Magazine Cover - Classic Cars For Sale - 1000s of Classic Car Reviews, How To Service & Maintenance Guides

Subaru Impreza Turbo

Published: 27th Apr 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Rust isn’t a problem on but crashed ones are so check any car out thoroughly Rust isn’t a problem on but crashed ones are so check any car out thoroughly
Trim isn’t plush but hardy. Has competition equipment been installed then removed? Trim isn’t plush but hardy. Has competition equipment been installed then removed?
Engines are longlasting in looked after properly. Beware of worn turbos and poor power chip conversions Engines are longlasting in looked after properly. Beware of worn turbos and poor power chip conversions
the Impreza started off as a simple, dependable but bland family car before Subaru worked on it and went motorsport the Impreza started off as a simple, dependable but bland family car before Subaru worked on it and went motorsport
Scooby makes a great and cost effective road/track day car even in standard guise Scooby makes a great and cost effective road/track day car even in standard guise
Magazine Subscription
The latest issue of Classic Cars For Sale is on sale now - Pick up your copy from all good newsagents including WHSmith or click here to subscribe now

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 20%

Subscribe NOW

Available at all good newsagents including WHSmith

What is a Subaru Impreza Turbo (and its derivatives)?

It’s perhaps the most usable performance car ever produced, offering mind-altering performance, fourdoor saloon or five-door estate practicality and reliability that most other car makers can only dream of. If that sounds like a recipe for being expensive, well it isn’t. Not only were these earliest examples relatively affordable when new, but now they’ve been out of production a few years, they’re cheaper than ever. You really can have your cake and eat it where this assured modern classic is concerned.


While the Impreza Turbo’s launch initially went largely unnoticed way back in the early 1990s, it didn’t take long for enthusiasts to latch on the car’s abilities once it started to rack up rally victories around the world in the hands of drivers such as Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae and the late Richard Burns. Thanks to this motorsport success and coverage in the motoring press, word got out about the Turbo’s talents and it wasn’t long before demand outstripped supply. But as the word spread, Subaru ramped up production and for many years there have been more than enough cars to go round. The Impreza phenomenon began with the Japanese launch of the original car back in 1992, with the WRX and WRX RA topping the range. Six months later the car made its debut in Europe, although there was no Turbo option.! By October 1993 there was already a revised WRX on sale in Japan; just four months later there was an STi-tuned derivative available with 247bhp, a close-ratio gearbox, uprated suspension and bodywork revisions.

It was March 1994 that the first Impreza Turbos were exported to the UK and Australia and in June of the following year the first special edition appeared. Named the Series McRae edition, it was launched to celebrate victory in the RAC Rally and it featured 6.5x16 gold alloys, a sunroof and mica blue paint; 200 were officially built. Things started to take off for the Impreza Turbo around this time, even if the fan base was still small. By October 1996 there was a facelifted Turbo with an upgraded interior, revised nose and tail and a torquier engine (there was now 214lbft on offer). Within six months there was another limited edition Impreza, this time called the Catalunya. With wicked black paint, on gold five-spoke alloys (and air con), just 200 were produced.

The next revisions came in October 1997, with an upgraded interior and 16” wheels - then in March 1998 came a new dash and the introduction of the Terzo special edition. This came with blue paint, gold alloys, air-con and remote central locking; 333 were made. The most exclusive blown Impreza ever was then launched in October of the same year; the Prodrive-modified 22B Type UK. Just 16 cars were sold in the UK, with a 2.2-litre powerplant that gave 276bhp. There was also beefed-up WRC-style bodywork and a £39,950 price tag; the car quickly sold out.

