The 2002 Subaru Impreza WRX

My personal experience and review

Last updated January 31, 2014

Goodbye WRX - January 2011

My 2002 WRX was a great car for the money, but I had to sell it in January 2011 even though it only had 85K miles on it. I needed a car that had an automatic transmission and got better gas mileage. The car also needed $4000 in maintenance and repairs to keep it going at that point (for a new rear differential, valve job and new tires). I traded the WRX in to the dealer who sold me my next car (a Mazda 3s Sport). I could not in good conscience sell the car to a private party without disclosing all of its problems, which would bring down the price considerably. The dealer is fully capable of finding the car's problems on its own. The Subaru dealer offered around $3000 for it. CarMax offered $5000. The Mazda dealer matched the CarMax offer. In Maryland you are only taxed on the net purchase price after trade-in, so selling it to CarMax was not as lucrative as trading the car in. This aspect of the state's tax laws seems like a dealer subsidy to me, since usually only dealers take trade-ins.

The Mazda dealer listed my WRX for something like $9000. That's very high for a 10 year old car, but it sold within a week. I don't know the final price.

2002 WRX Brochure

My scan of the pre-release 2002 WRX sales brochure.

Photos

Here are a few photos of my 2002 WRX when it was new in March 2001. Click to enlarge.


Final Assessment

At almost 10 years old, with about 85K miles on it, my 2002 WRX was still a great car as far as driveability and sports character. It didn't feel like an old car. The shocks were great, and the engine, transmission and steering all felt pretty fresh. However, it needed way too many repairs during the first half of its life (see below). Then it seemed to settle down (or at least need repairs at a rate commensurate with its age). At the end there was only the slightest lessening of "smoothness" in power delivery when lightly pressing on the accelerator on the highway, not noticeable at other times.

There were various annoying little complaints. The heating/air conditioning system was never the greatest. My WRX air conditioner worked like a cheap room air conditioner -- the air flow didn't stay at a steady temperature determined by the knob, but oscillated between cold and hot, with the relative duration of the cold and hot cycles depending on where you set the A/C knob. You'd feel too hot, then too cold, then too hot, and so on. This was also a problem on rainy days because the non-cold part of the A/C cycle wouldn't defog the windows. That's on top of all the A/C repairs the car needed. Amazingly, 12 years later, Subaru still hasn't figured out how to do heating and A/C. Consumer Reports complained about automatic climate control modulation problems in the 2013 WRX and I noticed similar behavior in the 2014 Forester 2.0 XT. These people also complained.

At some point water leaked into the front doors somehow and ruined my front audio speakers, necessitating a replacement (with something better). That seems like a car design flaw.

Starting at around 40K miles, I started getting an occasional squeak from the brake pedal and a frequent "flap" or "click" noise when the clutch pedal reached the top of its range of motion after I let up the pedal. Neither of these problems impacted pedal action in any way.

But to be honest I don't think I would buy another Subaru unless it were as much bang for the buck as the 2002 WRX was. Dealing with Subaru of America, the difficulty getting parts quickly, and the general lack of reliability in the first few years were a real turn-off. The heater, A/C, and defrost were not up to modern standards from day one. That's a comfort issue.

Gas Mileage

Gas mileage was always a very consistent 20 mpg in mixed driving. . In pure highway driving it would get a little better, but never more than 24 mpg. Full time all-wheel drive is a real drag on gas mileage. It took 14 gallons each fill up (I filled it with 14.5 a few times). Premium fuel is required

Resale Value

The WRX's resale value has always been very high relative to other cars of the same age. The car was always in high demand throughout its life if you followed it on Edmunds, almost to absurd levels. It didn't hurt that the 2002 model was actually sold in the spring of 2001. People don't really look at when a used car was made. They look at the model year.

Early 2011 was a real seller's market for used cars since the economy had squeezed people into avoiding the new car market. Thus it was a buyer's market for new cars. It made little sense to buy a used car, but people were buying them like crazy. So it was a good time to sell the WRX. When I traded it in in January 2011, I calculated that a new Mazda 3s Sport, which I bought for a very reasonable $20K, would cost me no more money over the next 5 years than keeping the WRX. Also the Mazda gets 24-25 mpg in mixed driving, 30 mph highway, and takes regular gas.

