Subaru Impreza WRX - Future Classic

By: Alex Affat , Photography by: Unique Cars Archives

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On the cusp of classic: The first WRX has failed to appreciate at the rate of many other Japanese contemporaries, but it surely won't stay that way

From a WRC hero to a Sydney ram-raider’s top choice of wheels, to an unsympathetic P-plater’s performance bargain dream; the first-generation Subaru Impreza WRX has led a colourful life, but has spent recent memory in the dumps of depreciation. It is showing signs of picking itself up however, and arguably deserves far more appreciation than has traditionally been given.

And while 90s Japanese sports cars seem to be spiking across the board, you generally haven’t required much more than $10,000 to step into an early WRX for years.

Although, that wasn’t always the case.

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The WRX name first appeared on the Australian market in February 1994. Costing $39,990 upon launch, and coming with a turbocharged 2.0lt boxer-four and 50/50 all-wheel drive, the new WRX was a shot heard round the car world, and would ultimately change the way buyers viewed both the Impreza as a model, and Subaru as a brand.

| 2020 Market Review: Subaru WRX STi (1994-2006)

For the twenty years on the Australian market before that, Australian motorists typified the Subaru brand by its characterless and utilitarian design, and the somewhat agricultural underpowered boxer engine.

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The WRX wasn’t without its sceptics mind you. The styling of those early series cars was bland at best, and be reminded that the standard Impreza introduced the year prior was a pedestrian and underpowered front-wheel drive runabout.

| Buyers Guide: Subaru WRX 1994-1998

The chassis itself may have been based on the Liberty’s floorpan, but it was both shorter, lighter and stiffer; and was almost perfectly suited to dominate new World Rally Championship. Add in the winning Liberty RS Turbo’s EJ20 mechanicals, and Subaru was able to convert most of those sceptics with three consecutive WRC and 10 consecutive Australian Rally Championships.

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The WRX quickly earned itself a giant-killing reputation, with motoring journalists at the time pitting it against a variety of Australia’s homegrown V8s and even more exotic and expensive foreign metal – in many cases, the humble Subaru put them to shame.

Despite its small capacity, the turbocharged 2.0lt boxer produced a heady 155kW at 6000rpm, and 270Nm at 4800rpm when new. Not exactly outgunned by the Falcon XR8’s 5.0lt V8 at the time which produced 165kW. The Subaru weighed 400kg less than the Falcon however, and had Subaru’s symmetrical AWD on its side.

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Inside the cabin, plastic materials were the norm for Japanese cars of the era, although viewed as a little basic (albeit functional) for a car in this price bracket. ABS, air-conditioning and power windows were standard, and a leather-wrapped gear stick and steering wheel were unique to the WRX.

The first Australian-market special edition named the ‘WRX Rallye’ would arrive in 1995 and set buyers back $2000 over standard list price. 121 units were imported to mark the Subaru Rally Team’s first WRC win. All were dipped in ‘Prodrive Blue’ paint, with colour-coded mirrors and door handles, ubiquitous gold wheels, and ‘Extreme Sports Seats’.

By late 1996, the standard WRX’s list price had ballooned to $45,000 and was also available with a four-speed automatic gearbox option, with no tangible slowdown or uptick in sales.

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MY1997 cars received the first significant update for the generation: Prodrive Blue was now the regular colour whilst a new grille and bonnet distinguished the updated series. The cabin got some much-needed touches of class (including white face gauges) and turbocharger was swapped for a quicker-spooling unit with a smaller housing. Peak power remained at 155kW and arrived 400rpm sooner.

1998 saw WRXs gain 16-inch wheels and also the long-awaited arrival of the two-door STi variant. The two-door STi boasted a bigger turbo, forged pistons, new exhaust and various other go-fast bits which yielded 206kW at 6500rpm and could clock triple digits in under 5.0 seconds flat.

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The final MY00 cars arrived in August 1999 with different alloy wheels and colour-coded door handles and mirrors. To mark the end of the generation, Subaru Australia sold 100 WRX Clubspec editions. There were 50 sedans and 50 hatches, all painted in pale yellow paint.

While generally speaking it is often the first of the series that collectors flock to, when hunting early WRXs that may not be the case. 1999-2000 cars look the most imposing and quelled much of the criticisms levied at the WRX upon launch in 1994, however many of Subaru’s running mechanical updates were less proven and durable. Later cars were geared more towards daily drivers whilst earlier cars bore much more of a homologated edge to them.

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Early cars are much harder to find too, as Subaru sold more units in 1999 than it did between 1994 and 1997 in their entirety. The WRXs late-blooming popularity in many ways coincides with Australia’s once-popular late-model import community which reached fever pitch around the millennium.

WRXs were a hit with aftermarket modifiers, and later with the Autosalon custom crowd - which no doubt fuelled diabolical rates of attrition amongst good original examples. Even worse for future values, the WRX was also a hit with Australia’s underbelly, who found that the World Rally pedigree also suited itself to ramraiding ATMs and escaping from police. A huge black market once existed for these cars, which frequently appeared at the top of ‘most stolen’ cars for years.

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After decades of bad PR, you can still step into a first-generation sedan for under $10,000, although their condition may have declined due to decades of apathetic young owners. Less visually-modified examples with over 200,000kms are frequently found for between $10,000 and $15,000. It’s only recently that the WRX has been the subject of the classic conversation; but we reckon the time is ripe for a turnaround.

When you do find exceptionally well-kept original examples, you’ll notice that values quickly double or even treble. This illustrates a large disparity in condition between affordable cars with questionable history, and those that have been treasured since new.

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Standard WRX sedans with under 100,000kms on the clock can ask as much as $25-$30,000, whilst two-door STi coupes seem to be the ones to have – at upwards of $80,000.

With the way all 90s Japanese collectibles are going, if they’re not yet a classic, they’re about to be. But a hard life has seen many of them deteriorate into less-than classic condition. If you’re looking to buy, buy the best and most original one you can. And if you already have one, take care of it!

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FOR

  • Truly redefined performance for an entire generation
  • Genuine WRC provenance
  • A capable and hugely fun drive to this day


AGAINST

  • Very, very difficult to find one in good original condition
  • Basic and spartan interior for the price of a good one
  • Major disparity in condition (and price) on the market

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For Unique Cars #444, Sep 2020 

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