Buying A Subaru WRX/STi – Complete Guide

The original Subaru WRX had defined the performance car of the 1990s. It had won numerous World Rally Championships, become synonymous with Colin McRae and showed the world what Subaru could do. The second generation WRX carried on in much the same way but when it launched, fans were less than impressed with the styling.

While the second gen WRX’s styling could be classed as less-than appealing, it is still one of the most loved cars of the early 2000s. Prices are starting to creep up and we thought it would be a good idea to do a buying guide on the second generation Subaru WRX.

In this buyers guide we are going to be covering what things to look out for in a Subaru WRX, where to buy a WRX, and the history and specifications of the car. Let’s take a look at the history and specs of the 2000 – 2007 Subaru WRX first. If you already know about the history of the car, feel free to skip ahead using the table of contents below.

The History and Specifications of the Subaru WRX 2000 -2007

Subaru introduced a new Impreza model to Japan in August 2000, which was both larger and heavier. The company brought back the iconic WRX nameplate, but fans were less than impressed with the ‘Bugeye’ headlights that had made their way onto the car. A couple of years later, Subaru fitted a new set of lights, only to have the Impreza renamed ‘blobeye’.

The WRX rolled out with 2.0-litre 215hp turbocharged boxer engine, powering all four wheels via an open differential at the front and a limited-slip differential at the back. Along with the change in styling in 2003, Subaru also gave the WRX more oomph. Power was now at 222hp and the WRX STi joined the range. The STi produced 265hp and had a strengthened six-speed manual gearbox instead of the five-speed found in the standard WRX. In addition to this, the STi also got quicker steering and a limited-slip diff.

More changes came in 2005. New headlights were installed and the new model became known as the hawk-eye. The legendry 2.0-litre turbocharged boxer engine was out, and in its place a new 2.5-litre EJ225 unit was fitted. This meant that power was increased to 226hp for the WRX and 276hp for the STi model. The hawk-eye also had wider track and FHI 4/2 Pot brakes.

Subaru Impreza 2.0 WRX STi WR1

To celebrate Petter Solberg’s win of the 2003 World Rally Championship, Subaru launched the STi WR1, which was limited to just 500 units. The special edition sits 25mm lower to the ground, sports 18-inch seven spoke, and was painted in a cool Ice Blue paint job.

On the inside, not much was changed but Subaru did fit a couple of switches beside the handbrake to operate the WR1’s DCCD (Driver’s Control Centre Differential). Flicking the switch from automatic to manual mode lets you vary the torque distribution via a dial. Drivers could opt to send up to 64 percent of the WR1’s power to the real wheels. This meant drivers could indulge in a bit of rear-drive oversteer with the flick of a switch.

Exhaust and catalyst modifications, along with a revised ECU boosted power to an impressive 316hp at 5,800rpm. Torque was also increased to 310 lb-ft at 4,000rpm and the car could hit 100km/hr in as little as 4.3 seconds.

Subaru Impreza WRX STi RB320

Built as a tribute to the late WRC champ Richard Burns, the RB320 is essentially an STi with Prodrive’s tuning package and a bespoke chassis set-up. The car was given Bilstein dampers, Eibach springs, a lower ride height and was only available in black. Other changes included special 18-inch black alloy wheels, a smattering of RB320 logos and slightly different interior trim.

On the engine side of things, the RB320 features the same 2.5-litre boxer engine as the standard STi, but with a few upgrades. The upgrades from Prodrive boosted power to 316hp from 276hp and torque was pushed to 332lb-ft. With the power increase came more performance, with the RB320 hitting 100km/hr in 4.8 seconds.

Subaru Impreza WRX GB270

Subaru created a special edition, last-of-the-line model to celebrate the outgoing Impreza WRX. Prodrive tuned-up the engine, giving it 266hp from the standard 226hp. They also fitted new, lowered suspension, 18-inch black alloy wheels, and a ‘quickshift’ gearchange. Increased power meant the GB270 could go from 0-100km/hr in 5.3 seconds, compared to 5.9 seconds for the standard WRX.

The Prodrive Performance Package (PPP)

Those who purchased a WRX could opt for Prodrive’s Performance Package. Often referred to as ‘WR Sport’, the performance package was comprised of a selection of parts and accessories to further enhance the performance Subaru’s flagship models, most notably the WRX.

