By 2008, and the third-gen Impreza, the insect-, legume-, and animal-derived nicknames were gone. According to Ian, the GH (hatch), and to a lesser extent the GE (sedan) are known, less endearingly, as the ‘ugly betty’ or ‘fat betty’, at least to those who own something else.
But that didn’t put off club member David who, in 2009, finally bought his first new WRX. “The first time I found out about the Rex was back in 1994, and I looked at the brochure and I’ve gone, for the price, which was about 40 grand, it just seemed to me the best bang for your buck,” he says.
“The only thing was in my circumstance I just had to wait 15 years to actually get one. Through all the stages of the Rex from the classics to the GD versions, and then through into the modern versions, I always wanted one. That never changed.”
Fortunately for buyers like David, the 2009 base price of $39,990 was exactly the same as that of a MY97, despite specifications, standard safety and convenience equipment lists that had grown far more generous. This meant value went through the sunroof (one of the few options).
For starters, compare the one-star first-gen’s virtually non-existent list of standard safety gear with the five-star current generation’s full suite, which includes six airbags and electronic stability control. Even the power and torque outputs – 195kW and 343Nm sound familiar? – suggested STi pace for WRX money.
However some, including, well, me, initially thought the MY08 was like the bug-eye all over again – a WRX that didn’t look or go like one.
Okay, so the aesthetics were a matter of taste, and a set of aftermarket alloys helped, but the frameless door glass was gone forever.
Beneath the skin, the new strut front, double A-arm rear suspension was set-up to be softer than the average WRX enthusiast would expect. Subaru had changed focus – the third-gen WRX didn’t target the average WRX enthusiast, but a new breed of buyer who might otherwise buy a Euro such as a Golf GTI.
But despite the shift in priorities, the WRX remained quick – high-fives for its 0-100km/h sprint deserved a high five – and meant it was still the champ in the traffic light grand prix.
A hasty MY09 update – see, bug-eye – brought suspension revisions that restored some of the trademark WRX driver appeal. It still felt a bit soft, but was more effective on the track, where it was quick enough to help the WRX to its fifth Motor BFYB gong.
By many measures, Subaru had been successful in broadening its Rex appeal, without alienating diehard fans. But there was an ingredient missing – the rubbery responses meant it just wasn’t as much fun as the earlier WRXs on a sinuous backroad, even if it could cut the times
on the circuit.
David’s mods to his MY09 address the weaknesses of the standard car with far greater success than Subaru’s. Feel-less steering and body float? Banished, with
a full Whiteline suspension kit to BC Racing coil-overs. Wooden-feeling brakes? Fixed, with an AP Racing upgrade.
There was little wrong with how it went, but a full exhaust, larger top-mount intercooler and a tune give it more grunt, and a set of forged pistons addresses the common ring-land failure mode of the stock cast items in highly stressed modified applications. Yet, despite the work done, David’s Rex remains well-mannered and easy to drive for those times he’s not doing 1:09s at Wakefield.
Subaru’s second facelift borrowed the pumped arches of the 221kW, wide-body third-gen STi hatch – a true weapon that always felt the way the WRX should have – and brought further, subtle suspension updates, such as firmer rear sub-frame bushes and wider wheels. For the STi, the update introduced a sedan option and, for the first time, an automatic transmission.
Club president Evan reckons this third and final iteration of the third-gen WRX – nicknamed the ‘hammerhead’, after the gills on the front guards – offers out-of-the-box performance, and has a strong following in the club.
However, MY94 owner Jim hasn’t been tempted. He reckons next year’s all-new MY15 WRX could be the fitting present for the 21st anniversary of his first Subaru. Let’s hope that, like Jim, the next Rex stays true to its roots.