Evolution of the WRX - Part 2

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In the first part of series, we focused on the original WRX that arrived in Australia in 1994 and carved itself a unique niche in the market as a thrilling pocket-rocket, delivering the performance and handling of cars twice its price.

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.

MY08 WRXWhilst the first series (GC8) of the WRX faced little challenge (the 200SX was its closest rival), the new millenium saw other companies jump on the bandwagon with potent and affordable small to mid size cars, and for the first time the WRX faced stiff competition from cars such as the Golf GTi, Mazda 3, and Ford Focus XR5. Furthermore, both the local Ford Falcom and Holden Commodore progressed in leaps and bounds, the Falcon with the introduction of the BA XR6 turbo in 2003 and the Commodore with the 6L VE SS in 2006. Even the STi faced stiff competition from the FPV Typhoon, HSV Clubsport, Nissan 350Z, Golf R32 and Evo VIII onwards in its price bracket.

Whilst the WRX was still unmistakeably unique with its all-paw turbo charged delivery, trademark bonnet scoop and awesome grip, it was no longer the standout performance that it was in the late 90s. It still remained exceptionally popular due to its image, value and performance, and also the ease in which extra performance could be gained with clever modifications, and it was during this time that MRT carved out its reputation as the premier workshop for enhancing the WRX.

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).



MY01-02

MY02 The MY01 was unaffectionately dubbed the “bug-eyed” Impreza. With dominant round headlights and a new body over familiar underpinnings, the controversial MY01 wasn’t well received. This was despite a completely new body with improved torsional stiffness, in addition to improved crash safety due to the addition of a large "U" shaped reinforcing brace bolted to the underside of the front chassis rails. Whilst smoothness, feel and NVH all improved directly as a result of the greatly increased torsional rigidity of the new body shell, the downside was a weight gain of around 100kg despite the re-appearance of an aluminium bonnet. As engine output remained essentially the same, this resulted in noticeable loss of performance.

Whilst engine output was essentially the same, Subaru nevertheless had made some noticeable changes to the EJ20 in the MY01 WRX. Revisions were made to cylinder head combustion chambers, a new intake manifold and tumbler valves in the intake runners. A new ECU also featured with direct ignition by individual coil on plug, and a small pre-catalytic converter appeared in the turbo up-pipe. Designed to help with cold start emissions, this pre-cat was unreliable and had the potential to damage the turbo when it failed, leading to its deletion in the MY03 WRX. Whilst these revision led to improved mid-range response, power remained the same at 160kw and 292Nm.

Externally, the new head lights were the dominant feature that received most of the attention, but there were noticeable other changes. Wheels were now 17 inch standard (as opposed to 16 inch for the MY00), flared front and rear guards on the sedan model and a new rear-end saw the removal of the large rear wing which was replaced with a more conventional flat lid type spolier. The flared guards on the sedan were due to a wider track than the old model, however the wagon retained the MY00 track and front suspension arms. Most sedan and wagon received an improved suspension geometry and adjustments to the rear roll centre.

MY02 EJ20 EngineInside, the interior must much improved with a new dashboard, instruments, centre console, 6-stack double DIN CD player, front and rear seats and interior trim. The front 4 pot and rear 2 pot ventilated disc brakes were retained, although minor adjustments were made to the ABS system.

The MY02 saw the return of an optional automatic transmission to the WRX range. Responding to criticism of the blunted performance on the MY01, manual models got shorter gear ratios and final drive ratios for improved acceleration (from 3.9 to 4.44 to 1) which resulted in improved acceleration. A suretrac limited slip front differential also featured on the MY02, along with EBD (electronic brake assist) which improved it further. Unfortunately, the 6-stack CD player was replaced by a single CD player, whilst the external aerial was incorporated into the windscreen.

Subaru also responded in Australia to the increased theft rate of the WRX and poor publicity because of the frequent use by thieves in ram-raids, fitting a keypad alarm system. It was a necessary evil to reduce theft and required users to enter a PIN code any time they got in the car. Owners of the MY99-01 were offered free of charge a retro fit of the alarm.

