Evolution of the WRX - Part 1

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Part 1 of 2 - WRX MY94-MY00: the "classic" era

The Subaru WRX first arrived in Australia 1994, following the heels of the Liberty RS which had already introduced some to the benefits of a relatively light weight, all wheel drive turbo-charged car that was both practical and affordable. It arrived with little fanfare, but quickly established a following, particularly from motoring publications who appreciated its performance and value.

WRXWhat started life as a quirky, niche performance car based on a modest-selling small car has evolved into a cult car with a colourful history.

Initally, the WRX struggled to sell and was considered by many to be on the expensive side (compared to today’s real price) in the mid 1990s. However,  Subaru's kept the price point despite inflation and enthusiast car magazines regularly sung its praises as they pitted the WRX against far more exotic and expensive machinery. The WRX was often quicker than the good old Aussie V8, prompting the likes of HSV to get more serious. Despite the price difference, the Subaru was often found to be faster and more capable, something that added enormously to its popularity.

The WRX was more popular than ever in the late 1990s, when rivals of similar performance and price were few and far between. Holden and  Ford V8s couldn’t match the WRX’s potent – and affordable – turbocharged performance.  1999 and 2000 were the golden years of the WRX in Australia, with record sales that Subaru admits are unlikely to be challenged. The WRXs popularity was such that Porsche even saw it as a threat to the standard 911, resulting in Porsche entering a mini advertising war in the late 1990s in an effort to show why its German thoroughbred was indeed better than the new Japanese kid on the block. In reality, it worked much better for Subaru than Porsche.

The golden years had a dark side though, with heavy media publicity over a spate of robberies in which the WRX was the getaway car. Thieves had figured out that the WRX was realtively to steal if you knew the trick and the Police Ford and Holden V8s could't keep up in pursuits, increasing the chances of the thieves getting away. The police adopted a “fight fire with fire” policy and followed suit, with limited numbers of WRXs purchased for pursuit duties in some states. It was something of a PR nightmare in Subaru's Sydney head office, and also stung WRX's owners back pockets with insurance companies either refusing to insure the WRX, or rising premiums to eye-watering levels.

WRXTo a large extent, the success of the WRX has come down to being in the right place at the right time. There was a market for an affordable, high-performance car. Subaru's success in the World Rally Championship attracted interest and provided the perfect marketing base. On top of that, the WRX had little, if any, genuine competition until recent years, when the market has bulged with newcomers from Honda, Mazda, Ford, Renault, Volkswagen and HSV.

These days, there are all manner of $40,000 performance options that the Subaru WRX in a large way created. These days there are clubs across Australia devoted to the WRX, which has become affectionately known as the “Rex”.

Today, much has changed, but much has also stayed the same. From the bug-eye model of late 2000, Subaru started a deliberate policy of broadening the appeal of the WRX and tackling head on the ramraider media image with increased security measures and clever advertising strategies, and then recently with the new model of late 2007 deliberately changing the car to more of a grand tourer than a performance pocket-rocket.

Historically, the WRX (like all other Subaru models) has taken to referring to the car in terms of model years: MY00, MY02, etc. As with many car makers, Subaru starts selling its next year’s model late in the preceding year. For instance, in September 2007 the MY08 went on sale in Australia.

This history will focus on Australian spec WRXs which ofter differ from JDM (Japanese Domestice Market) and other foreign market WRXs (such as the UK and the US). The exception to this is the first generation WRX which was't exported to Australia, but is included to give a starting point of the WRX's origins.



MY93 (JDM only)

This little known car was only sold in Japan and not exported, and was simply named as the Impreza GT, and was basically a standard Impreza GC8 chassis with a turbo and four-wheel drive. It introduced the "shark grill" bonnet vents and the horizontal "slatted" grille assembly. The GT was known to suffer with electrical problems and excessively soft, poorly controlled suspension compared to latter incarnations of the WRX. Air-to-air intercooling was adopted for this car, replacing the air-to-water unit fitted to the outgoing Legacy (called the Liberty in Asutralia) RS. Cooling was fed to a small, heavily slanted top mounted intercooler via a bonnet scoop, which also supplied air to a cooling "chimney" built into the turbocharger heat shield.

