Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS | Classic Cool

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Aug 7, 2022 | Buyer's Guides, Classic Cool | Posted in Buyer's Guides , Vintage Views | From the Dec. 2019 issue | Never miss an article

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 
(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.

Join Free Join our community to easily find more Buyer's Guides and Classic Cool articles.
¯\_(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 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. 

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 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 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) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/2/20 5:01 p.m.

GC 2.5RS is best Subaru.

Pete Gossett
Pete Gossett GRM+ Memberand 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. 

You'll need to log in to post.

Our Preferred Partners