JDM Subaru Impreza WRX Buyer’s Guide: Imported Rally Classic

First-gen JDM Subaru Impreza WRX model guide highlights:

  • The first-generation ‘GC8’ Subaru Impreza WRX production run is split into six versions: GC8A, GC8B, GC8C, GC8D, GC8E, GC8F, GC8G
  • Although the STi comes with a significant number of motorsport-derived upgrades, it’s not the only upgraded or special-edition JDM Impreza WRX
  • In 2022, only the first four GC8 versions are eligible for importation

Today, the Subaru WRX is a staple of the US performance car scene, import and otherwise. But once upon a time, the sportiest Impreza was forbidden fruit in the US. By the time Americans got access, Japanese and European customers had been sliding Subaru Impreza WRXs around for about a decade. Now, though, these JDM rally jewels are (mostly) old enough to import.

However, these first-gen cars went through near-constant changes and special-edition introductions. And keeping track of who’s who often results in acronym overload. Fortunately, the guide below should help you understand exactly which JDM Impreza WRX is which.

The GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX turned a JDM sedan into a rallying superstar

Colin McRae drifts his blue-and-yellow 1998 Subaru Impreza WRC rally car on a dirt rally stage
Colin McRae drifts his 1998 Subaru Impreza WRC rally car | Phil Walter/Getty Images

Rallying had changed by the time the 1990s rolled around. Group B was gone, for one, and rally stages were starting to favor compact, agile, and lightweight machines. But these new challenges created some of the most iconic modern import cars. It led Mitsubishi to develop the original Lancer Evolution, for example. And it prompted Subaru to gift the all-wheel-drive Legacy race car’s goodies to the smaller, nimbler Impreza.

That Impreza rally car would eventually win three World Rally Championships in a row—1995, 1996, 1997—with Colin McRae behind the wheel. But before that happened, Subaru wanted to make a road car: something turbocharged and packing AWD. An experimental World Rally-style car if you will. And using the contemporary GC Impreza as a base, the first-gen ‘GC8’ Subaru Impreza WRX launched into the world in 1992.

Know the codes: as rallying evolved, so did the GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX

A blue modified JDM GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX parked in a grassy field
Modified JDM GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX | vividdepth via Unsplash
1993-2000 ‘GC8’ Subaru Impreza WRX
Engine2.0-liter ‘EJ20’ turbocharged boxer four-cylinder
Horsepower237 bhp (1993)
256 bhp (1995)
276 bhp (1997)
Torque224 lb-ft (1993)
228 lb-ft (1995)
242 lb-ft (1997)
249 lb-ft (1999)
TransmissionsFive-speed manual
Four-speed automatic
Curb weight2646-2800 lbs (sedan)
0-60 mph time5.5 seconds (1993)
5.4 seconds (2000)

That ‘World Rally experiment’ stuff isn’t hyperbole, by the way. Compared to the standard GC Subaru Impreza, the GC8 Impreza WRX has stiffer springs, upgraded shocks, and an AWD system with two limited-slip differentials. As such, it’s significantly sharper than the Impreza 2.5 RS US buyers were stuck with. And even in its weakest tune, the EJ20 boxer makes more power than the contemporary Mustang’s 5.0-liter V8, Road & Track says.

However, Subaru didn’t leave the Impreza WRX alone in its first few years. With constant WRC pressure, it tweaked the car practically annually. As such, there are six ‘versions’ of the first-gen WRX:

  1. GC8A (1993 MY)
  2. GC8B (1994 MY)
  3. GC8C (1995-1996 MY)
  4. GC8D (1997 MY)
  5. GC8E (1998 MY)
  6. GC8F (1999 MY)
  7. GC8G (2000 MY)

Note, owing to Japanese OEM production timeline structures, many reference the build month and calendar year rather than the model year when describing these versions. But the calendar dates do translate to a model year designation, Type RA says. And horsepower wasn’t the only thing Subaru changed over the GC8 Impreza WRX’s lifetime.

GC8B cars, for example, don’t have ventilated rear discs, Drifted notes. And while the GC8B introduced the Impreza WRX wagon, it was less powerful than the sedan. However, four-wheel ventilated discs returned with the GC8C bigger than before. And starting with the GC8D in 1997, WRX customers could tackle gravel roads in two-door coupes.

In addition, some claim the GC8D Impreza WRX actually makes 296 hp, but Subaru published a lower figure because of the Japanese OEM ‘gentleman’s agreement.’ The GC8E, meanwhile, has an upgraded interior. Finally, the GC8G has some extra body-colored exterior trim pieces and more standard features.

Yet these small tweaks barely scratch the surface of how Subaru boosted the Impreza WRX further.

The GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX STi is special even today

A gray 2000 JDM Subaru Impreza WRX STi in a white studio
2000 JDM Subaru Impreza WRX STi | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
1994-2000 ‘GC8’ Subaru Impreza WRX STi
Engine2.0-liter ‘EJ20’ turbocharged boxer four-cylinder
Horsepower247 bhp (1994)
271 bhp (1995)
276 bhp (1997)
Torque228 lb-ft (1994)
235 lb-ft (1995)
253 lb-ft (1997)
260 lb-ft (1998)
TransmissionsFive-speed manual
Curb weight2646-2800 lbs (sedan)
0-60 mph time4.9 seconds (1994)
4.8 seconds (2000)

As iconic as the Subaru Impreza WRX is, the STi—yes, the ‘I’ was lowercase initially—is arguably even more so. But while today’s WRX STI gets several notable upgrades over the base WRX, the differences during the GC8 generation were even more drastic.

Named after the company’s then-new racing division, Subaru Tecnica International, the GC8 Impreza WRX STi has an electronic driver-controlled version of the regular WRX’s center differential. And, like its modern descendant, it has upgraded brakes, stiffer springs, and sportier shocks than the standard WRX. Plus, it has a front strut-tower brace, large rear spoiler, Nardi steering wheel, and heavily-bolstered sport seats.

Then there are all the GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX STi’s powertrain upgrades. Its handbuilt EJ20 sports a retuned ECU, upgraded turbocharger, factory intercooler water sprayer, lighter valvetrain components, polished ports, and forged pistons. Plus, STI balanced and blueprinted the engine to prevent any inconsistencies and manufacturing flaws. Also, the engine sends its extra power through a close-ratio transmission.

For 1994, these modifications were practically unheard-of in a street-legal car. And keep in mind, these initial STi cars started off in the factory as normal WRXs—they were modified after assembly. That changed with the GC8C, which incidentally introduced the iconic gold wheels, though the component upgrades remained the same. Hence why the WRX STI remains a common platform for modification.

Beyond STi: the other high-performance GC8 WRX models

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As special as the first-gen STi still is, it wasn’t the only upgraded GC8 Impreza WRX Subaru offered. And while this guide is primarily about the JDM models, know that some special editions weren’t offered there.

First up is the Impreza WRX Type RA. Part of the WRX line since its inception, the Type RA is basically a factory-prepped race car. It has minimal sound deadening, crank windows, and no ABS, A/C, or horn, hence why it weighs 2579 pounds, R&T says. But it does have an extra fuel injector, intercooler water sprayer, close-ratio five-speed manual, freer-flowing intake and exhaust, and stronger engine components.

The Type RA, though, is just the tip of the GC8 Impreza WRX iceberg. In 1994, Subaru introduced the STi Type RA, which combined the STi’s upgraded parts with the Type RA’s weight-cutting measures. Oh, and it had even more power than the regular STi for good measure. Then, the GC8D introduced the Type R, the lighter and stiffer coupe version of the Type RA sedan.

The JDM GC8 Impreza WRX wasn’t the only one with special editions

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By this time, the Impreza rally car was on a hot win streak, so Subaru decided to celebrate with some fancy WRX models. In the UK, racing team Prodrive created a limited run of UK-only ‘Series McRae’ cars modeled after McRae’s blue-and-gold WRC car. Meanwhile, in Japan Subaru launched V-Limited versions of the WRX, STi, Type RA, and Type R, featuring blue interior accents, roof vents, and some extra standard features.

The best, though, was yet to come. It arrived in 1998 in the form of the Subaru Impreza 22B STi, which is still the WRX halo car. Its 2.2-liter EJ22G boxer was officially (under-)rated at 280 hp, but that was enough to get the 22B to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds. The 22B also has a faster steering rack, beefier clutch, stronger engine components, lighter suspension parts, Eibach springs, Bilstein shocks, Brembo brakes, and BBS wheels. Also, its rear wing is even bigger than the regular STi’s version, and it has a WRC-style body kit.

Finally, two models sang the GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX’s swan song. The 2000 S201 has basically every STI upgrade in the book, from suspension to body panels, Drifted reports. Also, its 300-hp EJ20 officially broke the gentleman’s agreement. And in the UK, while Prodrive’s P1 didn’t get a trick center differential, it did offer upgraded suspension and ABS, alongside a host of optional extras like Recaro seats.

Which WRX can you import?

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As of this writing, only the first four GC8 Subaru Impreza WRX versions are old enough to import into the US. And while 22Bs have occasionally surfaced in US auctions, they’re restricted to ‘Show or Display’ status. Starting in 2023, though, they’ll finally be old enough to import without annual mileage restrictions.

If you can’t wait for an importer to bring over a JDM GC8 WRX, you could theoretically make your own. Many GC Impreza owners swapped stock parts for second-gen WRX and WRX STi versions over the years, R&T claims. While that could give you a left-hand-drive GC8 driving experience, it does mean buying a used modified classic car. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad alternative, but it requires even more due diligence.

Hopefully, though, this guide helps you finish that homework significantly faster.

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