Picking a Used WRX or STi

The 2002-2003 WRX (Bugeye):
Despite all the cries of “glass” transmission, they’re actually very adequate if you don’t do clutch dumps or otherwise abuse them. Drive it as you would any other daily driver and it’ll hold up fine. This 5 speed transmission can hold up to around 275 wheel hp. The 4EAT automatic transmission is slow and sluggish though it will hold to around 300awhp. Rebuild kits are widely available and the valvebody mods really wake the transmission up and give it a much more sporty feel. This generation has the 2.0 liter engine with the round blob headlights. Parts are easy to find and most power parts like exhaust and downpipe are interchangeable with any other 2002-2007 WRX or STi and even the exhaust from the catalytic converter back is interchangeable with the N/A Impreza. The automatic version actually has the more “intelligent” AWD system because it uses a viscus center differential versus open diffs all around for the 5 speed.

The 2004-2005 WRX (Blobeye):
A revised body design with nearly identical drivetrain. The engine is still 2 liter with the same turbocharger. The 2004 has the older interior with the pop-out cupholder and lack of climate control, though basic A/C and heater controls are there. WRX’s in this generation for the US market only came with standard headlights, not projectors and not HID’s though proper (not ricer BLIND THE LIVING FUCK OUT OF YOU WITH MY BLUE LIGHT kits) retrofit kits are easy to come by. 2005 interior has the climate control with real cupholders in the center console making it feel less of a shitbox with a nice engine and tranny. The 5 speed transmission was “strengthened” though it still remains the weak point of the drivetrain. 4EAT automatic transmission remains the same. I think there was a change to the final drive also, but I’m not sure on that.

The 2006-2007 WRX (Hawkeye):
Revised body style yet again, with projector lights but no HID’s and the controversial three-part front grill. Engine displacement gets a bump to 2.5 liters but the turbocharger remains the same, making for a very quick spooling fun package. Horsepower get a small bump to 224hp and the boost threshold and torque come up a lot quicker now because of the added displacement. Interior remains nearly identical to the 2005 model year with only very small changes like trunk passthrough and a cargo net behind the front seats.

The 2008 WRX (GR chassis):
Extremely controversial change to both hatchback and sedan bodystyle. Power output remains the same at 224hp but with a revised 5 speed transmission and a new 5EAT automatic transmission. It seems like they finally fixed the glassbox problems, but there hasn’t been enough time to really tell if it’s fixed for good. Interior was dramatically changed. Suddenly the car was transformed from a fast shitbox to a fast economy car. Make no mistake it’s still a cheap car, but it no longer feels like the plastic was made from recycled Barbie dolls and Coke bottles. Trust me, it looks very nice now. Only drive one for a day and I already loved it. Revised engine tunes with AVCS (Subaru’s variable valve timing) now brings the same 224 hp but with a dramatic powerband shift to the left. I like this generation, especially the hatchback, but so far it has proven very subjective. This generation significantly changes the drivetrain layout. Many power mods from the 2002-2007 WRX\STi will not fit the 2008+ chassis.

The 2009+ Impreza GT’s and the 2008 WRX (GR Chassis)
Basically the 2008 WRX rebadged as the GT. I don’t know too much about this generation.

The 2009+ WRX (GR Chassis)
A healthy bump in power to 264hp. Other than that I don’t know much about this generation. Subaru renamed the 2008 WRX into the GT to make room for a more powerful WRX to counter the new Lancer Ralliart. I don’t know too much about this generation.

If you want to get into the bigger brother, the STi can be had for pretty cheap now too. Recession fears have made the price plummet and you can get a new 2008 STi for 27k out the door.

2004 STi (Blobeye):
As with all USDM STi’s, this one has a 2.5 liter engine with AVCS. The 6 speed is nearly indestructible, there are drag teams in Puerto Rico running 10 second STi’s with the stock 6 speed. The first thing that tends to break on the driveline is the rear halfshafts, though you will only break them if you really really try. The stock setup is good for around 350hp, but at around 350lb-ft of torque the stock Exidy cluch will start slipping. An upgraded clutch later and the driveline is good for at least 500whp and 500lb-ft. The 2004 had the most aggressive tune of any year STi also. The interior sucked, having shared it with the 2004 Impreza and WRX. No climate control and no cupholder along with a cheap plastic interior made you feel like you were driving a giant Polly Pocket playset. The signature wing was standard. This year STi had a mechanically open center diff with DCCD lockup and a viscus limited SureTrac diff in the front and a clutch type rear LSD made by Nissan (R180). Wheel bolt pattern is 5×100 making wheel choices limited. Wheel bearings tend to go quickly if you autocross or track the car a lot. All STi’s have beeft Brembo brakes all around.

2005 STi (Blobeye):
Same drivetrain layout but with 5×114.3 hubs instead of 5×100 which dramatically strengthened the wheel bearings. Major changes include slighly wider fenders on the rear wheel arches and much improved interior with climate control. Mechanically almost identical, except now includes clutch type LSD’s on both the front and read. DCCD center diff remains mechanically open.