In March 1999 the Phase II Impreza Turbo went on sale, with revised cylinder heads to produce power; this jumped to 215bhp. A Thatcham category 1 alarm/immobiliser was also now standard, as everyone went Impreza Turbo crazy and thefts of the cars rocketed. The final incarnations of the MkI Impreza Turbo arrived in April 1999, with the launch of the RB5 limited edition. Named after the late Richard Burns in recognition of his rally success in the car, the RB5 featured metallic grey paint, 17” six-spoke alloys and alcantara trim; just 444 were built. At the same time, the P1 two door saloon was also introduced, complete with 276bhp and blue paint. They were an instant sell out, and when the original Impreza was replaced by the bugeyed version in October 2000, suddenly everyone realised just what a good looker the earlier car actually was!


Since its launch more than a decade ago, the Impreza Turbo has redefined the term performance car. That may be a big statement to make, but you only have to drive one on road or track and you’ll see immediately that it’s no overstatement. The laws of physics go straight out the window the first
time you get to a corner travelling apparently way too fast to make it - and emerge unscathed wearing a big grin across your face. Then you realise it’s not a one-off and you can repeat the trick over and over; this is one seriously talented car But this ‘modern Lotus Cortina’ extremely practical too, especially the odd looking quasi-hatchback five-door variant.


Nearly six years after the demise of the first generation car, an early one can now be picked up for just £5000, whether it’s an imported WRX or an official UK-supplied 208bhp car. The most you’ll pay for one of the last of the first-generation Turbos is £10,000 - and for that it’ll be a mint low-miler with a warranty. That means the bulk of available examples are available for just £6000-8000, with 60,000-100,000 miles on the clock. For such relatively small sums of money, when it comes to finding a car that offers such a mix of practicality, usability, reliability and performance - as well as fun – you’ll have to look long and hard to find anything else that comes close. That said, cheap cars can be a liability.

What To Look For

  • Although the Impreza’s boxer engine is frequently thrashed, it’s not an especially stressed unit in standard form, so it’ll soldier on for high mileages without giving problems. But it needs a service every 7500 miles (and a new cam belt every 45,000) or it’ll deteriorate quickly. Regular oil changes are essential, using a decent synthetic oil; a caring owner will also have idled the engine before switching off, allowing the turbo to cool.
  • If the turbo has seen better days there’ll be blue smoke coming from the exhaust as the engine sits idling away. That’s because the turbocharger’s seals have worn, and it’s the thick end of £1000 to fix it.
  • If an aftermarket exhaust has been fitted, check it fits properly and that it’s not unreasonably loud. Some of the bigger bore systems on the market are insanely noisy and are really uncomfortable on a long journey.
  • As with the rest of the mechanicals, the transmission tends to take a hammering when the car is used as intended. Everything is well engineered, so easily up to the job, but an abused car may well have a slipping clutch or notchy gearbox.
  • Although automatic transmissions were available in some markets such as Australia and Japan, they weren’t offered in the UK. That meant all UK-bound cars got a fivespeed manual ‘box, which is pretty tough but not bullet-proof. The cogs can get damaged through abuse, which means a full rebuild at a cost of anywhere between £650 and £3000 depending on what’s needed and who does the work.
  • The Impreza’s suspension is amazingly durable, when you consider what it has to cope with. But it’s not infallible, as the anti roll bar bushes wear out. This is given away by noisy suspension (road noise transmitted through the bodyshell). It’s worth replacing the bushes with heavier duty polyurethane items at £60 per pair, with two needed at each end of the car. While you’re at it, swapping the standard 20mm anti-roll bar for a 22mm item is a good idea as it reduces understeer and costs just £90.
  • Other points to watch for are worn bushes and drop links. For the sake of durability, upgrade to polyurethane items in the case of the former and swap the plastic drop-links for steel items at £39 per pair (two are fitted at each end of the car). Similarly, change the rubber steering rack mounting bushes for polyurethane items to improve steering precision; they’re just £14 each and they take a mere hour to swap over.
  • If the car has been clouted or the wheels badly kerbed, one or more of the suspension components could be bent out of true. So get underneath and make sure there’s no obvious damage; the key areas to check are the rear suspension links as well as the inner front wishbone mounts. Have geometry checked?
  • Although the standard braking system is very good, cars that have been driven really hard (such as on track days) will probably have had an upgraded system fitted. Repeated braking from high speeds will induce fade, so harder pads and/or upgraded discs are a worthwhile alteration. Whatever is installed, make sure the discs aren’t cracked or warped; the latter condition will be given away by juddering under braking.
  • Some of the early cars fitted with 15-inch wheels suffered from porous alloy. Any affected wheels should have been replaced under warranty, but there may be cars that have slipped through the net. Also have a look at what state the tyres are in; if they’ve worn unevenly it’s probably because the wheels have been kerbed. If you’re lucky it may be because just the tracking has been knocked out, but the whole of the suspension may be misaligned. Check for a bent chassis.
  • Although the Impreza’s limits are very high, there’s only so much the car can do if a complete idiot gets behind the wheel. So check that the car hasn’t been crashed and badly repaired; uneven panel gaps will give the game away. Major bodywork mods aren’t that common; the focus is usually on the mechanicals. Also get an HPI check done (01722 422 422, to check the car’s insurance claim history; it may have been a write off or stolen/recovered.
  • The Japanese do electrics like the French do food; consistent perfection is the order of the day. As long as the car’s loom hasn’t been butchered, there won’t be anything to worry about - the problem is that looms are often messed with to fit aftermarket equipment. Therefore, if the car’s stereo is a multi-amp mega-watt system, be very wary. It’s a similar story where post-factory security has been installed; don’t assume the fitter knew what they were doing. Also have a look at any extra lighting that’s been bolted on; high powered headlamp bulbs have been known to melt underbonnet wiring. Consequently you need to inspect any wiring you can see (under the dash and in the engine bay) - if there are nasties here, there’s a good chance it’ll be worse out of sight.
  • Although the Impreza’s interior was never going to scare the likes of BMW or Audi for quality, the trim is more durable than it looks. Replacement parts can be sourced, but you’re unlikely to need any unless there’s been butchering to fit aftermarket bits.