Each iteration of PPP was engineered especially for its corresponding generation of Subaru. It was generally offered as a complete package and buyers could not opt for individual parts. Typical modifications included; a remapped ECU (as a result, Prodrive recommended using 98+ octane fuel), sports Catalyst, a backbox (silencer), and a high flow fuel pump.

Buying a Subaru WRX

Now that we have covered a few facts about the second generation Subaru WRX, let’s look at buying one. While the car isn’t too old, some of them have had a pretty hard life and it is important to inspect any WRX thoroughly before purchasing.

Some cars will have a significant number of miles on them, while others may have modifications that need to be checked out. You need to decide whether a higher mileage or modified model is acceptable, or if you want a completely stock standard car that hasn’t travelled far.

Beware of any imposter WRX or STi cars. Many people have put badges or bodykits on standard Imprezas to make them look like a WRX or WRX STi. You should be able to tell this if you view the car directly. It can be a little bit harder to determine whether the car you are looking at is genuine if you are buying it sight unseen.

Now, let’s look at a few things you need to watch out for when purchasing a second generation Subaru Impreza WRX.

Engine

You should get familiar with what a stock WRX or STi engine bay should look like. Once you pop the hood, you want to be able to see if anything has been modified or changed. Aftermarket parts can be a potential threat if the car hasn’t been tuned for them. We have listed some parts that are commonly swapped out below:

  • Pulleys
  • Short ram intakes
  • Cold air intakes
  • Intercooler
  • Turbocharger
  • Blow off valve/by pass valve

Ask the person who is selling the car about any modifications and ask them for proof. Check the service history and any receipts for work done to the vehicle. A stock engine usually means that the vehicle has not been as abused as one that has been heavily modified. If modifications have been done incorrectly it can dramatically reduce the life of the transmission and motor.

You may find a car that has had its engine swapped with a JDM EJ205 and EJ207. This is fine if the work has been carried out correctly, but this is rarely the case. Inspect any car with an engine swap even more thoroughly and make sure you see any receipts for the work. If the engine is not one of the two we listed above, avoid the car completely.

As with any performance car, make sure the vehicle you are looking at has had regular oil changes. Check that 10W-40 or 10W-50 fully synthetic oil has been used and that servicing has been done at least every 10,000 miles (Some owners may service their WRX every 2,500 – 3,000 miles, which is a sign that the car is well looked after). Always check that the timing belt and the water pump have been replaced if the car is getting up there in miles.

Check for any oil leaks from the 2.0-litre version’s cam and sump covers. The head gasket on the 2.5-litre model is prone to failure and the hypereutectic pistons can suffer damaged ringlands. Anything with over 350hp should have strengthened internals so make sure that is done. Check for any other leaks, cracked pipes or general wear and tear in the engine bay.

We recommend that you carry out a compression test on the engine if possible. The results of this will tell you if there is anything wrong with the engine and turbocharger. If the owner refuses to get these tests done, simply walk away and thank them for their time. The only reason they will refuse to get these done is because they have something to hide.

Turbocharger

A cracked turbo housing or leaking oil seals may allow oil to pass through the exhaust system. When the oil burns, it will produce a distinctive blue/grey smoke, which can become more visible as you accelerate. A whining sound may be indicative of a turbocharger that has lost its balance or suffered damage to the compressor wheel. If the car feels slower than it should do or there are any unusual delays in power delivery, it could be a sign that the turbocharger needs repairs or maintenance.

Transmission

Listen for any whines or clunks from the transmission and shift through the gears at higher rpms. Inspect the rear differential for any leaks and check when the last time the gearbox oil was changed. Regular servicing will help keep the transmission working correctly, which can save you money in the future.

Suspension

Take a look at the suspension and make sure the vehicle has either stock suspension or a good brand setup. If the WRX you are looking at has cheap coilovers they could cause you trouble down the line. Also check for any other aftermarket suspension components such as sway bars, control arms, bushings, strut bars and more. If there are any aftermarket parts make sure they were installed correctly and are of a good brand.

Check the rear struts as they can suffer stiction as the damper rod seals dry out and loose lubrication. In addition to this, check all the other suspension components and ask the seller if/when they have been replaced or serviced.

