The 'car of the decade' remains astonishing value, with rally-inspired handling and dinner plate-sized foglights

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There have been so many derivatives of this infamous Japanese saloon over the years, but when it first came to the UK in 1994, it was simply called the Subaru Impreza 2000 Turbo.

There had already been a more powerful version in Japan for two years called the Impreza WRX (the letters standing for World Rally Experimental) and sportier derivatives badged STi (Subaru Tecnica International)… But hold on, already we’re lapsing into Scooby geek-speak.

Here, we’re just interested in the Turbo and, up to 2000, when it was replaced, its official UK-market spin-offs.

Veterans of the Autocar office well remember the time an example joined the long-term fleet. We all craved a go and returned stunned – partly a reaction to its remarkable performance but also because, costing less than £18,000, it was such astonishing value for money.

For example, at the time, its Ford Escort Cosworth and Lancia Delta Integrale rivals cost £22,500 and £25,000 respectively.

Fast forward to today and a standard UK Impreza remains great value, with prices ranging from £7000 for cars needing TLC to £18,500 for a cherished example. By contrast, prices for the Ford and the Lancia start at around £50,000.

The Impreza was powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine producing 208bhp – not a lot but, in a car weighing just 1213kg and with four-wheel drive, sufficient to crack 0-62mph in 5.8sec.

Today, we’re used to turbocharged engines producing their wallop low down in the rev range, but back then they took some prodding: the Impreza only gets into its stride from around 3500rpm.

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Away from the straights and into the corners, it felt impressively sure-footed and forgiving of most ham-fisted attempts to unstick it.

However, we criticised its light steering and stiff suspension and noted that a series of quick corners could unsettle it. We didn’t much like the plasticky interior, either, but how were we to know it would endure the passing years better than most?

We did concede that, thanks to split folding rear seats and good head and leg room, the cabin was practical and comfortable.

It was well equipped, too, with a driver’s airbag, electric windows and central locking. Outside were alloy wheels and dinner plate-sized foglights – nice.

In spite of our reservations, there was soon a waiting list for the saloon version (the hatchback was never very popular) and once that was satisfied, the Subaru-sanctioned spin-offs followed.

The first, in 1995, was the limited-edition, Prodrive-developed Series McRae with 238bhp, 16in Speedline alloys and Recaro seats. Next in 1997 came the Catalunya, another Prodrive-developed car with a carbonfibre-effect dashboard.

The 1998 facelift brought a 10bhp increase and reduced turbo lag.

Later that year, the Terzo special edition arrived with gold wheels, a strengthened body and a fixed rear seat, followed by the very limited and today very expensive Japan-sourced 276bhp 2.2-litre 22B STi with a wide-body, two-door shell.

The next year, Prodrive released its Richard Burns-inspired RB5 special edition with 237bhp. In 2000, Subaru commissioned Prodrive to build the 276bhp, two-door P1 – and with that, the curtain came down on the first-generation Impreza Turbo.

What a way to go for what some hailed the car of the decade.


Engine: Unless it was modified by a reputable firm, a tuned Impreza is likely to have been overstressed or run lean, which can damage the pistons. Whether it’s standard or not, listen for big-end and piston slap and get a compression test done. Head and cam cover gaskets are common sources of leaks.

Gearbox: Even when new, it was prone to baulking when hurried, and the passing years haven’t improved things. Notchy gearchanges can be expected, especially on pre-facelift cars. If it jumps out of fifth gear, tighten the nut at the back of the gearbox. If it falls off, replace it.

Suspension and brakes: Seized pistons are common. Don’t expect the suspension to be entirely original. At least if it’s loose or saggy, new Polybushes are a fairly simple fix that should tighten things up.

Steering: Criticised for being light, in part the effect of the oversized wheel, the steering was at least accurate and precise, so tolerate nothing less.

Interior: The cabin’s hard, scratchy plastics have nevertheless withstood the test of time very well. Parts for standard cars are relatively easy to find – not so those for limited editions.

Body: The earliest cars are now 30 years old, so unless it has been garaged, the one you’re looking at is likely to be showing signs of corrosion around the wheel arches and sills, especially towards the rear.

This is where Japanese imports, with their reduced exposure to road salt, have fared better. The real killer is corroded rear strut turrets. Patching isn’t the solution: the whole thing will need to be cut out and replaced at considerable expense.


If you're in the market for a rally-bred Japanese saloon with enough performance to worry a Porsche Cayman, this is yours from around £7000. 

It was a car that put enthusiasts on a budget in control of a sophisticated four-wheel-drive chassis with Cosworth levels of performance, and was good enough to form the foundations multiple special editions.

Just remember, however, that you'll be buying a car which is at least a couple of decades old, so make sure you shop carefully. We recommend you pick one out that has been sympathetically fettled with, if you can't find one that's clean and standard.

An owner’s view

Ron Ebbs: “I bought my Impreza Turbo, a 1997 car with 37,000 miles, five years ago. It had been garaged for most of its life and continues to be. Apart from a new Cobra exhaust – the old one had rotted – and new rear strut braces, it’s totally standard.

"There’s not a speck of rust and it still feels tight. I had the timing belt changed a couple of years ago and the underside Waxoyled. Otherwise, it gets no special treatment. It proves how tough these cars are if garaged and looked after.”