 


MY94 WRX Wagon

MY94-96

This was the first Impreza to wear the WRX nameplate (WRX stands for World Rally Edition). Engine management and vehicle electrics were all heavily revised to fix shortcomings prevalent in the previous model, and the shock and spring rates were also given a major overhaul.

Under the bonnet with the trademark bonnet scoop was the major secret to the WRX success - a two litre flat four, quad cam, 16 valve, fuel injected intercooled turbo. A static compression ratio of 8.0:1, Mitsubishi TD05 turbocharger (Oz spec) and a scoop-fed air-to-air intercooler mounted atop the engine helped the Rex deliver its 155kW at 6000 rpm along with 270Nm at 4800. The large-ish turbo (especially compared to later model) meant that the car did suffer from a lack of low-down torque, but once on boost the WRX hauled itself like few other cars of the era, sprinting to 100 km/h in the mid-high sixes and across the quarter mile in mid-high 14s.

Available as either sedan or a hatch, both cars weighed in at around 1250kg and featured a 5-speed manual gearbox that also contains the front/rear viscous drive coupling.

MY94 WRX InteriorThe constant all wheel drive system gave virtually unparalleled stability under all conditions - accelerating, cornering and braking. The latter was improved because of the drivetrai's inherent ability to equalise drivetrain speed from front to rear, which reduced the likelihood of lock-ups at either end. The brakes were discs all round (vented at the front) with the added driver control of ABS as standard. The early WRX rode on a set of pretty dull-looking 15x6 inch alloys that came factory clad in Michelin Pilot SXs.

On the road, understeer dominated handling characteristics (which still remains to a point today), but overall the package was much more in keeping with the sport image Subaru was promoting. A small wing on the back and the trademark bonnet scoop intake on the bonnet were the main clues to its performance potential. In its day, the 155kW of power and 270Nm made the WRX a true pocket rocket.

MY94 WRX Engine

Limited Editions

  • WRX Ralleye - late November 1995 saw Subaru Australia release the first in a series of special editions, the first called the Ralleye, cashing in on the success of the WRC team. Only small numbers were available, and featured a Prodrive blue paint job, colour coding of door handles and door mirrors, and the 16 inch gold rims from the JDM STi. Seats were trimmed in Alcantara (fake suede), which were subsequently used as the standard model seats for the next model WRX. Mechanically, it was identical to the standard MY96 model, but still sold out quickly.

MRT Power Kits

No power kits exist for the MY94-96 WRX models, but that does't mean MRT do't know how to extract more herbs safely from these cars. As one of the first aftermarket workshops to start enhancing the WRX, we have seen more early model WRXs than any other workshop.

Simple and effective modifications include fitting our free-flowing exhaust system, air intake modifications and increasing the boost pressure a bit. Use of aftermarket ECUs such as the Apexi Power FC, Link or Motec will also transform the car, as will a replacement top mount intercooler. A newer design roller-bearing turbo can also minimise lag whilst retaining or improving top end performance.

Suspension wise, Whiteline swaybars and front castor kits transform the car, and coilovers are ofter a good solution for replacing tired shocks. Owners of this model can contact us via phone on 02 9767 454  or web to find out what we can do to either enhance this model, or simply keep it well maintained.

 


MY97 WRX Sedan

MY97-98

Prior to the release of the MY97 model, the WRC (World Rally Car) rules were changed to make the competition more attractive and economical for manufacturers. As a result, manufacturers were no longer required to produce a minimum of 5000 units of a particular road model for it to compete in the WRC, allowing manufactures (under strict guidelines) to convert a basic economy car (such as the 2wd Corolla) into a 4wd turbocharged rally car. As a consequence, manufacturers no longer had to equip their road cars with oversize turbos and other parts that increased production costs and whilst necessary for the rally car, detracted from the driving performance and experience of the road car.