Brakes, Brake Pads and Wheels

Make sure that the car is fitted with OEM calipers and brake pads with plenty of life left in them. Aftermarket calipers are okay as long as they are of equivalent or higher value and performance. If there is little life left in the brake pads, bring this to the seller’s attention and use it as a bargaining tool to get a better price for the car.

The car should be sitting on original wheels or quality aftermarket ones. Check the tyres to make sure there is plenty of tread and also take a look at the brand. Cheap tyres will not only be detrimental to performance, but they can also be sign that the car has been looked after poorly.

Body and Exterior

Rust and corrosion can be quite a problem around the rear wheel arches, so make sure you inspect that area. There is usually a little black strip on the wheel arches that should be removed as they lock in moisture and speed up the corrosion process.

You should also check for corrosion around the front radiator support panels, the front C-subframes (not fitted on imports) and behind the plastic undertrays on Hawk-eye models. Additionally, while other parts of the body aren’t as prone to rust, we suggest you still give whole body a good look over.

Many drivers are more spirited than they are talented, so check for any signs of crash damage on all WRXs you look at. Unaligned panels, large panel gaps or variations in colour may be a sign that the vehicle has been in an accident. Ask the owner if the car has ever been in an accident and check the service history, along with any receipts for work done.

Take a look at all of the bumpers and body panels; are they stock or aftermarket? Many owners have replaced the OEM parts with carbon fibre ones or cheap replacements. Common parts that are swapped include the bonnet, trunk, spoiler, front bumper, rear bumper, roof, doors and door panels. Ask the owner if they have the originals and if they do not, use this to drive the price down.

Electronics

While the second generation Subaru WRX’s electronics are fairly reliable, they can go wrong. Cars that have been modified will probably have more issues than stock models, so make sure any work has been carried out correctly. Check to see if there are any warning lights on the dash and operate all the dials and switches to make sure there are no faults.

The WRX is loved by thieves, so see if the vehicle has an alarm system. If the car does not have an alarm, you can use this as a bargaining point. Additionally, vehicles without security systems will be more expensive to insure than those that do have them.

Interior

Like the engine bay, we recommend that you get familiar with what a stock second generation Subaru WRX looks like inside. Many owners have installed new seats and replaced other trim for various different reasons. Ask the seller if they have the originals and try to get a discount if they do not.

Also check for any signs of damage, as replacing the trim pieces can be expensive. If you are sceptical of the mileage the car has done, take a look at the steering wheel and other trim pieces as they can be good indicators of how far a vehicle has travelled.

Service History and Other Documentation

You should always check the service history of a car and any receipts for work done. The service history will give you a good idea of how the vehicle has been treated over its life. It will tell you important information such as how regularly the car has been serviced and if there have been any significant repairs carried out. If the owner cannot provide the service history or refuses to do so, you should proceed with caution.

In addition to looking at the service history, you can also use websites like CarFax (USA & Canada) and CarJam (NZ) to find out more about a vehicle. These websites may be able to tell you about any past accidents, repair work or failed inspections.

Questions You Should Ask the Owner

Below we have listed some questions you should ask the seller/owner of the WRX you are looking at:

  • When was the timing belt done?
  • What motor oil do you use?
  • What parts have been replaced?
  • Has the vehicle been in any major accidents?
  • Have there been any major repairs?
  • Has the car overheated?
  • Is there any money owing on the car?
  • Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the car?
  • How often do you drive the vehicle?
  • When was the car last serviced?

There are many more questions you can ask the owner and the ones we have listed above are just an example of what we recommend you ask.

Things That Should Make You Walk Away

Here are some things that should make you walk away from a WRX:

  • Any mention of transmission issues.
  • Rust (minor rust may be okay but we would personally walk away).
  • Engine rebuilt and no paperwork to go along with it.
  • Engine swaps that are not EJ205 or EJ207 engines. Any engine swap must have been done correctly.
  • Hybrid engines of any kind.
  • Stanced
  • Raceland coilovers or cheap aftermarket suspension replacements.
  • Money owing on the vehicle.
  • Any mention of significant crash damage.

There are lots of things that would make us cautious about buying a WRX, but the ones above would make as walk away completely. Don’t feel pressured into buying a WRX and don’t always trust the owners word.

Where to Find a Subaru WRX for Sale?

