Going up! Subaru Impreza Turbo and WRX

Prices are rising, but there’s still nothing else on the market that teams 150mph performance with practicality and reliability for so little money

First off, it’s only right that I declare an interest: I have an Impreza Turbo, the third I’ve owned. I’m not planning on selling it, and if I do, it will only be to buy another. That’s what Imprezas do to you…

They’re currently the ultimate performance bargain, available for less than two grand in pounds, dollars, euros or Australian dollars. That’s good, because these cars are capable of 150mph and 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds or less, have immense road holding yet are supremely reliable.

But it’s bad because it means there are still cars being scrapped for very little reason. When did you last see an early (pre-1997 facelift) Impreza? It took me a long time to find mine.

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All Impreza Turbos have the trademark flat-four ‘boxer’ engine, fuel injection, five-speed gearbox (six ratios on later models) and permanent four-wheel drive. They come in four-door saloon and five-door estate (‘Wagon’ in Subaru terminology) form, plus a two-door saloon for a small number of limited-edition specials.

The works rally cars and the two-door 22B (above) and P1 (below) models have already started to achieve strong values, with the ex-Prince Naseem Hamed Impreza 22B, with just 2500 miles on the clock, selling for £73,125 in 2016.

Anything driven by the late Colin McRae will find its own, stratospheric price in the market, and will continue to rise in value – last year, a 1997 example sold for nearly £250,000. But low-mileage, unmodified early cars are also looking strong, some being offered for five-figure sums.

The rest are still bargains but we don’t think they will be for long. To know which will be most sought after, you need to understand the models...

1992-1996 pre-facelift Classic Impreza

The first of the turbocharged models. Very basic interiors, plain exteriors, introduced into UK and Australia as the 208bhp Turbo in 1994, although WRX and RA in Japan had up to 240bhp.

1997-2000 facelift Classic Impreza

Same basic shape but curvier front-end styling, much better seats and dashboard (from 1998), more torque and stronger transmission.

2000-2002 Mk2 ‘New Age’ Impreza

Now better known as the ‘Bugeye’ for its awkward headlights. All-new, larger body shape. Stronger and more powerful, but heavier and arguably the least good looking.

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2003-2007 Mk2 facelift

Often referred to as the ‘Hawkeye’ – all the advantages of the Bugeye but significantly better looking. Later models have six-speed gearboxes. Interiors were much-improved.

Which Imprezas are worth the most?

First to increase in value will be the Classics. We've already mentioned the rally cars, the 22Bs and the P1s, which are already at high prices. The pre-facelift cars are now rare and becoming sought after as well, with the Series McRae (below), Type RA, STI and Prodrive-modified versions being by far the most valuable.

The facelift Classics will be easier to save, and of those there are several special editions. The most attainable is the RB5 (below), celebrating Richard Burns’ return to Subaru. These are generally fetching £5000-plus in the UK, which is significantly more than they were going for two or three years ago.

The very best of the Classics in terms of usability are the 1999 and 2000 models, which still have the classic shape but boast by far the best interiors. The easiest – if by no means fool proof – way to spot them is by their body-colour door mirrors.

Don’t overlook the Bugeyes, which today somehow look less gawky than they did when they were introduced. They’re tougher than Classics and almost as characterful to drive – and they absolutely won’t get any cheaper, with some selling for less than £1000 in the UK. The Prodrive UK300 is one of the best of the Bugeye special editions.

The later Hawkeyes are creeping into classic territory, but prices are still strong and will probably drop further before they start to creep upwards. Look out for the RB320 (below), built to commemorate Richard Burns, who died in 2005.

Across the full span of the turbocharged cars the special editions will always be the most sought after. However, the standard production models are important, too, especially as they were the cars that first started to change the world’s perception of Subaru from a manufacturer of microcars and hardy farm transport, such as the Brat pick-up, to purveyor of performance to the masses.