As a result, the biggest and most significant change to the MY97 was the adoption of a smaller capacity turbocharger, the Mitsubishi TD04. Other changes included an all-new intake manifold with the compressor inlet tunnelled beneath, a larger air-to-air intercooler and new blow-off valve. Mechanically, new pistons, headgaskets and shim-adjustable solid tappets replaced the sometimes troublesome hydraulic lifters fitted to previous models. Further improvements to the engine were made with a new ECU, ignition coil and boost control system. The static compression ratio remained unaltered at 8.0:1.

WRX EJ205 EngineInterestingly, the MY97 WRX's max power output was listed at the same 155kW as the MY64-96, though this is now found at 5600 rpm rather than 6000 rpm. Maximum torque increased, however, from 270Nm (at 4800 rpm) previously to 290Nm (at 4000 rpm). Boost was perhaps slightly more than the 11 - 12 psi used in the MY94-series, and acceleration times were improved to mid 6 sixes for the 0-100km sprint.

The transmission was given a much needed upgrade, with improved synchro rings and a dual cone synchro ring for 3rd gear, to resolve a weakness found in even moderately driven MY94-96 models. In addition, the clutch grew 5mm in diameter and received a slightly heavier duty pressure plate, and the gear shift design was modified for a shorter, more precise throw.

In an effort to increase the appeal of the Impreza WRX, Subaru also added automatic transmission as an option. Fewer than 5 per cent of buyers took up the offer, despite the fact performance wasn’t wildly affected. Responding to concerns over high insurance prices and concerns over theft, Subaru added an engine immobiliser added for greater security. Everything else underneath the floor - brakes, diff and suspension - remained almost identical.

The MY97 interior is a stark contrast to the MY94-series. The new model received the same bucket seats as the MY96 Ralleye edition, however these seats were a bit too narrow for people with a larger frame. The next model year - the MY98 - was then equipped with a completely revised dashboard (with white face dials), airbag equipped Momo steering wheel as standard, door trims and a lidded centre console.

Externally, the MY97 sported revised 15-inch wheels with relatively subtle body changes. The bonnet was changed with revised vents and scoop and the front bar was tweaked. Five spoke 16 x 7 inch alloys then became standard (wearing 205/50 tyres) for the MY98 car. Overall kerb weight went up about 10 kilograms on the MY94 to about 1260kg.

The MY97 update addresses the main criticisms of the MY94-series and, in doing so, goes a long way toward explaining the 'stripes' the WRX wears today. The MY97 WRX turned out to be the turning point in the car's success - Subaru sold 1743 units that year, compared to just 360 in 1996. These effective engine, body and interior changes created the package that is gained cult status.

Limited Editions

  • Silver anniversary edition WRX - released early in 1998 by Subaru Australia to celebrate 25 years of Subaru in Australia. The car featured a black paint scheme, full leather interior and gold wheels.
     
  • Club Spec Evo 2 - First of the Evo series, this was released mid 1998, sporting a new shade of blue that was different from the previously used Prodrive blue. Other goodies included gold wheels, alcantara seat panelling and racy decals. Mechanically, the Evo 2 was identical to the MY98.

MRT Power Kits

No power kits exist for the MY97-98 WRX models, but that does't mean MRT do't know how to extract more herbs safely from these cars. As one of the first aftermarket workshops to start enhancing the WRX, we have seen more early model WRXs than any other workshop.

Just like the MY94-96 models, effective modifications include fitting our free-flowing exhaust system, air intake modifications and increasing the boost pressure a bit. Use of aftermarket ECUs such as the Apexi Power FC, Link or Motec will also transform the car. Even though the intercooler for the MY97-98 was much improved, use of our top mount intercooler assists greatly in chasing more power, as do larger IHI intercoolers such as the VF30/34/35.

Suspension wise, Whiteline swaybars and front castor kits transform the car, and coilovers are ofter a good solution for replacing tired shocks. Owners of this model can contact us via phone on 02 9767 454  or web to find out what we can do to either enhance this model, or simply keep it well maintained.