Now that we have looked at some of the things you should watch out for when buying a Subaru WRX, it is time to look at where to find one for sale. The second generation Subaru WRX was a popular car and there are plenty of examples to be found in all parts of the world. Below we are going to cover everything you need to know about finding a Subaru WRX for sale.

Finding a Subaru WRX Locally or Domestically

The first place you are going to want to look is in your own city. This is because you can physically inspect and test drive the vehicle before purchasing it. You can ask the seller questions directly and you should be able to take the car to your mechanic if you want to. The ability to see a vehicle in person can save you from being left with a lemon.

While it is always best to find vehicles for sale close to you, it may not always be possible to locate a suitable WRX in your local area. The next step is to look nationally or in your own state if you are in a large country such as the United States. This will broaden your search and you should be able to find more WRXs for sale.

Prices can vary wildly depending on where you live in the world, but in our local market in New Zealand they seemed to go from around $5,000 for a real dog to upwards of $40,000 for a prime example. Modified WRXs may be more or less expensive, and expect to pay a premium for a low mileage, good condition example.

While it is tempting to jump at the first good Subaru WRX you find, we always recommend exercising a little bit of patience. There are plenty of WRXs out there and rushing into buying one could leave you with significant expenditure down the track. However, good condition low mileage examples will often be sold quickly, so take that into account.

If you are looking at a WRX close to you, we recommend that you take it to your mechanic or a Subaru specialist. They will be able to inspect the vehicle and see if there are any problems with it. If the seller is reluctant to let you do this, you should proceed with caution as they may be trying to hide something from you.

Where to Find a Second Generation Subaru WRX for Sale?

There are so many different places you can find WRXs for sale. We have listed a number of them below to give you an idea where to start:

Auction and Classified Websites

Websites like Craigslist, Cars for Sale and TradeMe are excellent places to start your hunt for the perfect WRX. There is usually a range of different cars being sold by private sellers, dealers and importers. The great thing with these websites is they give you a good overview of how much you should expect to pay for a WRX in your city/country.

Dealers and Importers

Most dealers and importers will advertise their stock online and many will use websites like we listed above as well. Purchasing a WRX from a dealer is usually more expensive that buying from a private seller, but you may get better support or bonuses (warranty, servicing, etc.). Private importers can help you locate the ideal vehicle for your needs, but they will come at a cost.

Magazines

While car magazines aren’t as popular as they once were, you may still be able to find vehicles for sale in a local or national one.

Social Media

Websites like Facebook and Reddit can be a great place to find a Subaru WRX for sale. There are many dedicated groups for Subarus on these platforms and we suggest you join some of them. They often have classifieds sections that advertise vehicles for sale or simply ask the group a question. Even if you do not find any cars for sale, social media groups are still a great place to learn and ask questions about the WRX.

Owners Clubs

There are many Subaru owner’s clubs around the world and they can be great places to find vehicles for sale. The members are often enthusiasts who take great pride in their machines and have a wealth of knowledge. Even if nobody in the group is selling their WRX, they may be able to point you in the direction of somebody who is.

Contacts or Events

Ask your family, friends and acquaintances if they know of any WRXs for sale. You can also try your luck at local car events as well.

Import a Subaru Impreza WRX/STi

It is always best to start your hunt for the perfect vehicle close to home, but sometimes it is necessary to look further afield. The Subaru WRX was sold all across the world, so you should be able to find them anywhere you look. However, Japan is undoubtedly the best place to look when thinking about importing a WRX.

Exporting cars is big business in Japan as owning older vehicles in the country can become expensive. There are plenty of Subaru WRXs available in Japan, some in good condition and some in poor condition.

How to Import a Subaru WRX from Japan?

While importing a car from Japan may seem like a bit of a nightmare, it is actually quite simple. The best place to start your search is online and a quick Google search for “Subaru WRX import” will give you an idea of just how many websites and Japanese auction houses there are. These websites will usually let you search based on a number of factors from the year to the model, and even the condition (more on that later).

You should always investigate a website or auction house before you use them to make sure you do not get scammed. Check reviews and ask for feedback from people who have used the service. We have listed some examples of websites you can use below:

JDM EXPOCan provide direct access to Japanese auction houses and will assist with delivery. They also have their own stock which you can check out.

