The Subaru Impreza WRX was a niche car when it rolled to Australian shores in 1994 - very little could match its practicality and bang-for-your-buck and the first generation Rex only got better as the years came and went, culminating in the facelift models of 1999 and 2000, where the sales figures were the best they had ever been. The WRX has now become a cult classic, and Subaru has valiantly stuck to an entry price of $39,990 or less which still gets you a lot of value for money in its performance.
The particular example I have today is a lightly fettled 2000 WRX optioned with the limited edition "Club Spec Evo 4" package, which turns the yellow to eleven with this polarising "Cashmere Yellow" hue. If you have ever wanted to really stand out from a crowd then this is your colour - whether good or bad, it grabs attention from everywhere.
The interior also has had a spruce up - the WRX Alcantara buckets now have yellow inserts, the gauges are bright white (taken from the halo STi) instead of black, and the previously optional CD player is standard, though this has been changed for a more modern Sony touch screen affair.
The WRX's styling has always been a bit of a boy racer's wet dream but there's no denying it has presence, from the giant round fog lamps to the bonnet scoop directing cold air to the top-mounted intercooler to the "no wing is too big" rear spoiler. This first generation model also has all the right proportions. Slim-hipped but with muscular bulges in the front guards, chiselled bumpers and the short black skirts offsetting the yellow body, in my opinion this WRX has aged quite well.
The two-litre turbocharged Subaru Boxer four is a great bit of kit. Turn it over and it comes to life with the signature off-beat rumble that is characteristic of Subaru's header design. Needless to say that it's easy to pick a Rex from the crowd on engine note alone.
Slot the short-throw gearstick into first (it can be a bit notchy when cold but the short shifter kit makes the standard five-speed much more precise), release the surprisingly light clutch pedal and floor the throttle, listen to the Boxer work its magic up to the 7000rpm redline, and snatch second. There is a lot of old-school turbo lag in the WRX but it makes up for it with a solid wall of turbocharged power in the mid-range. Take it to third and the "turbo rush" quickly becomes intoxicating.
Thankfully you have a few systems to keep you in check, chief among which is Subaru's excellent Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive, which does a great job of shifting power to the right wheels. The Rex also comes with ABS, and the brakes (four-piston calipers with 294mm discs) are awesome at hauling it up. But then there's not much to haul up - the WRX weighs just shy of 1300kg which, for a sedan with AWD, a usable back row and boot, is quite impressive.
There are a few problems. The WRX cannot escape its economy car roots, and the build quality of the first generation interior wasn't quite up to snuff with later models. The ride is also quite firm with the aftermarket low-profile 18" tyres. On the flip side, the WRX has almost too much grip; it can take any corner you throw at it like its on rails. While it does tend to understeer on corner entry at the limit, it more than makes up for it by boosting you out of a corner at a very high velocity; the all-wheel-drive system can make anyone look like a hero.
The steering in the WRX is precise and feelsome with the aftermarket Bridgestone RE002 tyres fitted. The steering wheel itself is a lovely Momo leather-wrapped helm - a delight to hold in your hands.
Running costs for the WRX are not that bad considering the performance you get out of it but don't expect to get less than 10.5L/100km in the city. This particular car has also been tuned to run exclusively on 98RON - the WRX demands at least 95 standard. Reliability is also very acceptable however buyers beware: you will have to sort through a lot of thrashed examples to find a hidden gem.
On the whole the WRX Club Spec Evo 4 is a little rough around the edges but it's a surprisingly loveable car with great all-weather performance and practicality. Throttle response and fuel efficiency be damned.