It’s Time to Buy a WRX or STI

Subaru WRX and STI models offer the unique combination of genuine World Rally Championship heritage, outstanding performance and excellent reliability in an all-wheel-drive, 4-door sedan or wagon.

Other than the Mitsubishi (with the Evo), no other manufacturer offers a 300-horsepower sports sedan with high safety ratings for under $35k.

These Subarus offer the classic “Q-ship” mix of a basic Japanese commuter car with a high-performance sports car.

Buy a future collectible now

Starting in 2002, Subaru offered the 227-hp WRX (World Rally eXperimental) in the United States, while the cars had been available in Japan since 1994. The 300-hp STI (which stands for Subaru Technica International) came to the U.S. in 2004 for those needing even more power, although most who drive the WRX find it a very quick car.

All WRX and STI models are great to drive. Most enthusiasts agree the manual transmission adds value, as we have seen across many different makes and models (the WRX was also available with an automatic).

The surprising quality when behind the wheel is the lightness of the controls and brisk acceleration. These are very responsive cars, nothing like the beast you might expect from a small car with so much power — unless the car is heavily modified.

Subaru has made many different special edition WRX/STI cars.

Look for a stock car

Longevity is a controversial topic with these cars.

If the car is left in stock condition and thoughtfully maintained, the turbocharged flat-4 engine runs a long time.

Problems generally arise when the cars are modded. A “catback” exhaust doesn’t hurt reliability and can add that distinctive deep booming baritone many enthusiasts crave.

Suspension mods are common but will significantly degrade ride quality. When larger turbos, trick intakes, whistling blow-off valves and aftermarket tuning are added, things get complicated fast. If you insist on modifications, find a top ECU tuner and keep your fingers crossed. Otherwise, leave it stock.

Regular, easy maintenance

While the earliest models of these cars are getting old, it is still surprisingly easy to keep them running well.

Think about new spark plugs every 60k miles. Coil packs should last 10 years or 120k miles and are not expensive to replace.

Vacuum lines can get brittle and allow for small intake track leaks but are easy to replace. Most cars with good maintenance and stock parts can go 200k miles without major failure, but emission changes starting in 2008 often cause problems for the 2008–10 models.

All require new timing belts with associated pulleys and tensioner every 100k miles. If the car you are looking at needs one, budget to get it done right away. Plan on spending $1,200 for parts and labor.

For the 2.5-liter engines (starting in 2004 for the STI, 2006 in the WRX), compression and leak-down tests help diagnose if piston lands and rings are good, as mods or abuse can cause early failure. Rust on the underbody or extensive rust in the rear quarters is hard to repair and dangerous, so best avoid these except as parts cars.

Bugeyes, Blobeyes and bargains

The 2002–03 cars are nicknamed “Bugeyes” for the round headlights, while the 2004–05 cars are called “Blobeye” or “Peanut Eye” for the elongated headlight style. For U.S. cars, there are no STI Bugeyes, only WRX models, while Blobeyes came in both WRX and STI models.

There are real bargains in the early WRX models (2002–05), which can be found in decent shape for $6k to $9k. Newer STIs (2004–07) run from $14k to $24k, depending on miles and mods — the fewer of both, the better.

JDM cars

Japanese Domestic Market — aka JDM — STI and WRX models and engines are of special interest in the Subaru world. These cars have a unique 2.0-liter engine that never came to the U.S. These JDM cars don’t have the larger-displacement piston longevity issues found in U.S. market STIs.

Grabbing a JDM driveline and installing it in a 2002–05 WRX results in a highly desirable driver’s car and can improve resale value if the chassis is clean enough.

Once we can import 2002–03 JDM STIs in 2026, the novelty of these swaps may wear thin. But for now, the STI JDM swap is way cool in the Subie world.

Most are still used cars

Only very low-mileage early STIs (2004–07) are beginning to appreciate. Early 2002–03 WRXs with low miles are good buys if they have not been modified. Prices for these cars will increase as they become scarcer. My guess is the 2004–05 STI and 2002–03 WRX models will be the best collector cars.

Looking at future values, one of the limiting factors is the large number of cars built. There have been about 80,000 WRXs sold in the U.S. from 2002 to ’05, and 25,000 STIs (2004–07), with cars outside of these years too new to be collectible.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that many are being smashed, crashed, crushed and rusted off the road as you read this article.

In addition, some good cars suffer brainless owners, such as one car I recently bought. The previous owner toasted the perfectly good engine — which I had installed — by doing parking-lot doughnuts, causing oil starvation.

Many owners mod their engines into an early grave. Every time I see that, I acknowledge there is one less Subie on the road — which increases the values of mine.

Buy low — right now

My dad — longtime SCM Porsche guru Jim Schrager — was buying early Porsche 911 cars (1965–73) in the 1990s, well before almost everyone else discovered these wonderful cars. The prices skyrocketed once people caught on to the joys of these Porsches — and started buying them.

For anyone wanting to get in before these amazing Subarus slip out of sight, the WRX and STI cars offer an amazing performance bargain. Buy one today when they are just “used cars,” before the rest of the world catches on. ♦

 

Max Schrager is a mechanical engineer working in R&D for a major automaker and a serious gearhead who has taken apart and put back together more Subarus than he can count. His favorites are two early “Bugeye” WRXs, a 2002 JDM STI swap and his 2003 STI S202 swap.

Posted in Affordable Classics

1 comments

  1. I’m also betting they’ll become collectible. I bought a 2019 STI and I see it keeping its value for a while considering the new ones aren’t gonna have the same motor anymore.

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