Japan PartnerHas a sales team fluent in six different languages and they are one of the largest exporters in Japan.

Car From JapanIs a larger exporter from Japan and they claim to have a 99% customer satisfaction rate.

Getting Access to Auction Houses

Some websites or services will give you direct access to Japanese auction houses, while others will simply give you a list of what they have in stock. Some importers will work with you to find a suitable vehicle and then bid on it for you. To find out more about importing a car from Japan we suggest you read our “How to Import a Car from Japan” guide.

How Does the Japanese Car Grading System Work?

Japanese auction houses and exporters all source their vehicles in roughly the same way. The main difference between the different companies is how much information they are willing to tell you and how they grade their cars.

Cars will be given what is called an ‘auction check sheet’ that contains most of the information you need to know about a vehicle. The auction check sheet is your guide and you need to learn how to read one before making a purchase. If a company is not willing to give you a translated version of the check sheet, you should take your business elsewhere.

The check sheet will contain information like the make, model, specifications and other such things. It will also show you a grade, which can be used to get a rough idea of the condition of the vehicle.

While the auction check sheet grade is important, it should not be relied on completely. The reason for this is because different companies have different methods and standards for grading a vehicle. A grade 4 for one company might actually be a lot lower for another company.

We recommend that you use the grade to whittle down the number of WRXs you are looking for and then use the other information on the check sheet to make your decision. Relying on the grade alone is asking for trouble.

The Auction Check Sheet

Below you can see an example of an auction check sheet. In the top right corner, you will notice a number and a letter. The number displays the mechanical/overall condition of the vehicle while the letter shows you the interior grade. The exterior condition of the car is usually included in the number grade, however, some auction houses may use a letter for it.

Remember that auction houses will have slight variations in how the check sheet is laid out, but they should all be roughly similar.

What Does The Number Grade Mean?
  • Grade 7 to 9 or S New car that only has delivery miles.
  • Grade 6 Same as above but with a few more miles.
  • Grade 5 Vehicle is in exceptional condition with low miles.
  • Grade 4.5 Overall condition is excellent, but can have up to 100,000 miles on the clock.
  • Grade 4 Overall condition is good, but can have low or high miles.
  • Grade 3.5 – Similar to grade 4, but some work may be needed and they usually have more miles.
  • Grade 3 Can be the same condition as grade 3.5, but with more miles. Alternatively, the car may have lower miles but require more work.
  • Grade 2 Very poor condition car and may have significant mechanical or exterior issues. Not necessarily a right off, but you would have to be a brave buyer to purchase one of these.
  • Grade 1 Are modified in some way (can be extensive or something simple).
  • Grade 0, A, R, RA Some repair history that can be major or minor.
The Interior and Exterior Grade

As we explained earlier, the number grade will usually be accompanied by a letter that indicates the interior grade. If there is an ‘A’ on the check sheet it shows that the vehicle is in exceptional or good condition. A ‘B’ means that the car is in average condition while a ‘C’ indicates that the vehicle is in poor condition.

A car map will also be provided with the auction check sheet. The car map gives you information about the vehicle and where any issues or damage is located. You can read more about it in our “How to Import a Car from Japan” guide.

Other Things to Think About

Check Your Country’s Importation Laws

You must check your country’s importation laws before purchasing a vehicle from Japan or anywhere overseas. Many countries have restrictions on importing a car over or under a certain age. The second generation Subaru WRX is still a fairly new car, so you may find that you can’t import it.

Import from Other Countries

The second generation Subaru WRX/STi was popular when it was new and it is still a popular today. It was sold in many countries around the world and you may be able to find one that is closer to home. However, remember that different regions received slightly different versions of the car.

Wrapping Up This Second Generation Subaru Impreza WRX Buyer’s Guide

The second generation Subaru WRX might not be as legendary as its predecessor, but it is still an excellent motor car. While the car is starting to get a bit older, there are still plenty of excellent examples out there to find.

Remember to make yourself familiar with what a stock WRX/STi looks like and keep an eye out for any signs of crash damage. Always be cautious of modified cars and make sure to check the service history thoroughly. The WRX can be trouble if they are neglected, but a good one will be a joy to drive.

Now Read: The Subaru Impreza 22B STi – A Rally Icon 

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