10 of the most significant Subaru models CAR magazine has tested

Over the past 63 years, CAR magazine has tested vehicles of all shapes and sizes. We take a look back at Subaru, a Japanese automaker known for its rich rallying history and love affair with the boxer engine. Here are 10 of the most significant Subaru models to have passed through our test garage…

1. SVX

With styling by Giugiaro, the four-wheel-drive luxury-oriented coupé was a departure from the more traditional Legacy and Justy they were known for. The SVX (known as the Alcyone SVX in Japan) replaced the ageing XT, a more compact two-door coupé in the Subaru range. Powered by a 3,3-litre flat-six, the newcomer produced a healthy 169 kW and 309 N.m of torque. Despite this, the heavy body and four-speed automatic gearbox blunted the performance somewhat, seeing the SVX achieve a 0-100 km/h time of 9,75 seconds in our January 1994 road test. Still, the SVX was about more than straight-line speed. Futuristic styling lent the car plenty of appeal, with the wrap-around glass becoming a distinguishing feature. Inside, the interior was a fairly luxurious affair. Leather, suede and wood trim covered most surfaces, creating a sophisticated image. Sadly, the high price of the left-field luxury coupé didn’t bode well for sales.

Price (when new): R325 000 (1994)
Engine: 3,3-litre, flat-six, petrol
Power: 169 kW at 5 600 r/min
Torque: 309 N.m at 4 800 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 9,75 seconds
Top Speed: 226 km/h 
Transmission: four-speed automatic

2. Impreza 2,0 GT 4WD (GC)

Despite fairly reserved styling, the Impreza 2,0 GT was anything but. Equipped with a modest 2,0-litre four-cylinder engine, the Impreza developed a healthy 155 kW and 270 N.m of torque. Thanks to a turbocharger, the Impreza rocketed to 100 km/h in 6,39 seconds in our February 1996 road test, not far off the pace offered by today’s outgoing Golf 7 GTI. While generously equipped, the Impreza 2,0 GT faced stiff competition from the likes of BMW’s 328i. Still, while the BMW and similarly positioned cars were marketed in the premium segment, the Impreza was intended to be a practical car that could both thrill a driver and cater to the needs of a family. Neat interior touches such as a Nardi steering wheel and gear lever created a sporty environment. 

Price (when new): R177 850 (1996)
Engine: 2,0-litre, flat-four, turbopetrol
Power: 155 kW at 6 000 r/min
Torque: 270 N.m at 4 800 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 6,39 seconds
Top Speed: 227 km/h 
Transmission: five-speed manual

3. Legacy Outback AT

Keen to get in on the burgeoning SUV market, Subaru came out with the Legacy Outback. While based upon the standard Legacy station wagon, the Outback sported a raised ride height, bringing ground clearance to 200 mm. While the two-tone paint job further differentiated the Outback from its regular stablemates, overall styling remained the same. Despite appearances, the Outback wasn’t just a raised station wagon. Tested in the February 1997 issue of CAR, the Outback impressed testers with its surprising off-road capability. “Off-road, we took the vehicle down tracks that would pose problems for vehicles with lower gorund clearance, and were impressed with the Outback’s abilities on sand.” No one-trick pony, the Outback displayed refined road manners that wouldn’t be out of place in an executive sedan. With no rivals at the time, the Outback was a compelling alternative to the larger and more expensive Mitsubishi Pajero, especially if you didn’t venture off-road often.

Price (when new): R189 850 (1997)
Engine: 2,5-litre, flat-four, petrol
Power: 110 kW at 5 600 r/min
Torque: 221 N.m at 4 000 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 10,74 seconds
Top Speed: 180 km/h 
Transmission: four-speed automatic

4. Impreza WRX (GD)

Between Colin McRae and the Gran Turismo video games, the Impreza had made quite a name for itself by the early 2000s. Released in 2001, the second-generation caused quite a stir, courtesy of its flamboyant front-end styling. Large, circular headlamps earned the car the “bug-eye” nickname. Tested in the November 2001 issue, it was clear the WRX lived up to its badge. 0-100 km/h was dealt with in just 6,66 seconds, courtesy of a turbocharged 2,0-litre, four-cylinder producing 160 kW. Four-wheel drive and a relatively light mass of 1 370 kg made the WRX a quick car in the bends, while front and rear ventilated disc brakes scrubbed off speed even quicker then the powertrain built it. Going from 100 km/h to 0 took just 2,88 seconds on our test strip. Despite being an impressive mechanical achievement, the awkward front-end proved too much for some, with Subaru introducing a facelifted model the following year.

Price (when new): R259 950 (2001)
Engine: 2,0-litre, flat-four, turbopetrol
Power: 160 kW at 5 600 r/min
Torque: 292 N.m at 3 600 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 6,66 seconds
Top Speed: 225 km/h 
Transmission: five-speed manual

5. Impreza WRX STi (GD facelift)

Gold 17-inch alloys, a large boot spoiler and an “STi” badge set the top-tier Impreza apart from lesser models. Despite the humble saloon-car underpinnings, the second-generation WRX STi was (and still is) a serious performance car. While the electronically limited top speed of 234 km/h wasn’t much to fuss over, the STi was capable of reaching 100 km/h quicker than a BMW M3. On our test strip, this road-going rally car needed just 5,15 seconds to reach three figures. Quick in a straight line it may be, the WRX made a name for itself by blitzing through the corners of a rally special stage. “It makes average drivers feel like WRC rally racers,” we remarked in our February 2003 road test. Interestingly, CAR tested a slightly updated model in January 2005 and featured an example modified by RX Motorsport, capable of a supercar-rivalling 0-100 km/h sprint time of 4,54 seconds. 