On the other hand, the Mazda isn't as much fun to drive, "zoom-zoom" notwithstanding. The Mazda handles well but its lethargic automatic transmission sucks away any thrill it might have.

Too Many Early Repairs

For whatever reason, my WRX has needed quite a few repairs early in its life. As of 2005, Consumer Reports rated the car only "average" as far as frequency of repairs... comparable to many American cars and well below other Subarus. Here's a list of what I've had to have fixed:

Unfortunately, all of these problems except the wheel bearing problem occurred during the first two years or so of owning the car. It got better after that. In later years it needed regular work, but nothing that seems unusual for a car of its age, though maybe not as good as my 2000 Honda Odyssey.

The car had a fuel leak problem when it was 4 or 5 years old. You could smell the gas when driving. This cost something like $400 to repair. A year or two later, however, Subaru actually sent out a letter offering to pay for past fuel leak repairs, which they said were due to a defect. I made my claim and collected. Fortunately I had had the repair done at the dealer. Otherwise who knows what Subaru might've covered.

Major Complaint - Parts and Customer Service

On top of all the repair issues I've had, Subaru has been terrible about providing parts. It's bad enough that the clutch/flywheel repair needed a part that took about 10 days to arrive (the dealer always estimates "between 3 and 10 days"). But the air conditioner condenser required 34 days to arrive at the dealer. I had to make do without A/C for all of July 2003. No one was able to give me an estimate of when it would arrive, other than "3 to 10 days". When I called Subaru of America customer service, they said they'd investigate and call me back. A week later they still hadn't called me. I called customer service again and was told my part had arrived three days earlier! (the dealer - Fitzgerald Subaru in Kensington, Maryland - also failed to notify me). All in all, not a good experience.

Then in 2005 I had the wheel bearing repair done by my own favorite shop. Afterwards I learned that wheel bearing repairs are covered under the drivetrain warranty (drivetrain coverage is longer than for other parts). Subaru of America said that they might cover the repair as a goodwill gesture, if I would just send in all my receipts. So I spent some time gathering information, collecting receipts and writing a cover lettter. I sent it all off to a person named "Hope" at Subaru of America. Then she rejected my request, saying Subaru couldn't cover the repair because the few dollars' worth of seals and bearings weren't original Subaru parts and the repair wasn't made the way Subaru would make it. So much for goodwill (or hope).

In my letter about the wheel bearing repair I also recounted my earlier problems with parts delays and customer service. For that I got a "we apologize for the inconvenience", but still nothing towards the wheel bearing repair.

So be warned: Have all warranty repairs made by Subaru. Don't expect fast parts. And don't expect much goodwill.

Crash Tests

The Impreza received excellent marks in IIHS crash tests. So for all you kids trying to get your parents to buy you a WRX, show 'em this!

Be alert however that the 2002 Impreza model tested by IIHS included certain frontal crash protection changes that were only implemented after September 2001. The very first 2002 WRXes (including mine) predate these changes. Of course the new WRXes (2014+) offer much better crash protection than the older models, having more airbags, etc.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The Subaru WRX is a great car. I wrote the following after a couple years of owning the car.

Strengths

Weaknesses

2012 Note: I wrote this section when the car was relatively new. See more commentary above.

Tires

When I first purchased them in 2005 from www.tirerack.com, I liked my Pirelli P-Zero Nero tires. They're actually rated as "mud & snow" tires but they grip very well on dry pavement, much better than the OEM tires I replaced ever did, yet comfortable to ride on. Notably new VW GTIs (in 2011) came with P-Zero Neros. But ultimately I ended up disliking the tires. They seemed to gradually lose pressure no matter what I did. They also wore out very quickly, even for ZR-rated tires.

So next I bought ZR-rated Bridgestone Potenzas (again at www.tirerack.com) which I liked a lot better. They needed fewer air refills, though they did need the occasional nail removed. I rode on them until I sold the car (and they needed to be replaced). I used the original 16" rims the whole life of the car.

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2002 WRX Pre-Release Brochure

My scan of the pre-release 2002 WRX sales brochure.

WRXtras

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