Used Subaru Impreza review

It's a rally monster for the road, but what is Japan's Subaru Impreza like to own second-hand?

Best known as a turbocharged rally refugee, the Subaru Impreza's competition pedigree means the rest of the range is often overlooked. However, when it first appeared here in 1993, it was available as a 101bhp 1.8-litre four-wheel-drive model only. The famous 2.0 Turbo didn't arrive for another year, in the footsteps of an entry-level 1.6 front-drive variant.

Mind you, as one of the most complete performance cars in a decade, the Turbo hogs the limelight for good reason - and it's now cheaper than ever on the used market.

Prices

The newest 1.6 and 1.8-litres are now nine years old - pay no more than £1,500 for one. The same goes for a normally aspirated 2.0. Turbos start at £5,000, whether an official 208bhp model or a commonplace WRX import.

The last Turbos cost up to £10,000 on a forecourt, if mint and low mileage; a V-plate 60,000-miler is £7,000 privately. Don't pay UK-example prices for a grey import from Japan.

What to look for

Check for a full service history - especially on a grey import. Parallel imports from mainland Europe may have theirs missing, too. And remember insurance rates can be higher for cars brought in through unofficial channels. There is little to recommend a sub-2.0-litre model over most other Japanese cars from the period; it'll be reliable but little more.

Checklist

Recalls

Impressively, there has never been a recall for this generation of Impreza.

Owner comment

Andy Lisle from Southampton owns the 1997 87,000-mile Impreza pictured. He's blown away by the performance, and says the roadholding is exceptional thanks to the four-wheel drive.

But he warned: "Don't enter Impreza ownership with your eyes closed. Servicing and fuel costs are very high - an official dealer quoted me £800 for a major service. But as a complete family car, the Subaru has it all."

  • Brakes and clutch: Take a good look at the brake discs, as these can often get scored - meaning that both they and the pads will have to be replaced. Also, Turbo models have usually been driven extremely hard, so check that the clutch isn't slipping when you change gear.
  • Modifications: Watch out for imports with Japanese modifications for which replacements are hard to find in the UK. In particular, look for cars with automatic climate control - it was never offered on British models - and vague service histories.
  • Engine: A change of powerplant design back in 1997 led to a knocking noise on start-up. This was usually cured under warranty by replacing one of the pistons - very few cars are still affected by the problem, but you should check that yours isn't one of them.
  • Bodywork: There's a chance the previous owner will have exceeded their own driving limits, so it's vital to check for uneven panel gaps, indicating poor accident repairs. Also look for uneven tyre wear, showing suspension misalignment.
  • Exhaust: A smoky system could indicate burnt-out turbo oil seals, which at up to £1,000 are very costly to fix. The engine oil should have been changed every 7,500 miles, using synthetic lubricants - check for the correct stamps in the service history.

Verdict

The Subaru Impreza proves the point that unshakeable reliability does not have to equate to motoring tedium. Even the insanely quick (and fun to drive) Turbo simply keeps on going, just as long as it's well looked after. You also don't need to be afraid of grey imports, because specialists abound - but make sure that what you are buying is what it appears to be, as it is very easy to get caught out. We like the blistering performance from the Turbo model, great handling as standard, strong off-road and towing capabilities. But watch out for expensive parts prices, frequent service intervals, cheap, plasticky interiors, large number of modified cars or Jap-spec imports

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