Classic Cool: Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS

Story by David S. Wallens • Photograph Courtesy Subaru

Picture a landscape before the WRX existed. No turbos, no flared fenders, no 300-horsepower engines right from the dealer.

Such were the years before 2002. Okay, true, Subaru offered the WRX in other markets dating back to 1992, but, as usual, American enthusiasts missed out. Here, we knew Subarus as inexpensive and built to stay that way.

But we got a taste of things to come for the 1998 model year with the release of the Impreza 2.5 RS. Turbo power? Nope. Motivation came from the Impreza’s optional 2.5-liter boxer engine, while, like the rest of the Subaru lineup, standard equipment included all-wheel drive.

So what made the 2.5 RS special? It looked the part.

Fog lights stuck in the front bumper? Of course.

A hood that was both scooped and vented? Yes, ma’am.

The rear wing, upsized brakes and alloy wheels were also part of the package.

Consider this: At that moment, it offered a rare nibble at that JDM forbidden fruit. A then-recent invention, called the internet, delivered videos of similar-looking Imprezas tearing up the FIA World Rally Championship. Another new piece of technology, Play-Station’s Gran Turismo, further introduced us to these international variants. Our world was growing, and the 2.5 RS delivered a bit of exotica.

Turbo or not, the Impreza 2.5 RS also landed right as Subaru of America found its mojo. Between 1992 and 1995, Subaru sold about 100,000 cars per year in the States. Then the Outback arrived for 1995. By 1998, Subaru of America was selling some 147,000 units annually.

Subaru’s growth also enveloped the enthusiast market. Its cars filled autocross grids, meets sprang up everywhere, and we couldn’t wait to discuss it all online at i-Club.

That original 2.5 RS ran through 2001, when the WRX’s arrival marked the beginning of an all-new Impreza. The WRX is still with us, and Subaru’s fortunes have continued to grow: Its American arm expects to set another sales record this year while moving some 700,000 units.

Practical Guidance

Our Expert
Paul Eklund Primitive Racing 
get-primitive.com 
(503) 624-2139

2000 and 2001 are usually considered the optimal years for the RS. They came with the viscous limited-slip rear differential, which was only an option in ’99 and not available on the ’98 cars. The ’98 did come with the DOHC engine, which revs a bit more freely and can be tuned a bit more. Head gasket issues popped up in all the years.

The twin-cam motors sometimes receive unfounded criticism, but they don’t appear to fail any more than other EJ25 engines.

The valve clearance is maintained by shims and should be checked on a high-mile engine.

Head gaskets can become an issue on nearly any EJ-series motor that has been overheated.

I look for one- or two-owner cars and narrow the search to owners who are selling because they’ve purchased a newer Subaru. I pass on cars with any mods past wheels, stereos and window tint.

Parts are very plentiful. Some unique items, like all-aluminum hoods, can still be found new in the box–great weight savings for racers.

KYB AGX struts are good replacements for worn-out stock units. Cars age well, with most issues being cosmetic.

Mods really depend upon the intended use for the car, but I like KYB AGX struts; the heavy-duty Group N/SPT motor, trans and strut mounts; and an 18 or 19mm rear sway bar, like from an early Legacy sedan–nothing too crazy, plus a really good alignment.

These cars will likely need a basic going-through with new wheel bearings, brake pads, rear LCA bushings, and good Motul brake fluid and Gear 300 trans fluid changes.

These are great-driving cars and great candidates for an interior refresh–like seats from a 2002-’05 WRX.

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Comments
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¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
4/2/20 8:12 a.m.

Side note- want to know whether these things can really throw down on a rally stage?  Here are the results from Southern Ohio Forest Rally 2019 where Kimmett won overall in a relatively low-prep 2.5RS.  That's not just a class win, that's him beating every turbo/large displacement/space frame/whatever car that entered the event.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
4/2/20 8:22 a.m.

My wife and I came close to buying a new one but wound up with a 2000 Civic Si instead. Neither would have been a wrong answer. 

And now I hear Judge Reinhold's voice. 

camaroz1985
camaroz1985 HalfDork
4/2/20 8:47 a.m.

I loved mine!!!

I did everything with that car from daily drive and road trips, track days, autocross and hillclimb.  The previous owner (original owner who had the cage installed while it was still leased) did some ice racing as well.  Never did any rally or rallycross (but the guy who bought it from me did). 

Of course when the original motor blew after about 160k of abuse I swapped in a 2007 WRX engine, and then the STi turbo, then broke the trans, then upgraded that, and on and on.  Still the only car I regret selling. 

ROBERT TRANCHANT
ROBERT TRANCHANT
4/2/20 10:56 a.m.

I loved mine too!!

Like camaroz1985 said, I did everything with my 2001 2.5RS from daily drives, HPDE's, race kart hauler, trips to spectate the USGP, rennsport reunion 2001, etc. I had great fun with my suby. Racked up 100,000 miles with no problems before I sold it.

It was also shown in Grassroots Motorsports magazine on two occasions.

Jerry
Jerry UberDork
4/2/20 12:57 p.m.

Part of me wishes I had never driven my friend's WRX & thought I needed a turbo, and just kept Subarust.

