Subaru Impreza WRX STi: What to know before you buy

Photography Credit: Courtesy Subaru

One of the most beloved rally efforts in modern times? Subaru’s, with the brand sweeping the FIA’s world constructor titles from 1995 through 1997. Only the Lancia Delta has more WRC wins than the Subaru Impreza. 

The collector world has started to take notice of these rally-ready Imprezas, with cars recently passing through traditional outlets like Fantasy Junction, LBI Limited, Mecum, Barrett-Jackson and 

Bring a Trailer recently fetched more than $300,000 for a 1998 Impreza 22B STi, one of the 424 cars built to commemorate those three WRC titles. Each car featured the blue paint, gold wheels and flared fenders long associated with the brand’s rally entries. 

In June of 2022, Prodrive, Subaru’s longtime partner on its rally program, announced a modern take on the 22B with its P25. “Prodrive has reimagined what this car would have been today,” the release states, noting more power, less weight and better driving dynamics. Only 25 would be offered at 460,000 pounds each–about $565,000. A few days later, a second announcement: The run had sold out. 

[The P25, Prodrive’s homage to the Subaru 22B, debuts at Goodwood]

How can you sample Subaru’s rally legacy at a lower price point and in something intended for the American market? Look a little newer, specifically the 2002-’07 WRX and 2004-’07 WRX STi. While the standard WRX got the basics, including turbocharging and all-wheel drive, the STi delivered more. Its 300-horsepower flat-four pulled like a tractor, while locking the center differential could make the STi wag its tail like a rear-driver. A Momo steering wheel and six-speed gearbox came standard. 

Shopping Advice

Dan Hurwitz
Mach V Motorsports

The WRX came in three flavors: Bugeye (2002-’03), Blobeye (2004-’05) and Hawkeye (2006-’07). The STi was available from Blobeye on. Subaru fans panned the looks of the Bugeye at first, but now it’s beloved.

Either a 2.0-liter EJ20 (2002-’05) or a 2.5-liter EJ25 (2006-’07) powered the WRX. They differ by only 3 horsepower, but the EJ25 puts out a noticeable 20 lb.-ft. more torque.

Skip the four-speed auto-equipped WRX. The combination of turbo lag and slushbox transmission lag is unpleasant. The WRX five-speed is fine. The STi six-speed is super tough.

Non-turbo Subarus used to come with flimsy paper-based gaskets, so maybe that’s where people heard about head gasket problems. However, turbo Subarus have good, robust, multilayer stainless-steel head gaskets.

Pristine cars are rare. WRX cars were commodity cars and treated as such.

Many older parts are out of production or soon will be. Used parts are hard to get. Subaru parts don’t seem to make it to mainstream auto salvage yards, so you might have to seek out a Subaru specialty place.

Replacing damaged or missing parts can get expensive. The secondary air-injection system used on the 2.5-liter models often fails with age. A replacement set of parts costs around $2000.

Skip any car with visible chassis rust. Early WRX models came with stamped-steel front control arms that were prone to rust. There’s a recall about that.

Engines are relatively reliable, but the 2.5-liter pistons are somewhat fragile and can crack, especially if the car is modified and the horsepower is cranked up. Rod bearings can fail with abuse and/or if the car is run while low on oil.

The timing belt interval is 105 months or 105,000 miles. We had a customer whose timing belt went at 105,250 miles. If you don’t know when the timing belt was changed, change it.

These cars are compact and light, fun and practical. A customer with a WRX wagon told me, “It’s getting expensive to keep the car, but what current car would I replace it with?”

I see steady interest in the older WRX and STi models. They occupy a special place in the hearts of a lot of enthusiasts, and although the later versions improved in many ways, these early cars have a charm that’s hard to match.

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WebFootSTi New Reader
8/3/22 11:58 p.m.

I love my '04 STi and I picked it up with 9 miles on the odometere 05/31/03 and I've put 72,741 miles on it since.  While the body has sufferd a bit as a daily for a decade, or so it's still a kick in the pants to drive.

PT_SHO New Reader
8/30/22 4:39 p.m.

It looks like this is a recent article so I'll comment.  While the cracking piston lands and head gasket issues were said to be lesser on the 04-07 STI, I'm here to say that the head gasket was leaking by on my '06 in the 80,000 mile range and the motor needed replacement just over 100,000, scoring on driver side cylinders. The motor had a mild tune, stage II or less. Always on a quality synthetic oil.  (The coolant never got in the oil, the failure was pressurizing the radiator and pushing coolant out of the tank.)  Of those miles, probably 98,000 were mild driving, and the rest were weekend autocross. 

The body suffering has mostly been the front and side aero getting broken and blackened by course cones. 

The WRX manuals were fragile.  I know of two immediate friends whose transmissions failed.

The head gaskets are still a notable problem.  You can document this by reading up on NASIOC or IWSTI message boards.  Other problem areas: fuel tank vents crack leading to OBD vapor recovery system alert (requires full rear end removal to drop the tank), typical radiator tank cracking, harmonic balancer rubber failing leading to belts jumping off, power steering hose failure.

Still, a fantastic car, and amazingly they are still competitive (not me, frown but the car model) at the National SCCA level in STU class despite not being able to fit the widest tires allowed.  The later STI's have stiffer bodies and better basic handling pre-modification, but suffer a couple of hundred pounds weight to get there, and Subaru to its discredit has never significantly upgraded the engine.

UPDATE: the new motor blew another head gasket at 168000, so only around 65K on that one.  Same thing, leaked across to coolant tank but I knew what to look for.  Put in the "cylinder 4 cooling" mod while we were working on it, and doing one new valve & guide.  Same usage, 1 or 2 weekends a month hard for 10 minutes, easy the rest of the time.  Gaskets have been the generally recommended Subaru set, with ARP studs.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
1/23/23 9:43 a.m.

Small price update: Mecum got $77,000 for a 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX STI at its recent Kissimmee sale. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
1/24/23 9:09 a.m.

I didn't grab a photo, but we walked past one in the parking lot at this weekend's Roar Before The Rolex 24: blue with the gold wheels. Still dig that car. Also glad to see people driving them. 

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
1/24/23 10:42 a.m.

In reply to David S. Wallens :

Not to mention the sound. I'll always turn and look when I hear that burble.

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