Is it worth buying an old Subaru?

2001 Subaru Impreza WRX
2001 Subaru Impreza WRX / Heritage Images/GettyImages

Ever since 2014, I have yearned for one thing and one thing only. Since 2019 (when I passed my driving test), I have yearned even harder for this one thing. I've seen a few, and I've come within minutes of buying one. There was then a second bite of the cherry, which never really happened. My lifelong goal has been to own a fast Subaru.

For some context, in my family, we've had a bugeye Impreza (like the one pictured above) in the early 2000s, but the one in most recent memory belonged to my dad. It was the 2009 Impreza (hatchback) WRX STI 330s, and I would love to tell you how much I loved that car and how great it was, but as I lost my dad a few years ago, my memories of the Impreza have faded. So, to me, the Impreza has become a thing of legend. It's like a unicorn or an unattainable dream.

Having come so close to buying a Scoobie, Scubaru, Sub-uwu, or Subaru, depending on what you call them (my personal preference is Scoobaru) it has got me thinking, is it worth buying an older Subaru, or am I just being biased and nostalgic?

Hurr dur head gaskets

'Your car, it's literally going to blow up, don't you know Subarus are so unreliable'. I think it's time to put this myth to bed finally. The famous legend of the head gasket started in 1997 when Subaru had a lot of head gasket issues, the main of which being the head gasket leaking, forcing the engine to overheat. This was mostly due to a loss of coolant.

However, the more significant issue was with the head gaskets in the 98' Forester and Impreza. The issue was that the head gasket would form an external leak. This led to coolant mixing with oil, making oil less effective as a lubricant, meaning engine components rubbed together and eventually ripped apart. Now this sounds scary, and it sounds like I should end the article here, but no. You don't need to give up on your Subaru dreams here.

The good news is that most newer (not brand new because I'm not talking about brand new Scoobies) don't suffer from head gasket issues the same way that older models in the late 90s did. The other bit of good news is that, while Subaru never recalled models for head gasket issues, most older Subarus that are still on the road will have already suffered with their head gasket issues and will most likely have been fixed. So, please don't listen to your hurr durr friend who tells you your car is going to blow up, it most likely won't.

The Boxer Engine

2000 Subaru Impreza Sti engine bay
2000 Subaru Impreza Sti engine bay / Heritage Images/GettyImages

I won't go into much technical detail about the Boxer Four engine. However, there are two things you should know. Subaru's Boxer 4: Sound and fuel economy (or lack thereof). What you can expect from Subaru's staple engine is around 270ish horsepower and a hell of a noise when you put your foot down.

From a Hawkeye (2006-7) Impreza WRX STI, you can expect a 0-60 in 5.2 seconds, which was less than a second slower than the E63. It was also better around corners, for less than half the price.

The Hawkeye Impreza, in its rally form
The Hawkeye Impreza, in its rally form / RONALDO SCHEMIDT/GettyImages

However, with Subaru's boxer four, something you can't expect is fuel economy, which was one of the downsides I was willing to overlook when I was looking at Imprezas, in the particular model I was looking at (a 2010 WRX-S) the highest MPG, driving sensibly on the motorway is around 23. For comparison, my current Peugeot 208 GTI gets around 44 MPG on long motorway journeys. So don't expect running costs to be cheap.

Interior and quality

2000 Subaru Impreza Sti interior
2000 Subaru Impreza Sti interior / Heritage Images/GettyImages

Another thing you can't go into buying a Subaru with is expectations of a high-quality interior. Unlike the premium German brands, Subaru Imprezas, Foresters, and such are basic Japanese econoboxes, with five seats, a good-sized space for luggage, and not much else.

Even in the late 2000s and early 2010s, most Subarus, even the pricy fast ones, had interiors in which you'd find plastic everywhere. That includes cheap plastic buttons, plastic center consoles, plastic dashboards, and plastic door cards. Basically, if they could use plastic inside, they would.

As you'd probably expect, the ride is on the firm side. Maybe I'm biased, in fact, I probably am, but the ride quality in any of the Imprezas I've experienced hasn't been hard enough for me to think I couldn't live with it daily. In the 330s STI, we did long journeys, in which the Subie was more than comfortable for 2 hours upwards. If you wanted a word of endorsement, my dad, who was the most sensible man on Earth, wanted to keep his Subaru for longer than he did. He only sold it due to family pressures to get something 'more sensible.' He ended up with a Jaguar XF before settling on Mercedes C-Class, but he always spoke fondly of the Subaru.

So what should you do

1997 Subaru Impreza Turbo
1997 Subaru Impreza Turbo / Heritage Images/GettyImages

For some people, the answer is always Miata (which I just wrote an article about cough cough nudge nudge), but for me, the answer is always Subaru. Where else are you going to get all-wheel drive, rally heritage, a manual gearbox, a fun car to drive, more or less 300 horsepower with high tunability, aggressive looks, and a fantastic sound at an affordable price? Not even the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution range can compete as old cars worth buying now due to rocketing prices.

You should go into buying an old Subaru with a level of caution, but it is so worth it. As long as you buy one that's been driven but looked after, you should be okay. Also, higher mileage doesn't necessarily mean worse. That sounds like a silly statement, but stay with me here- if a car has been driven and looked after, the current owner will have kept up with maintenance.

So the answer is yes, buy a Subaru.