2006-2007 STi (Hawkeye):
Revised bodystyle though interior remains mostly the same. Controversial front bumper though a rear diffuser under the rear bumper and a smaller roof spoiler were added improving handling under high speed. Hood scoop made smaller and easiar to see over. The 6 speed now has longer gear ratios, allowing you to trap the quarter mile in 4th rather than having to shift into 5th and you can now reach 60mph in second gear. This netted a minor improvement on paper statistics even though power output remained unchanged. The driveline now has LSD’s on all three differentials and the center differential now has a default power split of 41:59 front:rear versus the 35:65 of the 2004-2005’s. 2007 STi’s became subject to emissions regulations and as a result had a more advanced ECU and some emissions control equipment under the hood. The revised tune in the 2007 to clean up the engine made the engine behave strangely under certain conditions and as a result there were significantly more 2007’s with blown otherwise stock engines. 2007 STi’s are also very sensitive to power mods so plan mods with your tuner carefully. They’re not as forgiving of people slapping on BOV’s, exhausts, and intakes as previous generations were.

2008 STi (GR chassis):
I drove one and i’m one of the few that actually like it. The big controversy is that they now only come in hatchback, though thats okay with me because i have a sekit love of hatchbacks. I think they look sexy, just look at that rear end . Entirely new interior and exterior, obviously along with a healthy bump in MSRP. Interior was massively improved so now it actually feels like you’re driving a $36000 car instead of a $10000 car with a 300hp engine stuck in it. Engine remains at 2.5 liters though a revised turbo and intercooler setup along with a revised tune again bump the power band way to the left. I was only allowed to take it around the block though. One thing to note the new computer allows for three driving profiles, Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp. I used to be a big proponent of using my right foot to control my driving profile but after driving with this I can see the appeal. As with the 2007 STi’s, revised emissions regulations have made many 2008 STi’s suffer an early engine death though the vast majority of them are covered under warranty. If purchasing a 2008 STi make sure to ask if the car had the engine service performaed on it if it falls within the STOP SALE order that Subaru put out.

If you’re looking for used cars try http://www.nasioc.com, http://www.iwsti.com and http://www.clubwrx.net these are all Subaru specific forums. I got very close to buying my STi from a nice guy on Nasioc, but would up getting it on eBay instead. If you’re planning on buying it here are a few good points to check:

Look under the driver’s dash under the hood release and look straight up behind the dash. You should see a few green connectors. If they’re taped up with black tape in a neat bundle chances are the ECU was never flashed, as you need to finagle with those wires to enable flashing (2002-2005 WRX’s need init connectors, 2006+ and STi’s need to connect the test harness). Ask about oil consumption, Subaru engines have a tendency to eat oil. While it’s perfectly normal for it to consume UP TO one quart between changes, its good to know the habits of the engine before you buy it. Check under the intercooler (anyone who owns a turbo Subaru knows how to get it off and on quickly) and look at the turbo downpipe and uppipe. There should be heatshields on both of them. If they’re not there ask why, as often when removing the heatshields to do mod work the bolts holding them on just snap off. Remove the oil cap while the engine is idling and stick a notecard over it. If it flutters and makes a lot of buzzing noises while being blown away from the tube the ring lands on the engine are bad, either talk down the price about $3000 or run away quickly. Check the dashboard to make sure the check engine light still works. If the check engine light is on ask why, as the check engine light can come on if the cats were removed. That in itself is not a problem, but if the ECU was reflashed properly to conpensate for the lack of cats there should be NO check engine light as those codes can be turned off. Driving a decatted 2.5 liter WRX or STi can cause over-boosting and can quickly blow the motor. Look in the engine bay on the left right in front of the passenger side shock tower. Look at the boost control solenoid and make sure it hasn’t been modified. Especially look for a manual or electronic boost controller. Subaru ECU’s control boost directly and the addition of a electronic boost controller without a proper tune to take advantage of them can…you guessed it, blow the motor.


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3 Comments

  1. I can just reccomand everyone to read this posts , and enjoy them all this guy knows what he is writing about!

  2. As a bugeye owner who’s done a lot of research out of several problems with my WRX from the moment I bought it I have to suggest to anyone shopping for one that you look over the engine more carefully than you’ve ever looked at any car before. Especially check for coolant leaks. The rubber lines go brittle quickly and fail all the time, the OEM radiators are famous for leaking because of their cheap plastic end caps and even though head gasket issues are nowhere near as common on the turbocharged engines compared to the non turbo engines, it does still happen more than with other vehicles.

    Also check for even tire wear. Uneven wearor different tire profiles(even tread patterns) are a red flag as the factory manual states this can cause issues with the AwD differential. Also check for torn CV boots because they’re very costly to replace. Other common problems are windshield wiper slap(pan to fix), the catalytic converter in the factory up pipe getting sucked into the turbo(replace it asap),failing chassis grounds, rust around there mounting points for the rear wing…I’m sure there’s other inherent issues I haven’t found out about yet and of course there’s also Tue fact that these are performance cars so they tend to get abused more than most. Find one as close to stock as possible and pay very close attention.

  3. As a legacy gt owner I have the best and worst of both worlds. 05 sti block, wrx tmic/intake manifold/throttle body/turbo, and a stronger 5 spd. I wish I had the option of switching my power between the front and rear wheels like you can with the STi but the 50/50 distribution isnt that terrible. It’s a shame they didnt come with the 6 spd like the spec b has or keeping with the 5×100 lug pattern because finding 5×100 wheels sucks and doesnt offer many options. I also wish we didnt have the plastic intake like the 2008+ model wrx/sti’s. But probably the best is the 2.5 motor, very torquey and and quick low and mid-range power

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