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Used Subaru Impreza buyers' guide
Before the 1992 Impreza, Subaru was a quirky Japanese manufacturer of four-wheel drive light trucks and superminis. Campaigning the new midsize Impreza in the World Rally Championship with Scotland's Colin McRae behind the wheel, the manufacturer took overall WRC honours in 1995 and 1996. So began a legend.
Impreza arrived in the UK for 1993, as 1.6. 1.8 and 2-litre saloons and estates. All featured normally aspirated engines, with two- and four-wheel drive. The Turbo came the following year. Sub-2000cc models were dropped for 1996.
Two-wheel drive and normally aspirated four-wheel drive Imprezas have their own appeal, and are plenty capable on the right tyres. Interiors are basic, and have a simple feel: some would say downmarket. Early four doors are tight on rear legroom, but most have folding rear seats. Estate bodies are the most practical.
Turbos come in many guises: the main choice being WRX or STI. Subaru Tecnica International is the performance division of Fuji Heavy Industries, which makes Subaru cars. WRXs are hot, but STIs are the fastest factory models.
Where to buy
Official Subaru dealers can be strong on price versus independents, usually due to offering more for Subaru part exchanges. Subaru dealers often offer sizeable discounts off new prices, and widespread discounting contributes to higher depreciation.
Higher franchised prices may be acceptable with decent pre-sales prep and warranty cover, but check prices for similar cars at independent specialists and get the most for your money.
The UK loves Imprezas. Britain has plenty of Scooby specialists, though not all of them sell cars. Non-specialist independent dealers also like Imprezas and can hold fine examples at reasonable margins, so should not be ignored. Check all dealer sales carefully and insist on a warranty.
Private sellers abound. While some bought cars they could not afford to run, many private sellers are genuine enthusiasts and the cars can be in excellent condition. A major plus of buying privately is that more time can be taken during inspection and test drive: insist on a test drive and not just being driven.
Clues observed at the home address can point to good or bad ownership. Buying privately gives the opportunity to ask questions directly to the owner about maintenance: how much has been done in-house and how much has been done professionally.
Beware of private buyers asking retail money: especially when the car is heavily modified, as not all modifications add value. Few insurance companies would pay out extra money for 10kg of questionable vinyl rally stickers attached to the side of a write-off. Good ideas like turbo timers are a different story.
Price points: up to £4k
Early two-wheel drive Imprezas shouldn't cost more than a grand. £2,000 buys a nice, normally aspirated four-wheel drive car. £4,000 buys a clean, standard UK Turbo, uncrashed and in good condition.
Like houses painted magnolia, the plainest cars have the widest appeal. Standard UK cars in good original colours sell well: WRC-linked colours like the various mid blues are favoured. Silver is good news in good condition. Flat colours tend to date the cars: the UK's cheapest Imprezas are invariably faded red.
Any to avoid
Modified Subarus contain more bling than a rapper's ring drawer, but a lot of it is bolt-on. Evidence of mods removed takes as much money off the price as leaving bad mods on. Cheap purple window tints, tatty aftermarket wheels, blacked-out rear lamps, chavvy vents that pull paint off: all of these should lead to a discount. Proper owners do not fit cheap mods, so leave tired hacks to the breakers.
All Subaru fans love pillarless doors. All insurers hate them. Imprezas are amongst the most nickable cars on UK roads, so price your insurance before you agree a deal. Tracker will cut premiums but subscriptions cost money: weigh one versus the other. Garaging makes a difference.
Depreciation is the biggest running cost when buying most used cars, except when it's a cheap Impreza. Say goodbye to a gallon of unleaded every 19 miles or thereabouts in a Turbo driven enthusiastically: one STi press car I borrowed when new managed just 12 mpg over a weekend. Ignore manufacturer's economy data: it is unattainable in normal driving.
Tyre and brake suppliers will become your best friends when you cane the Turbo cross-country. Original exhausts rot out and that flimsy plastic trim gets tired after a while. All expense is forgotten when you claim your first BMW M3 scalp on a greasy B-road.