Limited Editions

  • Club Spec Evo 5 - shortly after the release of the MY02 model saw Subaru Australia launch the Evo 5 Clubspec WRX. Mechanically it was identical to the MY02, but featured a toned down mustard yellow colour scheme (as opposed to the eye-catching yellow of the Evo 4), leather interior and sunroof.

MRT Power Kits

As with the MY99-00, the MY01 onwards come with ability to upgrade the factory ECU using EcuTeK software, 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 upgrade, 3" muffler and air intake modifications for a guaranteed 20kw power increase and up to 22% torque increase over standard.
  • XB kit: Consists of Type 1.5 EcuTek upgrade, full 3" exhaust system from the turbo, cold air intake and new intank fuel pump for a guaranteed 40kw power increase and up to 30% torque increase over standard.
  • XC kit: Consists of Type 2 EcuTek retune, full 3" exhaust system from the turbo, cold air intake, new intank fuel pump, larger injectors, new fuel rails and a larger STi turbo for a guaranteed 55kw power increase and up to 40% torque increase over standard.

Download: Full Power Kit Details for the MY01-02 WRX

 



MY03-05

MY03 WRX SedanFollowing the stinging criticism of the appearance of the "bug-eyed" Impreza, Subaru responded to criticism with the company’s fastest facelift (or update) in history. Subaru ditched the circular headlights for more shapely candles more in keeping with the Subaru brand. External updates also sawa new front grille, re-touched bumper bar and lightly re-styled rear lights.

On top of the updated look came some significant mechanical changes, the most significant being the adoption for the time of variable valve timing. Whilst only on the inlet cam, AVCS (Advanced Valve Control System) along with a boost in the compression ratio, enhanced ECU and the deletion of the pre-turbo cat saw power increase to 168kw and torque to 300Nm. For the interior, the 6 stack CD player introduced in the MY01 and then deleted in the MY02 returns.

The MY04 saw very minimal changes - indeed the addition of a pollen filter to the A/C system was the only change of the previous model.

The MY05 however saw several enhancements, including a revised suspension system (using more aluminium) aimed at improving stability, particularly at speed. Subaru also tweaked first gear of the five-speed manual by adding a double synchroniser for better shift and selection quality, new HVAC and centre console, as well as red front brake calipers. Mechanically, the engine remained the same for the MY03-05 model.

MY03 WRX Sedan rear

Limited Editions

  • Club Spec Evo 6 - based on the MY03 model, it featured leather interior and a sunroof.
  • Club Spec Evo 7 (Petter Solberg Edition) - based on the MY04 model, it also featured leather interior and a sunroof.
  • Club Spec Evo 8 - based on the MY05 model, it featured leather interior and sunroof and two new colour options - champagne and crystal grey.
  • WRX WRP10 - the name commemorates 10 years of WRX involvement in the World Rally (WR) running on Pirelli tyres (P). Crystal grey metallic is the only exterior body colour available, and in addition to the fancy badges and interior trimmings is a very special modification for a limited release WRX - more power! A recalibrated ECU and freer flower exhaust is responsible for lifting power from 168 to 175kw and torque from 300 to 302Nm. Other modifications include a 15mm lower ride height, carbon fibre strut brace and special wheel rims.

MRT Power Kits

As with the MY99-02, the MY03 onwards come with ability to upgrade the factory ECU using EcuTeK software, 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 upgrade, 3" muffler and air intake modifications for a guaranteed 20kw power increase and up to 22% torque increase over standard.
  • XB kit: Consists of Type 1.5 EcuTek upgrade, full 3" exhaust system from the turbo, cold air intake and new intank fuel pump for a guaranteed 40kw power increase and up to 30% torque increase over standard.
  • XC kit: Consists of Type 2 EcuTek upgrade, full 3" exhaust system from the turbo, cold air intake, new intank fuel pump, larger injectors, new fuel rails and a larger STi turbo for a guaranteed 55kw power increase and up to 40% torque increase over standard.