Tom1200
Tom1200 Dork
4/2/20 1:47 p.m.

I've only driven the original 2.5 once; a friend had one and I ended up as his instructor. Really fun car, so much so that 2 years ago we found our son a very clean 05 2.5RS. Still a great car, sure they lack the oomph of a WRX but they are still just as fun to drive.

Pete. (Forum Supporter)
Pete. (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
4/2/20 5:01 p.m.

GC 2.5RS is best Subaru.

Pete Gossett
Pete Gossett MegaDork
4/2/20 7:11 p.m.

BITD our local G-Stock class consisted of a 2.5RS, Celica All-Trac, me in (Jason Saini's old) Corrado, and a Neon ACR sedan. It was always a toss-up over who would land in 1st place, and the most fun I've ever had autocrossing. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
4/2/20 8:06 p.m.

In reply to Pete Gossett :

You have one of Jason's old cars? That is so rad. 

preach
preach New Reader
4/2/20 8:14 p.m.

I had one in 2006. It was a '99 2 door that Dent Sport Garage out of MA built. Tein Coilovers and the better part of the SPG catalog thrown at it. CF hood, suspension braces...tons of goodies.

Shortly after I got it it was damaged in a hail storm in NH. Dimples make a golfball more aero right?!?

I ended up buying it back from the insurance company after I got rear-ended leaving work. $160.

Sold it to a friend who took it Hilclimbing in VT. First race it surpassed the break-out time for a rollcage. BOT was the time it took a stock STI to get up the hill. My car was way faster.

So he puts a cage in it and a non sunroof roof, next race he promptly rolls it down a 100' hill and completes the totaling of the chassis. Pretty sure he bolted all the goodies to a WRX and is still racing.

That car was a blast to drive. It was a weapon in the snow with snow tires on it And it was faster around a certain turn near my house than my Cayman S.

It lived a damn unlucky life though.

Datsun310Guy
Datsun310Guy UltimaDork
4/2/20 8:20 p.m.

Brian Long has the best books.  His Subaru one is great with history.  I drool a lot.   
 



Raszaron
Raszaron
4/5/20 6:23 p.m.

Love my 2000 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS coupe.  It had the quarter rot, and needed some care when I bought it, no it is my race car!


 


 


 

@raszaron

#22_1NA_B

 

Pete Gossett
Pete Gossett MegaDork
4/5/20 7:42 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:

In reply to Pete Gossett :

You have one of Jason's old cars? That is so rad. 

Had. I bought it from him around 2001 & sold it back to him a couple years later. Somehow the only repair I had to do was replace the TPS sensor. I may be the luckiest Corrado owner ever. 

newold_m (Forum Supporter)
newold_m (Forum Supporter) New Reader
4/5/20 10:00 p.m.

Such a timeless design.  A number of years ago there was a company north of San Francisco (LIC Motorsports) doing full STi swaps in them and getting through carb smog. Sadly looks like those threads/photos all have broken links

AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter)
AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter) Dork
4/5/20 10:52 p.m.

A real Japanese icon.  The look of these cars has aged well.  If I had the room for one.

Sidewayze
Sidewayze New Reader
4/6/20 9:53 p.m.

I test drove one in the Yukon in 1998.  That led to me getting a new.2.2 wagon in 2001.  AGX's, Whiteline springs and rear bar, and that car was my daily, and autocross car.  With that setup, the balance was wonderful. Stock springs made it an awesome rallycrosser.  It was so fun.  Turning was just, turn the wheel a little bit in the direction you want to go, lift the throttle a bit, let the back come around until you find the slide angle you want, then straighten the wheel and get on the gas.  

Owned it for 15 years, and still miss that car. 

engiekev
engiekev Reader
4/7/20 9:38 a.m.

They sure are the best looking Subarus! But I stay far away, too much rust prone panels, terrrible engine, but at least the drivetrain is decent.  It seems like all the decent ones are snatched up immediately for rally shells. There are only so many decent shells left.

Importing a JDM WRX from that era is appealing now, this fellow is restoring one:

https://www.instagram.com/p/B81Lvfvn-Cm/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

bluescooby
bluescooby Reader
4/7/20 9:43 a.m.

Love them!  I've had two, one of which was purchased new in 2001.  Cool little cars...

mad_machine
mad_machine MegaDork
4/7/20 11:42 a.m.

while I always liked the 2.5 RS, I really wanted an outback Sport. unfortunately at the time my car had just died and I needed a new one "right now" and a hyundai tiburon became my new steed. 

Feedyurhed
Feedyurhed UltraDork
4/7/20 3:36 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:

My wife and I came close to buying a new one but wound up with a 2000 Civic Si instead. Neither would have been a wrong answer. 

That's exactly the same two vehicles I cross shopped. I ended up ordering a silver 1999 2.5RS with out even sitting in one as there weren't any available to drive. I remember test driving the Civic Si. That was  back in the day when dealers just let you take it out on a test drive all by yourself. My son was with me and I made sure we experienced the VTEC as often and as long as possible.  Since my son and I were both big Subaru WRC fans the Subie won out. That in fact started my string of Subaru purchases that is still going on today.  It was a great car but terribly slow for it's looks.  

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