What is the BEST Generation of the WRX?

2006 subaru wrx sti

What’s got four wheels, four cylinders, four doors, and makes one hell of a rumble? The rally car built for the street, the street car built for the WRC, and no, we’re not talking Evo. Let’s be honest, Mitsubishi gave up, so there stands only one. That’s right, baby, we’re talking WRX! 

There’s been four generations of the WRX, but which is best? Well, I’m about to tell you. So yank that E-brake, and let’s jump into what the best Subaru WRX you can buy is!

First Generation (1992 – 2001)

subaru wrx 22b first generation
Car Throttle

What’s right-hand drive, old enough to be imported, and was the first of its kind? The first generation WRX is all that and more, so buckle up! From the get go in 1992, Subaru’s first WRX was packed full of rally racing-inspired technology.

With all-wheel drive, it comes alive in slippery terrain. Featuring an early EJ20 engine producing 237 horsepower, these early ‘90’s WRX’s still go from 0 to 60 in 5.0 seconds! That’s half a second faster than a 2005 Evo IX! Not bad for Subaru’s first generation! Yeah, and not only is that 2.0-liter turbo quick, but it sounds great doing it. Amazing, right?

Well, good news and bad news. Bad news is the first generation WRX never sold in the States! Why Subaru? Why? The good news is that they’re finally old enough to start importing! More on that in a minute!

Now, pretty much every generation WRX is a little subdued in the styling department, but tuners rarely keep them that way, adding wings, and wheels, vents, and canards. Your average vape cloud-blowing WRX at a car meet has more bolt-ons than an aging movie star.

subaru wrx first generation

But one car that needs no plastic surgery is the first generation WRX! Right out of the box, the first generation had just enough flare and just enough fun, matched with a subtle but fun sedan body style. I think they look perfect as they are!

Another great thing about WRX, and Subaru in general, is that they’re easy to drive. So, if you’ve never driven a manual transmission before, a cheaper WRX would be a great first car. I bet with just a little bit of seat time you’ll be throwing gears like Colin McRae in no time! 

So, that brings us to price. And for the first generation WRX, things get a bit interesting. Since this WRX was never sold in the States, the only way to get one is to import it. You know what that means? Right-hand drive, baby!

Importing will bring the costs up a little bit, but it may be cheaper than you think. I found a 1998 WRX with 66,381 miles for $7,100, and that’s with shipping to Seattle included! The way I see it, for less than $10,000, you could own a truly special piece of WRX history.  

If you don’t want to hunt the elusive first generation, or don’t want all the difficulty that right-hand drive brings, the second generation hit our shores in 2001, and is undoubtedly here to stay.

Second Generation (2001 – 2007 USA)

Garage Dreams

You know it, I know it. The second generation WRX is freaking sweet! I mean, this was the WRX’s debut in America. And, boy oh boy, did they make a great first impression! With the same reliable AWD drivetrain and newer EJ motors, it was better than ever before. This generation is where we here in the States really got to see the WRX shine in all kinds of light!

There are hatchbacks or sedans, and you could get a manual transmission in either one. And we all know you’re going to get one with a stick shift because you want to save the manuals, right? 

Anyways, the second generation WRX underwent a facelift in 2006 that, in my opinion, created the most beautiful Subie ever built, the Hawkeye. From its angular headlights to aggressive hood scoop and the picnic table spoiler, it’s absolutely beautiful. But it’s also a WRX, which means that it’s far from just another pretty face.

So, just how does the Hawkeye compare with the Bugeye in terms of speed? Well, the facelift in 2006 also brought the EJ25 with 235 horsepower. This turbo’d 2.5-liter reaches 60 from a dead stop in 5.2 seconds. It’s a couple tenths slower than the first generation, but at least it looks better doing it. And if for some reason you want to take it down the quarter mile, expect times of around 14 seconds. 

But the WRX wasn’t built for straight line speed, they’re meant to crush terrains of all types, sliding sideways and kicking up dirt!

hawkeye subaru wrx

Now, one thing you’re going to notice when shopping for second generation WRX’s is that pretty much all of them have been modified to some degree. Sticker-bombed, slammed to the ground, and upgraded engine parts are par for the course.

But if you can find a clean second generation, preferably the Hawkeye, you’re looking at one hell of a car for about $10,000! We found one with just over a 100,000 miles selling for $10,000, a perfect opportunity to flex your Ideal Car Strategies knowledge!

Now, if you want an STI model, you’re likely looking at about twice that in price. They’re floating around $20,000. Are you getting twice the car for twice the price? I’m not so sure. For $20,000, you can get a lot of really badass cars. But if you absolutely have to have that pink badge, the Hawkeye STI is maybe my favorite Subaru of all time!