Download: Full Power Kit Details for the MY03-05 WRX

 



MY06-07

MY06 The MY06 model saw the Subaru style and design statement make another big statement with the contraversial new front grille based upon the new corporate grill based on FHI's (Fuji Heavy Industry) aviation beginnings. Whilst not as poorly received as the bug-eye, it nevertheless received much press attention and was known by Subaru fans as the "pig nose".

Whilst the styling is the most obvious change over the MY03-05, the major mechanical change was the replacing of the old EJ20 2L engine with the new EJ25 2.5L motor that had been introduced in the US back in late 2003. Complete with a revised AVCS system, electronic throttle control and larger exhaust system with a single tip muffler, the engine made only 1kw more than the previous engine to make 169kw, but torque jumped 6.6% to 320Nm. The old TD04 single scroll turbo remained as opposed to the twin scroll turbos that had been used in JDM versions since 2001, but the extra 0.5L made a significant improvement to low end driveability. However, the TD04 could't flow enough air at higher rpm for the larger capacity engine, resulting in the loss of the WRX's traditional top end rush for a more refined driving characteristic.

MY06 WRX InteriorInternally, the MY06 and MY07 models were pretty much identical to the MY05.

Limited Editions

  • Club Spec Evo 9 - the last limited model WRX to date, only 300 were built and featured 18 inch wheels, STi front spoiler lip, sunroof and a leather interior. Mechanically, the Evo 9 is identical to the MY07 WRX.

MRT Power Kits

The introduction of the relatively low stressed 2.5L engine and electronic throttle control gives a fantastic platform for enhancing the MY06-07 WRX. Using EcuTeK software to upgrade the factory ECU and using parts developed, MRT offers three Power Kits.

  • XA kit: Consists of Type 1 EcuTek upgrade, 3" muffler and air intake modifications for a guaranteed 15kw power increase and up to 35% torque increase over standard.
  • XB kit: Consists of Type 1.5 EcuTek upgrade, full 3" exhaust system from the turbo and air intake modifications for a guaranteed 35kw power increase and up to 40% torque increase over standard.
  • MRT Power KitsXC kit: Consists of Type 2 EcuTek upgrade, full 3" exhaust system from the turbo, cold air intake, new intank fuel pump, larger injectors, new fuel rails and a larger STi turbo for a guaranteed 55kw power increase and up to 42% torque increase over standard.

Download: Full Power Kit Details for the MY06-07 WRX

 



MY08

MY08 Impreza WRX RearMY08 Impreza WRX FrontThe release of the MY08 WRX demonstrated a significant shift in Subaru's focus. The first all-new Subaru WRX since the original in 1994., the MY08 brought new levels of safety, comfort, equipment and value. However, even more so the the "bug-eye" WRX, the MY08 received not so flattering reviews from local and overseas magazine. But worse still, the most unflattering reviews came from current WRX owners!

To start with, the MY08 WRX in Australia came only as a hatchback/wagon - the sedan that had been introduced back in 1994 was gone. Described by many as a cross between a BMW 1 series and a Kia Rio, the new chassis had improved torsional stiffness, improved crash safety and side air bags, resulting in the WRX achieving a 5 start ANCAP rating for the first time. To Subaru's credit, all this was achieved without the car adding weight which stayed at 1395kg, the same as the outgoing model.

Inside, a new dash, centre console, interior trim and seats also featured. The seats were no longer as supportive as the previous model and had a less sporting flavour, but the WRX was offered for the first time with a semi-decent stereo system with 10-speakers, a 6-stack CD stereo and auxilliary input. An optional Sat-Nav was also offered.

Externally at the front, the car featured a new grille, new Xenon headlights, and retained the bonnet scoop, however it is a sleeker and smoother profile than previous models and more like the Liberty models. At the rear, LED brake lights replace the traditional lights and a rear diffuser was added underneath the bumper.