 


MY00 WRX Sedan

MY99-00

The final phase of the GC8 chassis development came in 1999-2000. There were three significant changes over the previous MY97-98, the first being an extensive makeover of the EJ205 engine with new pistons with teflon coated skirts and ceramic crowns, redesigned cylinder heads and camshafts. Further adjustments were made to the intake manifold runner length and plenum size, and the TD04L turbo was revised.

A newer and more sophisticated engine management system (ECU) was fitted, with a new ignition coil, air mass meter, idle speed controller and boost control system. Power jumped from 155 to 160kw (occurring at the same 5600 rpm) and mid range power was further improved, resulting in better straight line performance and overtaking. The MY99-00 could mange low to flat 6 second times for 0-100kmh, and low 14s for 0-400m.

The second significant change was detailed attention to the transmission, with a new stronger and stiffer transmission casing, with eight bell housing to engine mounting points instead of four in previous models to reduce gearbox flex. Minor changes were made to reverse gear and synchro hubs, and externally the transfer case was redesigned, containing detailed improvements to the selector mechanism, case bearings, and a completely new centre differential assembly.

MY00 WRX InteriorThirdly, the front brakes were upgraded to four piston fixed calipers with larger diameter discs, replacing the old sliding two piston units. The read brakes scored ventilated rear discs in place of the previous solids. These changes, resulted in less brake fade and more consistent stopping power.

Externally, a new re-styled front bumper, new lights and grille was immediately apparent, which had remained virtually unchanged since 1992. This series also adopted a new hise rise rear wing from the JDM V4 STi for the sedan version. The MY00 model saw colour coded side skirts, mirrors and door handles, and revised six spoke 16 inch wheels to differentiate it from the MY99. It also finally gained windscreen wipers with variable speed delay.

Interior wise, the most noteable change was the standard fitment of dual airbags for the first time in the WRX, but there were also updates to the centre console and dash.

1999 and 2000 were the golden years of the WRX in Australia, with record sales that Subaru admits are unlikely to be challenged. The MY99 picked up Motor Magazine's BFYB (Best Bang for Your Buck) award in 1999, with the MY00 winning Motor's BFYB and Wheel's Car of the Year for 2000.

Club Spec Evo 4

Limted Editions

  • Club Spec Evo 3 - based upon the MY99 model and released June 1999, this special release featured an alcantara trimmed interior, blue fabric seat inserts, revised decals and a different dashboard finish 
  • Club Spec Evo 4 - based upon the MY00 mode and released March 2000l, this special release was very striking with its pale yellow paintwork and was the last special edition for the old GC8 chassis. It also featured yellow alcantara trimmed interior and gloss-black painted 16 inch wheels.

MRT Power Kits

With the advent of the MY99 WRX comes the ability to flash and tune the factory ECU using EcuTeK, negating the requirement to replace it with an aftermarket unit when chasing significant power increases. The ability to tune the factory ECU also allows direct access to factory calibration data, and the ability to use most of the default factory settings whilst just changing those required. As a result, in addition to all other custom modification work offer, MRT offers three Power Kits based using EcuTeK.

MRT Power Kits

  • XA kit: Consists of Type 1 EcuTek reflash, 3" muffler and air intake modifications for a minimum 20kw power increase and up to 22% torque increase over standard.
  • XB kit: Consists of Type 1.5 EcuTek reflash, full 3" exhaust system from the turbo, cold air intake and new intank fuel pump for a minimum 40kw power increase and up to 30% torque increase over standard.
  • XC kit: Consists of Type 2 EcuTek reflash, full 3" exhaust system from the turbo, cold air intake, new intank fuel pump, larger injectors, new fuel rails and a larger IHI VF30 or VF34 turbo for a minimum 55kw power increase and up to 40% torque increase over standard.

Download: Full Power Kit Details for the MY99-00 WRX



Credits

Special thanks to: Subaru Australia, Subaru Performance Handbook, AutoSpeed and Drive for the majority of content and images contained in this article.