The last thing car fans would have expected from Subaru ten years ago was a fast car that would make even the tuner crowd stand in attention. They’d have expected Subaru to unleash a slew of nice improvements each year for its fleet of safe, comfortable, reliable four wheel drive sedans and SUVs. They’d have expected models which would spend more time at the dealership getting regular maintenance than in one’s garage getting a turbo upgrade. In 2000, they’d have their expectations shattered.
A Four-Wheel What?
Fuji Heavy Industries had been producing a four-door, four wheel drive sedan called the Impreza since 1993, helping the Subaru brand realize a lot of success and recognition over the years. Featuring Subaru’s characteristic flat engine, the Impreza very quietly offered an optional trim level with a turbo engine that wore several different names over the years, one of which was the “WRX” moniker. Throughout the rest of the decade, the standard Impreza would prove to be modest proposition for those looking for a good car, although street racers and tuners certainly took notice of the turbo option.
For the 2000 model year, the Impreza received a cosmetic overhaul, including a new body design with the “bug eye” headlights which would become the defining characteristic of 2000-2003 versions of the car (Subaru would nevertheless redesigned the headlights, which some considered unattractive, for 2004). Building on the Impreza’s compact and boxy style, engineers added a short and stock roof scoop, a tall front spoiler and a modest rear wing spoiler. The WRX looked like a tuner, with its stocky sedan body shining through all of the race-inspired design elements. That’s exactly what happened underneath the hood as well.
All the Horses
The improved WRX came to the United States in 2001. With a turbocharged 1.9 liter variant of the EJ20 engine, it boasted an impressive 227 horsepower and 217 foot pounds of torque. Paired with a five speed manual transmission, a stiff suspension, and of course four wheel drive, the Impreza WRX provided a unique combination of power and handling, which translated into a versatile and quick car.
When it came time to test performance, Subaru validated a formula that enthusiasts of import tuning already knew: light-weight + compact Japanese design + modified engines = an impressive speed due to a low weight to power ratio. The Impreza WRX could go 0 to 60 in under 6 seconds and complete the ¼ mile in under 15, placing it a notch ahead of its stock competitors. With some well-planned upgrades, the committed tuner could squeeze even greater performance out of the compact sports car.
A Few Revisions
Staying true to its quirky image, Subaru marked each model years as a letter-coded “revision”. The 2000 version was the Subaru Impreza WRX Rev. A, while the first model to be sold in the states was the Rev. B. Each year from 2002-2007, Subaru would make minor adjustments to the WRX in response to owner feedback, complaints and internal preferences. For the 2004 model year, the cars received the facelift outlined above, which centered on a new, more subtle headlight design, as well as new molded seats. In the following year, lower body panels were added.
In 2006, extensive redesigns created what amounts to a sub-generation, with a new body design and a string of mechanical improvements. The front spoiler was redesigned with more aggressive lines and recessed fog lamps, the previously boxy upper body was smoothed out, the wing on both sedans and hatchbacks retouched and, finally, the hood scoop shortened, heightened, and rounded a bit.
Beneath the new hood scoop sat a new engine, the 2.5 liter turbocharged EJ255. As yet another upgrade to the venerable Fuji EJ20 engine line, the 255 pushed out 230 horsepower and 235 ft. lb. of torque. Though the horsepower rating was only a slight upgrade from the smaller EJ205, the increase in torque was much more significant and gave the Impreza WRX a low-end boost over the competition. Aluminum elements were added to the suspension to reduce weight. This slate of changes earned the Impreza extra fractions of a second on it 0-60 and ¼ mile run times.
The Impreza continues to receive yearly revisions on its new third-generation platform. In 2009 the EJ255 received a revision of its own, significantly increasing horsepower and with it the performance of the WRX. Subaru’s surprising commitment to its sporty tuner demonstrates that car makers without long-standing performance car programs can compete in the contemporary market. Although it no doubts helps to have the Shelby label or a storied past in LeMans and Monaco behind you, all it really takes to create fast, popular cars is good engineering and responsiveness to the market. Let’s hope Subaru keeps the tradition going with the fourth-generation Impreza and (if there is one) WRX.