJ Subaru never had a head gasket issue, because the die-cast cylinders were supported to the block at the top. I had a Legacy GT with a version of the turbo engine. Never a moment’s trouble in 12 years, and I made sure to redline it every time I left home. Becuz it just FELT good!

      But then, how are you supposed to know the intricacies of the cooking EJ versus the turbo version? Check the resale prices, that’s how. These things last, even with the world’s cheapest interior in the WRX.

      The Lancer Ralliart had a better AWD system than Subaru WRX, and didn’t understeer like a pig. When the EVO turned into a 3700 lb fattie at the last going off, all the mags still found it handled better than the STI which weighed three hundred pounds less. Hmmm.

      The Mazda frankly was a torque-steering FWD overpowered piece of rubbish. The last one the Mazda dealer had on the lot, he just could not get rid of it, a red 2013 that graced a space on the front lot for two years. It’s reputation preceded it.

      I had a Legacy GT and was never tempted by any of these things. Burn ’em all/

  • avatar
    slyons

    As a side note, it’s pretty amazing that the 2009 WRX cost $27K and the 2021 MSRP is only $29k. It seems quite a bit nicer. Maybe the 2009 was a little overpriced.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      I just checked cars-dot-com nationwide and 2009 WRX’s (15 of them) still sell for $9k to $16k used. I could find only 2 Lancers Raliarts ($9k and $14k) and 2 Mazdaspeed 3’s that escaped the tinworm ($9k and $10k). These things still sell for serious money despite being 12 years old.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Those resale figures certainly influence my opinion.

        Drive: The Mazda. Useful configuration and a ‘fun’ factor. Unfortunately here in Ontario Canada, they did indeed rust.
        Buy: The Subaru. Only because of the resale.
        Burn: Unfortunately the Mitsu. This is proof that even if you ‘build a better mousetrap’ that consumers will not always support it. Mitsu had some decent offerings based on value/reliability, yet still had/has problems selling them. While other manufacturers still sell copious amounts of vehicles that are are ‘inferior’ based on cost/reliability. And give Mitsu props for selling the Lancer Sportback for a number of years in Canada. It was a true ‘small wagon’, comparable in size to the wagons VW sold at the time, but somewhat ‘lower’.

    • 0 avatar
      72MGB

      I had a 1997 Accord LX that stickered at $22,000. Accords start at under $26,000 now, so not much difference.

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    I see several Mazda Speed 3s in really good shape around here. We had a 2008 regular 3 and loved it.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    Buy: I would buy the WRX for perceived longevity and AWD.

    Drive: Mazdaspeed 3. I owned a Speed6 and it was loads of fun and absolutely bonkers engine, can only imagine it in a lighter FWD vehicle.

    Burn: Mitsu. Never really been able to get excited about Mitsu offerings since the days of the Eclipse and 3000gt. Poor dealer network, dead brand walking sort of, etc.

  • avatar
    72MGB

    I would buy the WRX. I have 17 Limited with 56,000 trouble free miles. LOVE IT!!! I know this is about an 09, but I also have an 09 Forester that went 120,000 miles before it’s first repair.
    Drive the Mazda. If there were no Subbies, I’d be in Mazdas.
    Burn the Mitsubishi. Remember seeing way too many of them in the 90’s and 00’s smoking out of the tailpipe as they drove by. They still make sub-par vehicles.

  • avatar

    I’d take the ralliart. It gets the cool SST dual clutch and some of the evo AWD goodness. Lot’s of people hate on Mitsubishi’s for reliability but I’m not sure that’s fair. The people I know with 2004 on up Mitsubishi products have had good luck and reading the forums seems to back them up. They have really cheap interiors and the CVT’s have issues but other then that they are kind of cockroachs most get taken out from poor resale value then failures, (kind of like 2nd gen neons). The biggest issue with the ralliart is the DCT has very expensive service bills (like 6-700 for trans and diff service every 25k) as I recall and many owners I’m sure skipped those so that likley means expensive deferred maintenance.
    The Speed 3 is awesome fun and I wanted on back in the day, but they rust like crazy and had fairly high rates of engine failure.
    I don’t really like this gen WRX but it might actually be the safest bet for most people.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Lancer Ralliart
    WRX
    Mazdaspeed 3

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    Buy: WRX. Great AWD, beefier HG compared to non-turbo EJ25 engines, best resale out of the bunch. I don’t like the styling but I’ve owned cars like that in the past.

    Drive: Mazdaspeed 3: torque steer must be fun! I like hatchbacks

    Burn: Lancer Ralliart. Best exterior styling but I’m not fond of the complicated dual clutch auto.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Buy Mazdaspeed 3 and drive WRX. I won’t say burn the Ralliart but it would be my last choice of these three. I’d probably have paid more to get an Evo VIII were I to go to a Mitsubishi showroom back then.

    What a time it was! Back in those olden days, in addition to getting along with people from the other political party, you could get fast manual performance cars from all three of these manufacturers. Today, the Mazda3 is automatic-only and looks like a bubble that we’re told is an executive car like the BMW 3-series (right). The WRX now looks like the Crosstrek sedan and is causing fist fights at dealerships (to get the outgoing model). And Mitsubishi? Errr…

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I think my answer here is the same as in the last pedestrian lineup. Searching for any of these used today would be interesting, based purely on how many are left.

    Buy: Subaru. I still see a number of these cars from this generation in Minnesota

    Drive: Mazda. Since this engine is apparently related to the engine in the Focus ST, I’d be curious how similar the two are to drive. However, I’m not sure when the last time I saw one driving around was. Whether this is due to popularity or rust is a mystery. I do live in a close suburb to about 5 Mazda dealers (within 30 miles – 1 is about 6 miles from my house).

    Burn: Mitsubishi. No real reason, but I don’t see many around and am not sure how well they last.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Buy drive ’em all, you’ll never see their kind again.

  • avatar
    alien1979

    I feel somewhat qualified to comment on this as I owned both a 2007 Speed3 and later a 2010 Lancer Ralliart Sportback.

    Buy the Speed3. It was a great car and I cannot say enough good things about that MZR engine. Only reason I sold it is I got a great deal on a manual transmission Mercedes SLK. It did have 3 or 4 things fail on it the first few months I had it, but no issues after that.

    Drive the Ralliart. I had my Sportback for 48k miles and not one thing went wrong with it. Yes, the DCT was expensive to service, but it was very reliable and fun to drive. I also had the optional Recaros and they were awesome but a bit painful on long trips.

    Burn the Subie. I know too many people that had issues with those motors.

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