Cars

What’s the Best Year for the Subaru WRX?

Despite, or perhaps because of its performance-symbol status, the Subaru WRX hasn’t always proven to be the most reliable car. Or even the most reliable Subaru, for that matter. Then again, even well-regarded icons like the Nissan Skyline GT-R have their good and bad years. And, just like there are reliable BMWs, there are some reliable WRX models.

2004-2007 Subaru WRX

Although the first US-market Subaru WRX arrived in 2002, Road & Track reports, as with many first-model-year cars, it had some issues. Club WRX forum users report the 2002 and 2003 cars are known for weak transmissions. This is exacerbated by the WRX’s all-wheel-drive nature. AWD adds traction, which is great for snow but launches put more stress on the clutch and transmission.

By 2004, though, Club WRX forum users report the transmission issues had been ironed out. The WRX also received new styling, going from the ‘Bugeye’ to the ‘Blobeye’ design. 2004 was also the first year the hard-core STI model was available, Hagerty reports, which featured an electronically-controllable center differential. It was also the last year the car used the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which made 227 hp in the WRX and 276 hp in the STI.

2006 Subaru Impreza WRX STI
2006 Subaru Impreza WRX STI | Bring a Trailer

2004, along with 2005-2007 model years, are the best-regarded years for the WRX, Hagerty, and r/Cars sub-Reddit users report. 2006 (the ‘Hawkeye’ year) saw the Subaru WRX receive a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which made 300 hp in the STI, Hagerty reports. The base car made 230 hp on paper, Motor Trend reports, but in reality, it developed quite a bit more. Plus, MT reports, for 2006 the cars received a stronger transmission and reinforced clutch. The STI also got an updated center differential.

The 2004-2007 WRX models are highly-rated for several reasons. Firstly, these were all part of the first generation of US-market WRX cars. Secondly, the base WRX could be ordered as a wagon, though the STI was sedan-only. Also, in addition to avoiding the 02-03 cars’ transmission issues, they avoid the 2008 model’s dynamic flaws, R&T reports.

2011-2014 Subaru WRX

However, precisely because of their desirability, a 2004-2007 WRX can be quite pricey, especially in stock STI form. An excellent-condition car, Hagerty reports, can go for $34,000. Though, admittedly, on Bring a Trailer, the average is closer to $20,000. In addition, although Car and Driver admires the 2004 STI’s raw nature, in terms of interior quality and overall refinement, it’s rather lacking.

Luckily, for those wanting more day-to-day comfort, a 2011-2014 WRX also comes recommended by r/Cars sub-Reddit users. By 2015, the WRX was its own model, separate from the base Impreza sedan. However, that was also the year the car developed transmission issues, Torque News reports. Ever since then, the WRX has continuously been ranked low by Consumer Reports. In fact, it’s the only modern Subaru to receive a below-average reliability score.

2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI
2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI | Subaru

By 2011, Car and Driver reports, the base Subaru WRX’s 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder put out 265 hp and 244 lb-ft. But, although it only had a 5-speed manual, and the 305-hp STI a 6-speed, the base car was actually faster to 60. However, even the sharper-handling STI was comfortable enough for daily-driving, Autoweek reports. And during Autoweek’s year-long review of the STI, the car never broke down.

Issues to look out for

To be sure, even these rather reliable Subaru WRX models do have some issues to take note of. For one, r/Cars sub-Reddit users report their engines require constant attention to oil level and oil change schedules. Also, as with other turbocharged cars, lugging the engine—high gear, low RPM—is more stressful than downshifting and keeping RPMs up.

2004 STIs, R&T reports, can wear down their steering rack bushings and wheel bearings, especially if track-driven. 2005-2006 models are really only susceptible to broken motor mounts, which are fairly inexpensive. The 2007 STI was known for some ECU tuning issues causing acceleration hesitation, though this appears to have been rectified.

In addition, all 2004-2007 and 2011-2014 WRX cars can suffer from ringland failure. As Come and Drive It explains, ringlands are the parts on the side of the piston which hold the piston rings. These rings help seal the combustion chamber and control oil flow. However, engines that have been improperly tuned, run on low-octane fuel and generally abused develop knocking issues. When this happens, fuel combusts uncontrollably, which can fracture the ringlands and cause further engine damage.

Also, Garage Dreams reports the Subaru WRX is prone to head gasket leaks and failures. Because non-STI models had smaller intercoolers, the heat was able to build up more rapidly and dissipate more slowly. This, especially if combined with excessive tuning, degraded the gasket.

2005 Saab 9-2X
2005 Saab 9-2X | Saab

Finally, if you find that a 2004-2007 model isn’t refined enough, a Saab 9-2X Aero is basically a 2005-2006 WRX, but with added refinement.

Importing a JDM model

1995 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III
1995 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution III | Japanese Classics

There is one more category of Subaru WRX that we haven’t discussed yet. As with the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo and Toyota Celica GT4, US fans never got the real first-gen car. But now, they’re old enough to import.

1995 Subaru Impreza WRX Wagon
1995 Subaru Impreza WRX Wagon | Japanese Classics

From 1995, Jalopnik reports, Subaru offered the Impreza WRX as a wagon. And they’re relatively affordable. Importer Japanese Classics recently sold one for $12,995. But, not only did the first-gen car get an STI trim, Subaru offered even more rally-ready versions.

One of these, SpeedHunters reports, was the Type RA. Engineers removed sound deadening, the A/C, and ABS to save weight. Instead of power windows, it had crank ones. And in addition to the STI’s upgraded springs, it received larger anti-roll bars and upgraded dampers. As of this writing, Japanese Classics has one listed for $17,495.

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