Subaru began in Japan in the 1950s as the offshoot of an aircraft company that underwent reorganization after World War II. At this time, the Japanese economy was slowly turning around, and demand for automobiles increased. The company’s first cars like the 1500 and tiny air-cooled 360 were unremarkable people movers. By the late 1960s, Subaru came to the U.S. to ride the wave of Japanese auto imports.
Subaru soldiered on here and at home, but by the 1980s, the company grew tired of the status quo. To reinvigorate its image, the automaker tried its hand at motorsports with only minor success. Yet, things started to change for the better as the 1990s rolled around. Subaru signed legendary rallycross driver Colin McRae to its team during this time, and the compact Impreza was introduced in 1992.
This created a perfect pairing of talent and technology as Subaru used the Impreza as a platform for its racing endeavors. Along the way, tobacco company State Express 555 became a sponsor, and its blue and gold livery still influences Subaru marketing to this day.
While ordinary Imprezas became available for everyday customers in the U.S., home-market customers enjoyed higher-performance versions wearing WRX badging. A name that arises from Subaru’s participation in World Rally racing, with WRX standing for World Rally eXperimental.
One example, the WRX XA, was noteworthy for lack of air conditioning, power windows, and anti-lock brakes. It was a car all about squeezing every bit of power from its turbocharged engine. By 1994, the WRX was a full participant at every World Rally Championship event. And the efforts paid off a year later as Subaru and McRae claimed their first WRC title.
We’ll dive into each generation of WRX shortly, but it’s important to understand how this pocket rocket changed the auto industry. While the idea of adding a more powerful engine to an ordinary car is nothing new, the concept of turning a small economy car into a performance vehicle was revolutionary.
Arguably, these efforts began in 1970s Europe with the Simca 1100 Ti and the Volkswagen Golf GTI, but Subaru took things much further. All-wheel drive gave the WRX prowess on and off the road. The Japanese approach of using technology to maximize car performance also created an appreciation for JDM (Japan Domestic Market) culture in the U.S.
And while the WRX didn’t make it to the U.S. until 2002, this Subaru helped validate the case for other tiny but mighty cars like the Honda Civic Type R, Audi S3, Ford Focus RS, Mitsubishi Evo, and Volkswagen R32.
The WRX started out as a trim package for the mundane Impreza, unlike newer generations. As such, the WRX was available as either a sedan or a five-door wagon. At launch, the 1992 WRX enjoyed 240 horsepower thanks to a turbocharged 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder engine. Europe got 210 ponies, and the U.S. got nothing.
But let’s put this in perspective. A C4 Corvette of the day required six seconds to hit 60 mph from a standstill (and that’s with V-8 power). Yet, the four-cylinder WRX only needed five seconds to accomplish the same thing. If this capability doesn’t impress, then nothing will. Plus, the WRX’s all-wheel-drive offered surefootedness in the mud and snow. Try that with a Vette!
Things kept going for the WRX as Subaru introduced the more powerful STi variant in 1994. Horsepower reached 250, but more importantly, torque came on sooner, allowing for faster acceleration. Subaru continued to torture the WRX-less Americans with the release of the 1998 WRX STi 22B. A limited 400-unit Japan-only offering, the 22B benefited from 276 horsepower and impressive low-end torque. Think of it as a street-legal race car that never reached American streets.
Subie fans in America rejoiced as the WRX finally made its way across the Pacific for the 2002 model year. 227 horsepower may seem unimpressive today, but 20 years ago, this Subaru was a wake-up call to the higher-end BMW 3 Series cars and the Audi S4. And the WRX was a lot cheaper. Dubbed the Bugeye for its exaggerated round headlights, the WRX looked and drove like nothing else on American roads.
Subaru changed things up for 2004. America got an STi version with a 230-horsepower intercooled turbo 2.5-liter boxer powerplant. At the same time, the WRX underwent a facelift complete with updated front and rear fascias. The new front end became known as the “blob-eye” for the somewhat squished headlights. In some circles, this WRX gets called the Gundam-eye (you’ll get the reference if you’re into giant Japanese robots).
The Impreza and the WRX get updated for 2008 with a rounder and softer exterior that some akin to a jogging shoe. It was an attempt to mainstream the car that annoyed loyalists. Yet, 227 horsepower made up for the WRX’s questionable new looks. Curiously, the STi variant only came as a wagon.
Subaru is forgiven by the time 2009 came around as the updated WRX benefited from 265 horsepower and a reworked suspension. For 2011, the WRX gained the widebody kit from the STi, and the STi sedan returned.
Subaru separated the WRX from its Impreza roots and made the car a freestanding model. So, WRX became a nameplate and not just a variant going forward. The move was an easy way to expand the Subaru lineup and give more prominence to the brand’s performance efforts. Alas, the first-gen WRX is a sedan-only offering.
A chiseled body with an aggressive stance helped make the WRX more distinctive than its Impreza stablemate. While the STi’s 2.5-liter engine was a carry-over from the previous year, the regular WRX received a new 2.0-liter powerplant with direct injection and a twin-scroll turbocharger. 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque provided all the credentials the WRX would need. Plus, the WRX came with a six-speed manual gearbox for the first time. An automotive continuously variable transmission (CVT) with faux gear selectors was also offered.
In STi trim, the WRX offered 305 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque (output increases to 310 ponies later on).
From 2017 onward, the first stand-alone generation of the WRX underwent a series of improvements centered on refining the car. New technology included upgraded safety systems and infotainment. While options like Recaro seating reinforced the WRX’s performance mission.
Among the most noteworthy Subarus ever built is the 2019 WRX STi S209. Its $64,000 price tag made it the brand’s most expensive car, and a U.S.-only distribution of 209 units gave the car instant collector status. Adding to the S209’s uniqueness was a reworked engine with 341 horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque.
The all-new second-generation WRX (and some call this the fifth generation if you include the Impreza years) will hit the streets later in 2022. It will continue the sedan-only body style, but many other things are changing.
For one, an all-new turbo 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine will power the entire lineup. Output is 271 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. As such, the brawnier STi variant is being dropped. In its place, Subaru is offering the top-tier GT variant that will start at $43,000 (the priciest standard edition WRX ever). While the base, Premium, and Limited trims will come with a six-speed manual or an available automatic CVT, the GT will be CVT only.
Significantly, the new WRX will join its stablemates as the latest model to use the Subaru Global Platform (SGP). The unibody SGP first saw use with the 2016 Impreza and relies on improved materials and engineering to enhance the driving experience.
Be sure to check out the selection of pre-owned Subaru WRX models at Trust Auto in Sykesville. We love them just as much as you do! Contact us today to schedule a test drive or take advantage of our 100% online shopping experience. In the meantime, read other interesting stories like JDM Love: Check Out These Top 12 Japanese Classic Cars and 10 JDM Things To Know About The Legendary Nissan Skyline and Skyline GT-R.
Posted Saturday, February 19, 2022