As the flagship of the rally success in the nineties, the Impreza had built a dedicated and very loyal fan base, mainly through victories after victory in the hands of rally legend Colin McRae. Because of this, Subaru found itself in a position where it couldn’t build its all-wheel-drive turbo street car fast enough, and many major dealers reported that demand far exceeded supply. In fact, at one point the Impreza accounted for 25% of all new car sales in the UK, where the car had become a must-have for fans of high-performance cars.
At the end of its first generation, the Impreza basked in the warming glow of the self-made splendor, which led to the introduction of many special editions of goods. The 2nd generation car had huge footsteps to fill, an army of fans and possibly a horde of buyers waiting to snag the latest Subaru offer.
To get away from what many described as boring exterior, the Subaru designers went into town and smoothed the body, softened the overall look, and attached “bug-eye” headlights to the front. For many, the look was seen as a massive step backwards, what most had expected was a rally machine with a significantly more aggressive design compared to its predecessor, which they however disappointed. But, as the old saying goes, you can’t judge a book by its cover, or in this case; a car through its headlights, so here’s what made the Bug Eye Subaru Impreza so great.
The ugly Duckling
After redesigning the hugely popular Subaru Impreza for the new millennium, the company’s designers felt that car styling trends were tending towards a more rounded, gentler approach, knocking down all the edges of its rally monster.
They had hoped not only to entice existing owners into switching to the slimmer ‘New Age’ machine, but to attract a whole new wave of buyers as those who could look beyond the headlights would find a better, faster, more sophisticated Impreza.
Speed & practicality
The Impreza is one of the very few cars that can be classified in the “do anything” category, but it really is the Swiss Army Knife among vehicles. However, the Bug Eye scores mainly thanks to its comfortable interior, its strong performance and its great reliability.
Both as a sedan and as a station wagon, the Impreza can meet all family-oriented travel needs, while its turbo engine ensures racing car levels and the AWD system enables excellent grip in all conditions, both on and off-road.
Impreza WRX & STI differences
The WRX version of the Impreza has earned an unofficial title as a performance car for the people. It was cheap to buy when new, had 215 horsepower, and reached 60 mph in a very quick 6.2 seconds, enough to worry German rivals who cost much more.
For those looking to beat super-fast German sedans and the vast majority of supercars, the Impreza STI used its 276 horsepower to crack 60 mph in 5.2 seconds before going to a top speed of just under 250 mph.
Storming rally pedigree
It was rallying’s Mike Tyson, a heavyweight contender who seemed to dominate and beat pretty much anything that was thrown at him. The Bug-Eye rally car was the first factory car with a four-door shell, but had a much better weight distribution than its predecessor.
In its short lifespan, the Bug Eye WRC car maintained its 300 horsepower output but underwent several improvements, notably a free-flowing manifold, a revamped turbo, and a gearbox update as technology and knowledge advanced.
With an enormous wealth of knowledge in the tuning of motorsport vehicles, the English company Prodrive teamed up with Subaru in 1990 to support the rally team, a clutch that has proven to be very successful for both parties.
The Prodrive Performance Pack is available for both the WRX and STI road vehicles and consisted of a specially designed sports exhaust, high-flow fuel pump and remapping to produce more power, WRX 265 / STI 300 hp and acceleration times lower to less than 5 seconds.
Rare import specials
Based on the competition model, the ultra-rare S202 Impreza featured a titanium sports exhaust, a remapped ECU that enabled 320 horsepower, forged aluminum wheels and a sophisticated motorsport chassis. Only 400 cars were ever built.
As a slimmed-down racer for the road, the RA Spec C could be ordered with all modern subtleties such as electric window regulators and a stereo system, which were removed to save weight. Boasting 280 horsepower and light as a feather, the Spec C would go 60 mph in 4.2 seconds.
Long before the Impreza car line was even a pencil mark on a design sheet, Subaru had built a reputation for building vehicles that were extremely capable of getting off the tarmac regardless of weather or road surface.
When this all-wheel drive system was combined with the wonderfully sounding turbo engine under the hood of the insect’s eye, Impreza owners received a performance car that did not shrink back at the first sight of rain or snow.
An unloved bargain
Due to its less positive response, the Bug Eye Impreza only lasted two years and was quickly replaced by what is now known as the Blob Eye in 2002. Subaru hoped fans and buyers would accept its replacement with less resistance than the previous model.
The beetle eye still divides opinions on style today, but the price has dropped significantly. The scores reflect the attractiveness of the less aggressive face and the fact that the car was poorly received when it was released, which makes it a bargain for performance.
It makes a fantastic base car
With over 200 horsepower as standard and a fantastic all-wheel drive system that offers great road holding, both the WRX and STI versions of the Bug Eye offer tremendous potential for those looking to build a fast project car.
There are tons of aftermarket goodies from larger turbos, ECU remapping or spares, body kits and styling packages, and stereo upgrades and interior swaps that allow for unique creations to be born.
Definitive Future Classic status
If history teaches us anything, it is that over time, the strange, initially undesirable versions of decent cars are the ones that should be bought and stowed away while their prices stay low before the market notices.
The less popular Bug Eye makes a great option for those looking to snag a currently affordable modern classic because of its small print run. This is a car that is sure to begin to buck its devaluation trend, with affordable limited and special edition cars being the choices.
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