Price points: £4k - £10k
The UK has seen numerous special edition Imprezas over the years, and most early specials slot into this price band. The McRae, Terzo and Catalunya editions built on early Imprezas have growing collector appeal, but only the best examples will retain real value.
The P1 Coupe is a budding collectible in unmodified guise. Asking prices will sometimes top £10k, but real-world values are unlikely to exceed this for some time: expect £8k-ish for a nice one.
2002 brought the second generation 'Bug Eye' round headlamp model, quickly facelifted by the Blobeye. The Hawkeye facelift came for 2006. Second generations are stiffer, with a wider track for improved handling.
New Impreza was released for the 2008 model year. While most cost £10k+, 1.5-litre cars with the four-wheel drive system can be found for as little as £7k. How desirable they are is a matter for the individual, but that price speaks volumes.
Subaru knows how to charge for parts like few other manufacturers. The Internet is a useful source of parts from direct importers, but many parts are dealer only. Price any bits that need replacing before getting into purchase negotiations - just like the insurance.
Any to avoid
Impreza enthusiasts in the UK have long enjoyed Japanese imports: cars built for the domestic market, specced differently to the UK. Imports are fine when you know what you're doing, but consider getting to know the simple UK Impreza first, rather than diving straight for a Jap import.
The Impreza Turbo's flat-four boxer engine is reliable up to a certain point (325/330hp say experts) but can give trouble beyond that. Big power also hurts transmissions and everything else controlling the horsepower-to-Tarmac relationship. If you're going to buy modified, remember that dyno numbers are not the only story: six-speed transmissions are much stronger than five-speeds and big brakes are a must.
Price points: £10k+
The standard Impreza had a major overhaul for the 2008 model year. Most obvious is the bodystyle, which went from four-door saloon to five-door hatch. Diehard Impreza-ites did not flock to the new car, but sentiment has evolved in the intervening years.
2008 was the year of the credit crunch. As the US Dollar and Pound Sterling fell through the floor, the Yen rose to new heights and Subaru was in danger of collapse. The company withdrew from the WRC at the end of 2008. Huge discounts were offered on UK dealer stock and Impreza - regarded by most as a toy - became a tough sell.
Thanks to tough trading conditions when it was first introduced, new-shape Impreza can be hard to find used, but that hasn't stopped second-hand prices from sinking. Cheapest decent 2.5-litre WRX-spec Impreza is currently £10,995 at an independent dealer: not bad for such a capable car but some prefer to go faster. As 2.5s look slow to sell, £10k can't be far away.
Pre-2008s in this price band are all limited editions or much-modified machines. Last-of-the-old-car GB270 estates - only 100 built - would be my pick for long-term stealth express.
If you're considering late Impreza Turbo as a family car, be a bit more realistic. Vadertastic Matt Black and Dark Grey look cool in pictures, but silly on the school run. Stiff suspensions need sick bags in the seat-back pockets and Imprezas were not built for motorways. Impreza wagons serve some families well, but consider Legacy or Outback if a family all-rounder is your aim.
Any to avoid
Four-wheel drive cars on decent tyres are popular in bad weather: expect the whole family in your Impreza when winter comes. A 1,500cc, 4wd Impreza might seem a good idea on paper, but a diesel Golf makes a better commuter and 1.5 litres is not huge grunt for a loaded Impreza on snow.
Every episode of Police, Camera, Action features at least one Impreza leading traffic cops a merry dance. These are fast cars loved by criminals, from joyriders to bank robbers and all branches in between. Check potential purchases for a hidden history, and don't buy insurance write offs or stolen recovered.
There are plenty of Imprezas on sale and UK plc is currently depressed. Winter looks done, and smoking is the only activity more antisocial and expensive than running an Impreza. Used prices will be under pressure for a while more yet, so bide your time if budget's a factor.
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