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Subaru Impreza Turbo

Sensible Supercar Published: 10th May 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Subaru Impreza Turbo

Fast Facts

  • Best model: RB5
  • Worst model: Anything that’s been abused
  • Budget buy: A standard Turbo
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes but super-unleaded is mandatory
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4340 x W1690 mm
  • Spares situation: Very good, and upgrades too
  • DIY ease?: Some areas, but much is specialist only
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Not in the short term
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Good buy
Interior wins few prizes for style but it’s tough, durable and user-friendly. Blinged cars spoil it and worth less Interior wins few prizes for style but it’s tough, durable and user-friendly. Blinged cars spoil it and worth less
Rally heritage seals the Impreza’s future as a classic Rally heritage seals the Impreza’s future as a classic
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Is the Subaru Impreza Turbo the modern day Lotus Cortina or more a four-door 911 for families? Actually it’s a bit of both and all at Mondeo prices! Perhaps it’s time you considered this logical classic of today that you can use 24-7

Pros & Cons

Amazing abilities and performance, easy to upgrade, practical, cheap to buy
Costly to run, low-rent interiors, many have been abused


In the early days of the Impreza’s UK existence, few people were aware of its enormous potential and sales were limited as a result. The problem was kudos, or the lack of it; Subaru was known for quirky mud-pluggers favoured by farmers rather than supercar-baiters. The competition at that time came in the formidable form of the Escort Cosworth and Lancia’s Integrale, which also helps explain why, for a while, the Impreza Turbo remained a secret to all but a few in the know. Gradually, though, the secret began to leak out.

The Impreza Turbo first arrived in the UK in March 1994 and remained virtually unchanged until the 1997 model arrived at the tail end of 1996. Colin McRae’s success during 1995 had ignited a cult following, and the changes reflected public demand for the car to have a more sporting edge. The 1997 model included a number of revisions to the engine, including a smaller turbo and a higher compression ratio, which didn’t affect power output but upped the torque to 214lbft (from 201lbft). At the same time, the suspension was tweaked with a thicker rear anti-roll bar, while the brakes gained even more stopping power thanks to new beefier callipers. Inside, the seats were replaced by far more supportive racy items, while externally a new nose and bonnet toughened up the rather nondescript looks.

The effect of the changes was quite marked, despite their subtlety; the whole package looked and felt sharper. It was proof that the image of Subaru and its products was changing – the Impreza Turbo was now aimed squarely at the sports car buyer.

The following year the interior got an extensive revamp with a new, white-dial dash (taken from the Forester), a Momo steering wheel, passenger airbag, new trim and even cup holders, the previously optional 16in alloys became a standard item and the gear lever had a shorter throw.

The changes for 1999 were more farreaching: a new engine with a revised head developed an extra 7bhp, there was firmer suspension, the front brakes gained four-pot calipers and the rear discs were vented, the front bumper and light treatment was new and a higher rear wing was bolted onto the boot. The price climbed £1200 to £20,995, but your investment was now protected by the addition of a Thatcham Category 1 alarm/immobiliser.

Finally, the 2000 model year Imprezas had a few very minor changes, including a new alloy wheel design incorporating an extra spoke and colour-keyed door handles and mirrors.

There was, of course, a number of special editions along the way, the first of which were the 200 Prodrive-prepared Series McRae cars released in the summer of 1995. They looked the part in ‘555 blue’ paintwork riding on gold Safari alloys, the interior was trimmed in Avus suede and all had a numbered plaque, from 1 to 201 (although there was no number 13). The same went for the ‘Catalunya’ of 1997, although these were black and came with air-con and a carbonfibre-look facia.

To celebrate Subaru’s remarkable third world rally championship in 1997 another special, known as the Terzo (Italian for ‘third’) was produced. All were blue with gold wheels and came with air-con and Alcantara interior trim; this time just 333 were built.

All three limited editions had essentially the same underpinnings as the standard car, but there were three other specials that were very different. Sixteen 22Bs were imported by Subaru in 1998, though by the time the company came to put them through the SVA test (Single Vehicle Approval) it found that the maximum limit of 50 had already been filled by privately imported cars, forcing Subaru to wait until 1999. The 22Bs had beefed-up, WRC-style bodywork, a 276bhp 2.2-litre engine and cost a hefty £39,950.

The RB5 (when fitted with the WR Sport package) was one of the best of all the Imprezas with more power (237bhp) and uprated suspension.

The moniker was recognition of Richard Burns’ efforts during his first year with the team in 1999, ‘5’ being the number he carried through the championship, It cost £27,500, or £24,995 without the Sport pack, but that meant doing without the extra engine performance from the Prodrive ECU, the larger exhaust, redesigned intercooling system and the distinctive high wing.

Finally there’s the brilliant P1, the ultimate first-generation Impreza, packing 276bhp and originally sporting a £31,500 price tag. If you can find one, these are still the model to go for with its two-door bodyshell and even better dynamics than the four-door cars. Prices are higher than for the other models, but the P1 is still a bargain.


Grey import cars can be even more extreme

As soon as you turn the key in an Impreza Turbo you just know it’s something special. That distinctive boxer beat sounds like nothing else and the noise becomes even more obvious if a big drain pipe exhaust is fitted (no please don’t-ed!). Select first via the incredibly precise manual gate – it’s a rifle-bolt action – and no matter how quick a hurry you’re in to get going, the Impreza just lays the power down thanks to its sophisticated fourwheel drive that channels the torque to whichever corner can best cope with it.

