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Used Subaru Impreza review: 1998-2005

Think Impreza and you’ll most likely think of WRX, the red-hot rally-bred car that redefined affordable performance in the 1990s, but the Impreza is much more than that. The Impreza, on which the WRX is based, is a range of well-built small family cars including sedans and hatches made to serve much more ordinary motorists than performance-minded WRX owners.

But the WRX has done wonders for the once invisible brand, to which it has brought a level of credibility that was once unimaginable. From a brand that was mired in the front-wheel drive mix Subaru, with the help of the WRX and a daring switch to all-wheel drive only, has become an icon brand that stands apart from the regular crowd.

MODEL WATCH

Once Subaru made the commitment to all-wheel drive across the range it had a unique point of difference that brought people to showrooms who might previously have simply dismissed it as just another front-wheel driver. Add to that the exploits of WRX on the world rally stage and there were lots of reasons to consider the Impreza when looking for a small car.

Subaru offered the Impreza in four-door sedan or five-door hatch body styles; the latter looking more like a wagon than a hatch. Both looked a little frumpy, with rounded lines and dumpy proportions that gave them a rather plain appearance. As a result they tended to fade into the background, until 2000 that is, when the company unleashed the new model that everyone thought was ugly with odd-looking round headlights. So apparently did Subaru themselves as they rushed out a facelift that addressed the odd-looking front and made the Impreza much more attractive.

Inside, it was a little snug for taller adults, but it had reasonable head and legroom for the class, and would swallow five at a pinch with three squeezed in the back seat.

Apart from all-wheel drive Subaru also followed a different path with its engines, choosing to stick with a ‘boxer’ layout instead of following the more normal in-line engine layout.

The bulk of the range had a single overhead camshaft 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with 92 kW and 184 Nm, to which buyers could couple either a five-speed manual ‘box or a four-speed auto. The RS joined the fleet in 2001 and brought with it a 2.5-litre motor that bumped the performance up to 112 kW and 223 Nm.

Drive was directed to all four wheels as needed ensuring the Impreza had impressive grip in all conditions. A finely tuned chassis and powerful brakes gave the Impreza a solid road feel that inspired confidence in the driver.

At the head of the Impreza pack sat the WRX, a high performance car by any measure. With a 2.0-litre turbocharged double overhead camshaft engine thumping out 160 kW and 290 Nm it had plenty of zip to keep most drivers on their toes. By 2005 the output of the engine had grown to 169 kW and 300 Nm, which kept it at the head of the performance pack.

With a good-looking body kit, and big wheels, the WRX looked tough and was the benchmark for performance cars from the moment it hit the roads in the mid-1990s.

IN THE SHOP

Closely inspect the Impreza as many have been given a hard time by owners who would like to be driving a WRX, but can’t afford it.

Cars used by families as regular transport generally stand up well and are rarely modified, but models like the RS often attract owners looking for a WRX look-alike and they often modify them. Check any modification for quality of workmanship and legality as some modifications can contravene the law and you end up sidelined by the police if checked.

If well treated and properly serviced the Impreza will stand up well in service, so look for a service record.

Be extra cautious when buying a WRX. Many of them have been driven hard, on the road and the track, so look for signs of competition use. Such things like holes drilled in the body for a roll cage and sports harnesses, fire extinguishers etc, and modifications to the engine and electronics are clues to a fast past.

Also be wary of ‘grey’ imports, which have come into the country as a result of the popularity of the WRX. Most have little or no history on which to make a sound decision.

IN A CRASH

The Subaru had good active safety with all-wheel drive, but it didn’t get ABS anti-skid brakes across the range until 2001. Prior to that it was only the RX and WRX that had the safer braking system. Airbags for the driver and front passenger came in with the 1999 model RX, and followed on the other models in 2001. ANCAP rated the Impreza at three stars.

AT THE PUMP

Those models with the 2.0-litre engine will return 10-11 L/100 km in average round town driving, the RS will take around half a litre more. The WRX requires fuel even higher than PULP, even the 98 octane isn’t high enough to stop it pinging in some cases. Be prepared to pay for the best fuel possible.

OWNERS SAY

Adrian Nicolescu reckons his 2002 Impreza RS is a great all-round car. It's been slightly lowered, with an all-round body kit, 18-inch rims, low profile tyres (225/35), a Magnaflow exhaust with 2.5-inch drop down pipe and a JVC aftermarket CD/MP3 stereo with remote. Since purchasing the car he has upgraded to a Kenwood seven-inch DVD screen with a custom boot install to fit a subwoofer and amp, an IPod adapter to play and control music from the IPod, a high performance dry cycle battery to cope with power demands, K&N panel filter, front end stabilizer bar, and last but not least clear side indicators with bulbs and a light up Impreza badge mounted on the front of the grille. It has been a pleasure to drive he says. It handles nicely, performs well, and has great fuel economy. For a medium-sized bloke he feels snug inside the compact cabin, but well supported in the bucket seats.

Nick Tan has owned his 2004 Impreza for a year and has found it a real treat to drive in all conditions. The AWD makes for great handling, it’s powerful enough and is comfortable for both long and short trips. The interior is well laid-out and the bucket seats are a nice bonus. He has not had any problems at all, but says it can be a little thirsty and expensive if you're using the recommended premium unleaded.

Ken Lynch bought a 2002 Impreza RX Sedan new. During the time he owned it he had a trouble free run. He replaced the battery after five years and fitted new tyres at 69,000 km. The styling of the 2002 model was a matter of debate, but it was a joy to drive.


LOOK FOR
• Good reliability
• Solid build quality
• snug interior
• Good drivability
• Boxer engine a little harsh
• Good resale
• Modifications

THE BOTTOM LINE
Solid, well-built small car with a performance edge, but beware those abused.

VERDICT
75/100

Pricing

Year Price From Price To
2005 $2,600 $13,420
2004 $2,500 $13,090
2003 $2,200 $10,780
2002 $2,100 $7,480
2001 $2,300 $7,260
2000 $2,400 $8,250
1999 $2,400 $7,810
1998 $2,400 $6,160

View all Subaru Impreza pricing and specifications

Pricing guides

$4,280
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$2,400
Highest Price
$6,160

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
GX 2.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,500 – 4,290 1998 Subaru Impreza 1998 GX Pricing and Specs
GX (awd) 2.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,400 – 4,070 1998 Subaru Impreza 1998 GX (awd) Pricing and Specs
LX 1.6L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $2,500 – 4,290 1998 Subaru Impreza 1998 LX Pricing and Specs
LX (awd) 2.0L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,900 – 4,950 1998 Subaru Impreza 1998 LX (awd) Pricing and Specs
Graham Smith
Contributing Journalist

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Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.