MY08 WRX EnginePerhaps the most noticeable change to the MY08 WRX was its roadholding ability. For some inexplicable reason, whilst Subaru retained the 17 inch wheels, they were a narrower profile (205/50 opposed to 215/45)  than previous models and gave less overall grip. Furthermore, whilst significant changes and improvements were made to the suspension, it felt much softer than previous models, leading to greater body roll. The old 4 pot disc calipers introduced back on the MY99 WRX were discarded for inferior 2 pot caliper, resulting in greater brake fade under heavy braking.

Mechanically, the engine pumped out the same 169kw and 320Nm of the previous model, however a twin-scroll turbo replaced the old TD04L, giving the car more power down low. Previously peak kw had arrived at 5600rpm - now 5200rpm. Peak torque used to hit at 3600rpm - now 2800rpm. Another new addition feature for the WRX engine was variable timing on the exhaust cam and an upgraded ECU utilising for the first time full CAN-Bus technology to control the new cam system. THe end result was a much smoother power delivery than previous models, so much so that the turbo rush that characterised previous WRX models was negligable.

The MY08 WRX was a step away from the hard-core WRX to a small grand tourer - indeed in Japan the WRX namebadge was dropped for the MY08 model for the Impreza GT moniker. No longer was the WRX a niche vehicle - which critics tend to love - but a mainstream small car that can compete in an increasingly tougher new car market.

MRT Power Kits

Whilst the MY08 WRX is undoubtably softer than previous models, it still has much potential lurking under its skin. With a new, more powerful ECU that can be tuned using using EcuTeK software, the MY08 WRX presents many opportunities to regain much of the old WRX character. In addition to all other custom modification work offered, MRT offers three Power Kits based using EcuTeK.

MRT Power Kits

  • XA kit: Consists of Type 1 EcuTek upgrade, 3" muffler and air intake modifications for a guaranteed 15kw power increase and up to 25% torque increase over standard.
  • XB kit: Consists of Type 1.5 EcuTek upgrade, full 3" exhaust system from the turbo and air intake modifications for a guaranteed 30kw power increase and up to 35% torque increase over standard.
  • XC kit: Consists of Type 2 EcuTek upgrade, full 3" exhaust system from the turbo, cold air intake, new intank fuel pump, larger injectors, new fuel rails, larger top mount intercooler and a larger custom turbo for a guaranteed 60kw power increase and up to 40% torque increase over standard.

Download: Full Power Kit Details for the MY08 WRX

 



MY09

The release of the MY09 saw an extraordinary turnaround from Subaru. As a car company, Subaru ca't be accused of not listening to the market, and the MY09 WRX saw Subaru restore much of the WRX character than had been missing from the MY08.

MY09 WRX Sedan

The biggest news was the return of the sedan model, closely followed by the incorporation of a bigger turbo-charger, freer flowing exhaust and increased boost, resulting in power jumping from 169 to 195kw and torque jumped from 320 to 343Nm and improved acceleration from 5.8 to 5.31 seconds.

Other highlights included an enhanced suspension package that eliminated much of the excessive body roll in the MY08 and wider 225/45 tyres, giving the MY09 much improved handling. Other features include distinctive brake calipers (although the 2 pot calipers were retained), WRX logos on the seats and the option of leather trim with sunroof.

For potential WRX buyers, another bonus was that pricing for the WRX was kept at MY08 levels despite the economic turmoil at the time of launch, and for the first time there was no price difference between the sedan and hatchback/wagon.

MRT Power Kits

MRT Power KitsNo power kits "officially" exist for the MY09 WRX, however many road cars are now being tested with beta XA and XB kits with astonishing results. Power increases of more than 40kw have been in testing for the beta XB kit, and this is on top of the additional 26kw that Subaru gave the MY09. As the premier WRX aftermarket workshop in Australia, we are working hard on the development and completion of the Power Kits for this model. We are already able to update the ECU for better performance and fuel efficiency using EcuTeK - contact us or one of our resellers for further information!

Keep an eye on our Power Kits page for updated information on this model



Credits

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