Even in standard form there’s a very energetic 208bhp on tap, but many have been upgraded well beyond that; it’s easy to squeeze a reliable 300bhp from the blown four and retain reliability. However, if you’re looking for low-down torque this isn’t the place to find it; the 201lb ft peak doesn’t arrive until 4800rpm, while maximum power is developed at a heady 6000 revs.

But as soon as you unleash all those horses it’s an amazing experience; you only have to drive an Impreza hard on road or track and 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

When Autocar tested a Turbo upon its introduction back in 1994, it found the gearchange “slow and rubbery” but loved the linear power delivery as so will you. Referring to the latter, the magazine said: “From about 3500 up to its 7000rpm red line the Impreza delivers a smoothly consistent rush of turbo thrust. It is an addictive sensation and one that will soon have you forgiving the engine for its somewhat coarse, unrefined manners”.

It’s not just about speed though; the Impreza’s handling is great too, and while Autocar’s testers found the ride leaves something to be desired and the steering a touch over-light, the conclusion was that “Subaru’s little rocket is a stunning accomplishment”. Which says it all, really – apart from the fact that in, either saloon or odd-ball quasi-hatchback style, it’s a usable and logical daily driver which is family sized and practical.


Even when new, the Impreza was a bargain; values have tumbled since the demise of the original edition. As a result, you can buy an Impreza Turbo from under £1000; it used to matter whether you were buying a grey import or an official UK-supplied car. Nowadays though, condition matters far more, so a well-maintained grey import with a service history will always be more coveted than an abused UK car with a hidden past. There are far more saloons available than estates, but there’s no difference in value between the two, although the saloon is generally more sought after. Unless you’ve got at least £1750 you won’t find a standard car that’s done much less than 100,000 miles – most such cars cost in excess of £2000.

The special editions start at around £2200; this nets you a series McRae or a Terzo but you’ll need double this if you want to secure a decent RB5 or P1. And if you want a 22B, be prepared to find the thick end of £30,000 to secure one; most are low mileage and hugely cherished.


The Impreza Turbo may have supernatural abilities straight off the production line, but that doesn’t mean there’s any shortage of ways in which to make it even better. You’ll struggle to find a completely original-spec Turbo, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Upgrades to the suspension and brakes, of which there are plenty, invariably make the car more usable, but be wary of engine mods that compromise reliability. Also look out for abused cars that have been driven on one track day after another; the Turbo is great on a circuit, as no car can withstand that abuse.

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 import versions.

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 wear quickly. Regular oil changes are essential, using a decent synthetic lubricant; a caring owner will also have idled the engine before switching off, to allow the turbo to cool.
  • If the turbo has seen better days there’ll be blue smoke coming from the exhaust as the engine idles. That’s because the turbocharger’s seals have worn, and it’s the thick end of £1000 to fix properly.
  • If an aftermarket sports exhaust has been fitted, check it fits properly and that it’s not unreasonably loud and lairy. Some of the bigger-bore systems on the market are insanely noisy and are really uncomfortable on a long journey and don’t add power.
  • 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 tough but not bullet-proof. The cogs can get damaged through sheer 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 antiroll bar bushes wear out. This is given away by noisy suspension (road noise transmitted through the bodyshell). It’s worth replacing the bushes with polyurethane items at £70 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 meatier22mm item is a pretty good idea as it reduces understeer and costs just £100.
  • 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 £45 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 £18 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.
  • 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.
  • Have a look at what state the tyres are in; if they’ve worn unevenly it’s probably because the wheels have been kerbed or perhaps worse. If you’re lucky it may be because just the tracking has been knocked out, but the whole of the suspension may be misaligned – perhaps the chassis has been bent after an excursion off road?
  • For this reason check that the car hasn’t been crashed and badly repaired; uneven panel gaps will give the game away. Major bodywork modifications 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.
  • Wiring looms are often messed with to fit aftermarket equipment. So 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 check any extra lighting; 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, 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 bling bits.
  • Drive a few cars to gain a datum and use the web or an owners club to gen up on what’s hot and not when buying one.

Three Of A Kind

Ford Sierra Cosworth
Ford Sierra Cosworth
While not the direct rival to the Scooby (the Escort is that), the Sierra scores with its added space and practicality. Initially a winged three-door, the Sapphire saloon followed as did all-wheel drive. Outstanding performance and ability, twinned with Ford practicality and ease of use… plus they are great value although there’s a lot of dross around.
Mitsubishi Evo
Mitsubishi Evo
Ever since the Evo first appeared in the UK in MkVI form this has been the weapon of choice for all those Impreza twin tests, as it’s the closest rival thanks to its potent turbocharged 2-litre four-pot, four-wheel drive and other talents at high speed. Unlike the Impreza, there’s no estate version but it’s as durable, easy to own and coveted.
Lancia Delta Integrale
Lancia Delta Integrale
In rallying circles, it was the Quattro, Integrale and Impreza that beat all-comers for years on end; this is another one of those turbocharged 4WD monsters that makes you re-evaluate what old cars are all about the moment you first drive one in anger. But buy very carefully; these need specialist attention and there’s a lot of poor cars out there – sadly.


A well-sorted and carefully maintained Impreza is the perfect classic if you like to drive hard; unless you’re going to so at least on an occasional basis you might as well get something less talented and cheaper to run. It’s this latter point that many buyers overlook, because while Turbos are cheap to buy, running costs aren’t especially low – especially as servicing requirements are on the demanding side, fuel consumption is heavy and insurance can be very steep too, especially where grey imports are concerned.

If you see the Impreza Turbo as an alternative to a family car, you’ll think the running costs are rather steep. But see it as an alternative to a seriously exotic piece of kit that was far more costly when new and you’ll think of the Impreza as a steal. Just don’t buy one that’s already been stolen…

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