Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS sedan: Not quite a WRX, but deserving of a nod

It’s hard to overstate how badly we yearned for a Subaru WRX in the 1990s. But even as Fuji Heavy Industries stubbornly refused to import them due to a misguided belief that US market conditions weren’t right, they did toss us a bone with the Impreza 2.5 RS. Rather than a turbocharged EJ20, we got a naturally aspirated EJ25. It wasn’t quite a rally car for the road, but it was good enough for Motorweek to describe it as the best-driving sport compact around.

Actually, their exact words were that it “beats the pants off just about any other compact performance model for stability and feel.” That’s about as spicy as you’re going to get for PBS.

The 2.5 RS sedan was new for 2000, but behind the license-free INXS soundtrack Motorweek says it was the exact same length, width, height and, importantly, the same speed as the 2.5 RS coupe that debuted two years earlier. In fact, the Impreza sedan generally weighed 30 pounds less than the coupe. Both were powered by the aforementioned 2.5 boxer making 165 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque. In Motorweek‘s testing, it propelled the RS from 0-60 in 7.8 seconds.

While other sport compacts like the Integra GS-R could beat it on horsepower, the 2.5-liter had torque. That, combined with Subaru’s trademark AWD, a VLSD, andĀ variable power rack and pinion steering, made for a compelling package. And with a starting price of $19,790, it was priced closer to the Civic Si.

Unfortunately, those plugged into the Japanese market felt left out. Even as early as 1992 an Impreza WRX would have had 237 horsepower. By 1996 the Impreza WRX would have spit out an eyeball-melting 276 horsepower under the Gentlemen’s Agreement, but which was actually said to be 300.

It was unfair. Getting a 2.5 RS felt like settling for second best, especially when it lacked the legendary turbo EJ20 engine. That outlook may have cost Subaru a few sales from die-hards, but in retrospect the 2.5 RS should’ve been viewed as its own animal. It’s not quite the WRC beast that its JDM cousin was, but it’s still an undeniable blast to drive. Those who put aside their bitterness and bought one came away with an excellent sports sedan.

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3 Responses to Subaru Impreza 2.5 RS sedan: Not quite a WRX, but deserving of a nod

  1. speedie says:

    The 2.5 RS is well known in rally car circles. I went to a local New England rally about 8 years ago and there were at least five of them running.

  2. Ian G. says:

    Major nostalgia. I had a ’98 RS black and gold with the DOHC. it was spec’d out with awesome suspension mods and pulled a ton of lateral G’s and was auto-x competitive locally and nationally! I also spent seat time in my cousin’s ’99 RS (avail in coupe only until ’00 and ’01). These cars were special and I felt were the gauge and launching off point for Subaru and Mitsubishi to bring their monster WRX/STI’s and Evo’s to the states eventually. I was coming from the MR2 world and having the AWD and torque punch of that 2.5 just put smiles on our faces. I would rock a 2.5 RS sedan now if I could find a good example.

  3. Mark F Newton-John says:

    Similar to the Mazda MP3, a not-quite Mazdaspeed, and the Mitsubishi Lancer Rally OZ, a not-quite Lancer Evolution? Sorta Wish versions of those cars?

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