A great future classic, you’ll struggle to find a completely original-spec Turbo, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Upgrades to the suspension and brakes invariably make the car more usable, but be wary of engine modifications that compromise reliability. Also look out for abused cars that have been driven mercilessly on one track day after another; the Turbo is great on a circuit, but such conditions are notoriously harsh for any car. While Turbos are cheap to buy, running costs aren’t especially low – especially as servicing requirements are on the demanding side. As well as an insurance rating that ranges between groups 17 and 20, rates can be much higher for grey imports that weren’t brought in through official channels.

The Turbo also has a thirst for unleaded that can really drain your wallet if you have some serious fun with the car; 15mpg is easily achieved if driven to the
max. Servicing costs are also high but you can save a fortune by staying outside the official dealer network. Official Subaru dealers aren’t allowed to touch grey imports, so if you buy one of these, when it comes to servicing you’ll have to go to a specialist anyway (all WRXs fall into this category). Many of the cars for sale are independent imports, brought in either new or used.Watch out for Japanese modifications for which you can’t easily get replacement parts in the UK; a service history is essential with any Impreza and particularly any grey imports, which usually come devoid of any proper paper work. But buy wisely and anything you’ve ever owned before will pale into insignificance; the Impreza Turbo is that good.

Classic Motoring

Share This Article

Share with Facebook Share with Facebook

Share with Twitter Tweet this article

Share bookmark with Delicious Share bookmark with Delicious

Share with Digg Digg this article

Share with Email Share by email

User Comments

This review has 0 comments - Be the first!

Leave a comment

Keep it polite and on topic. Your email address will not be published. Please do not advertise products, all posts of this nature will be removed. We do not stock or supply any of these products, we independently review these products.

Subscribe Today
Latest Issue Cover - Click here to subscribe

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 25%

Britians top classic cars bookazine