Now, if you liked the long and slightly boxy look of the previous generation WRX’s, then you might want to look away now.

Third Generation (2008 – 2014)

third generation subaru wrx

It’s not that it’s ugly, it’s just less beautiful than its predecessors. Well, okay, maybe it’s a bit ugly. Looks aside, the third generation is still ridiculously popular, delivering both solid performance and incredible value. 

It was only offered as a 5-speed manual from 2009 to 2014, so if you can’t drive stick, swoop an 2007 or 2008 model. This third generation is larger, allowing you to carry more junk, and safer, so that you can make it home, and more fuel efficient, so you can keep a little in the bank. This generation WRX is definitely for customers who need more space and less race. 

The EJ255 motor doesn’t change very much, still producing the same 235 horsepower, but delivering you to 60 in 5.7 seconds, noticeably slower than the previous generation. Seems like the WRX has put on some weight. 

Don’t get me wrong, though, there are plenty of fast third generation WRX’s out there. The aftermarket is huge for these cars, from track builds to parking lot queens. Whatever it is, if you’ve got the cash, someone’s got the part for your WRX. 

subaru wrx sti third generation

But if you want to keep it stock, maybe this is your WRX. Now, for the fun part. We found a 2011 6-speed hatchback at only $13,000, and it’s already got a ski rack! And for the STI model, you’re spending between $25,000 and $30,000 for a really nice example.

But, before you dump a lot of cash into your third generation WRX, I think I’d still go with a second generation WRX STI. In my opinion, they’re way better to look at, and their tuned EJ25’s make 300 horsepower. Plus, their drivetrains can handle a lot more power. 

They cost around $18,000 but hey, it’s hard putting a price tag on happiness. While the third generation is a little bit heavier, smarter, and more expensive than its younger brothers, it still deserves to wear the “World Rally eXperimental” badge.

And now the grand finale, the last of its kind, the fourth generation WRX!

Fourth Generation (2014 – Present)

2015 subaru wrx fourth generation
Tampa Bay Times

This will be the last WRX to be built upon its own chassis. Since the fifth generation WRX will be built on Subaru’s “Global Platform“, this is your last chance to get a pure WRX. As is normal with newer cars, the fourth generation WRX is larger and heavier than its younger brothers. But, in regards to its engine, this WRX is something different.

It’s the first WRX without an EJ-series under the hood! Blasphemy? Well, that’s up to you to decide! Subaru’s new engine, called the FA20F, produces 18 foot-pounds more torque than the EJ25 at half the RPM’s. This was done by mounting the turbo further forwards, and lower also, resulting in a lower center of gravity. 

Numbers wise, it’s good for 238 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque at just 2,000 RPM! These changes are good for a 0-to-60 range of 4.8 to 5.5 seconds. The main reason why the range is so large is because this WRX can be had with an automatic, manual, or CVT transmission. With a competent pilot and 6-speed manual transmission, this fourth generation is the fastest straight line WRX ever made.

2018 subaru wrx fourth generation
Car and Driver

And, oh yeah, Subaru didn’t just stop there! They beefed up the suspension and chassis, claiming that it’s 40% to 60% stiffer, and is capable of 0.80 G’s on the skidpad. And that’s stock! You’re only a tune and exhaust away from 300 horsepower! 

Now, time for some show and tell. We found a 2017 model, but it’s got low miles and it’s reliable, and let’s face it, you could make worse decisions with $18,000! This is your chance to grab the latest and greatest WRX for less than a 2020 Civic!

The fourth generation is also essentially the same price as my favorite, the second generation STI. You get a much newer, much cleaner car for about the same price. Prices for the STI, though, well, that’s a whole different ball game. Fourth generation STI’s are still super valuable. You’re going to need $30,000 in your pocket to even walk in the door. And good examples pushing closer to $40,000!

Final Thoughts

2022 subaru wrx

So, now that you’ve seen every WRX sold in the States and abroad, which one do you like the most? I guess it depends. If you prefer more driver involvement with a great soundtrack and aggressive styling, you want a first or second generation. But, if you’re wanting more technology and safety features, then the third and fourth generations are the move. No matter which one you choose, they’re all fun to drive and many owners absolutely love theirs.

If you ask me which one I’d choose, I’d have to go with the second generation Hawkeye WRX as the best bang for the buck! $18,000 gets you the best looking, best driving WRX that hits all the right notes. And I don’t think this generation is going to get much cheaper any time soon, so it’s a great time to buy!

Brad Danger
Mr. Danger loves cars, finance and living the Ideal Lifestyle!