Buying an Impreza

On all models, rust can be a problem. Rear wheelarches are always the first to go, but rear subframes and sill ends (visible from under the arches) may well have corroded at the same rate. It’s hard to avoid these common rust-spots, but only the worst Imprezas have issues elsewhere. A full rundown is given in our Buying Guide.

Mechanically, these cars are super tough as long as they’ve been looked after and left unmodified. Regular oil changes are crucial, ideally every 5000 miles, and it’s important to let the engine idle for 30 seconds or more after it’s been run hard, to allow the turbo to cool.

Oil leaks from the cam covers are common. These are fiddly to fix, because the engine’s flat-four configuration means there’s a cam cover low down on either side of the engine bay. If a motor fails, the crankshaft big-end or main bearings will be most likely to go first, so listen for knocks and rumbles on start-up.

A cambelt change (every 45,000 miles) is expensive because the belt has to go across both banks of cylinders. Even the parts costs well over £200 for a decent-quality kit.

Clutches last about 80,000 miles on a car that’s been treated well, while transmissions should be good for double that at the very least. If electrics haven’t been messed around with, they should remain faultless.

There are now plenty of cars faster than Impreza Turbos and WRXs, but very few (arguably none) are available at such bargain prices. They don’t have much low-down torque, but past 3000rpm the turbo really starts to make a difference, and acceleration is explosive.

Driving an Impreza

Any Impreza will feel a little underwhelming at first if driven passively. It’s important to keep the turbo spooled up, but also to really drive the car through corners. Don’t coast through, but accelerate out of every bend and you’ll feel the centre differential redistribute the torque and balance the car. Suddenly, it goes from feeling a bit woolly and wanting to understeer to a precision weapon!

Brakes are no better than ‘okay’ for the early cars, although they were made progressively better through the years. Interiors are basic but they don’t rattle or squeak. They do everything you need them to do, which is fine by us.

The Impreza Turbo is one of those cars that’s greater than the sum of its parts. They work so well without having anything particularly tricky about them. They’re great everyday classics and workhorses, but they always feel special.

If there’s one bit of advice we’d reiterate again and again, it’s to buy an unmodified example. The only exception to that is one with genuine factory STI, Prodrive or (for later cars ) Cosworth modifications – and even then, buy with care if the modifications are extreme.

Oh, and if you find a P1 or 22B at a sensible price, snap it up!

David Lillywhite’s Prodrive Impreza

Whose? Mine! It’s my third Impreza Turbo, and the oldest of the three so far. The first was a facelift Classic saloon, the second a Hawkeye Wagon, and this is a 1996 pre-facelift Classic Wagon, modified from new by Prodrive – one of the UK company’s first factory-approved conversions. It even has a little brass plaque on the dashboard to say so…

I bought it with 92,000 miles on the clock in February 2015, with full service history and just three previous owners, for £2000. By April 2018 it had covered 145,000 miles – and it’s never broken down or failed to start, although there have been many DIY oil and filter changes, one clutch and two cambelts in that time.

I’ve also replaced all four brake discs, upgraded the brake hoses to stainless steel flexi lines, fitted Powerflex bushes all round and replaced the steering rack, which started leaking at around the 130,000-mile mark.

The Prodrive modifications mostly centred around fitting Recaro front seats and retrimming rear seats and door cards to match. It also fitted a Momo gearknob and Speedline Safari wheels, which had gone missing by the time I bought the car – but I’ve since sourced a replacement set.

I also managed to track down a set of Prodrive-spec Bilstein suspension struts with matching Prodrive-spec Eibach springs. I don’t think my car was fitted with them originally, but they would have been an option – and they transform the car. Since then, Bilstein has reintroduced these items to its classic range.

Imprezas aren’t known for their economy, but driven sensibly(ish) on my commute I’ve always achieved 30mpg or better out of this car, and 28-30mpg overall across all three Imprezas that I’ve owned over the years. I can’t think of another model I’d rather use as my everyday hack. It’s fun, fast and reliable.

Once bitten by the Subaru bug, you’ll wonder how you survived without one…

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