Price (when new): R381 950 (2003)
Engine: 2,0-litre, flat-four, turbopetrol
Power: 195 kW at 6 000 r/min
Torque: 343 N.m at 4 000 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 5,15 seconds
Top Speed: 234 km/h 
Transmission: six-speed manual

6. Forester 2,5 XT (SG)

Introduced in 1997, the Forester can be credited as one of the original SUV crossovers. Despite the wagon-like body, the Forester was a legitimate four-wheel-drive vehicle with decent off-roading capabilities. While you won’t find a Forester negotiating rocks or an advanced off-roading course, the raised Subaru focused its talents elsewhere. In a September 2005 road test, the facelifted 2,5 XT dazzled the test team with its superb performance. Be it a paved road or a rough gravel lane, the sheer grip offered up by the Forester meant rivals could not touch it. Mechanically, the Forester was related to the sportier Impreza. However, in its role as a family SUV, refinement and ride quality stood out. While capable of hitting 0-100 km/h in just 6,65 seconds, it is the utility space which, at 1 264 litres, highlights the practicalilty of the Forester.

Price (when new): R305 000 (2005)
Engine: 2,5-litre, flat-four, turbopetrol
Power: 169 kW at 5 600 r/min
Torque: 320 N.m at 3 600 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 6,65 seconds
Top Speed: 205 km/h 
Transmission: five-speed manual 

7. Impreza WRX (GH)

In a first for the Impreza range, Subaru decided to introduce the third-generation as a five-door hatchback, with the hope of appealing to more traditional European buyers. Apart from a redesigned exterior, the interior was given a thorough working over, with an emphasis on improving cabin quality. Despite all the visual changes, the Impreza remained true to its heritage, offering superb handling characteristics mixing composure and excitement. To attract a bigger pool of potential customers, the Impreza featured a softer suspension setup, which made the car more comfortable to drive on a daily basis. It did detract from the overall rally car sensation its predecessors provided, though. In a comparitive test published in the December 2007 issue of CAR, testers noted that “the Impreza may have gone mainstream, but this Subaru remains a left-field challenger”.

Price (when new): R381 950 (2007)
Engine: 2,5-litre, flat-four, turbopetrol
Power: 169 kW at 5 200 r/min
Torque: 320 N.m at 2 800 – 5 000 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 7,02 seconds
Top Speed: 209 km/h 
Transmission: five-speed manual

8. WRX STi (GV)

The year 2011 saw a return to the traditional four-door saloon body style and a slight name change. While still an Impreza, the range-topping performance model was now referred to as the WRX STi. Power comes from a turbocharged 2,5-litre four-cylinder, producing 221 kW and 407 N.m of torque. While power was increased, so was the overall weight. Tipping the scales at 1 547 kg, the third-generation STi was 69 kg heavier than its predecessor. As a result, 0-100 km/h took 5,80 seconds. Quick, but slower than past STi models. In our June 2011 road test, the Subaru still managed to put a smile on the face of team members. With track ace Deon Joubert behind the wheel, the WRX STi managed a lap time of 1,28:51 seconds, not far behind the more powerful BMW 135i.

Price (when new): R519 000 (2011)
Engine: 2,5-litre, flat-four, turbopetrol
Power: 221 kW at 6 000 r/min
Torque: 407 N.m at 4 000 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 5,80 seconds
Top Speed: 255 km/h 
Transmission: six-speed manual

9. Outback 3,6R-S ES Lineartronic CVT

While mechanically related, the Outback dropped the “Legacy” part of its name, becoming an independent model in Subaru’s line-up. Much like the original, the Outback’s raised ride height blends the best bits of SUV ownership with the benefits of a station wagon. As the years went by, the Outback saw itself being positioned further upmarket, competing with the similarly executed vehicles such as the Volvo V60 Cross Country. A sober, more mature exterior reflected the premium cabin, with just enough rugged detailing to distinguish it from regular estate cars. In our May 2018 issue, the smooth 3,6-litre flat-six provided strong performance, with 0-100 km/h taking just 7,99 seconds. While not everyone’s favourite, testers commented on the rather good pairing between the CVT gearbox and the engine.

Price (when new): R649 000 (2018)
Engine: 3,6-litre, flat-six, petrol
Power: 191 kW at 6 000 r/min
Torque: 350 N.m at 4 400 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 7,99 seconds
Top Speed: 235 km/h 
Transmission: CVT

10. WRX STi Diamond Edition

Created to celebrate 30 years of the STi badge, the Diamond Edition was developed locally by Subaru Southern Africa, and limited to just 30 units. Producing 260 kW and 464 N.m of torque, this exclusively South African WRX boasts more power than the standard variants. Visually, the limited-run STi featured a bodykit highlighted by an eye-catching yellow. Featured in our January 2019 Performance Shootout, it sprinted to 100 km/h in 5,84 seconds, slightly slower than the claimed 5,03 claimed time. Still, the Diamond Edition WRX should prove to become a collector’s item with local (and perhaps even international) Subaru enthusiasts in years to come.

Price (when new): R799 000 (2018)
Engine: 2,5-litre, flat-four, turbopetrol
Power: 260 kW at 4 500 r/min
Torque: 464 N.m at 4 000 r/min
0-100 km/h (as tested): 5,84 seconds
Top Speed: 255 km/h 
Transmission: six-speed manual

Article written by

Ryan Bubear

Ryan has spent most of his career in online media, writing about everything from sport to politics and other forms of crime. But his true passion – reignited by a 1971 Austin Mini Mk3 still tucked lifeless in a dark corner of his garage – is of the automotive variety.