As far as buzz and hype are concerned it could be argued that the WRX is on the played-out side of the equation but the current lack of buzz does nothing to change the fact that the Subie is an outstanding platform nonetheless. The car has been scorching U.S. pavement four wheels at a time since the 2002 model year. In that span of time the performance-tuning industry has been at warp speed. The development of parts and tuning strategies has been as frenzied as a pack of Great White sharks in a swimming pool full of seal pups during lunch hour. Harsh visual but you get the idea.
Turbo magazine has chronicled the big-power players from day one, culminating with the January 2006 cover car, Puerto Rico's Big Valley STi. This beast pumped 720 whp and was a decent launch away from a 9-second quarter-mile time. The big-power cars are the tip of the spear and while it's great to see the maximum potential of the EJ engine unleashed, the true beauty of these cars is how good they are out of the box and how much faster they can be made with only a few relatively minor enhancements.
The silver '02 sedan you see here takes the less-is-more, minor-means-mojo approach. It has been modified in all the right places with the daily commute, not stratospheric dyno numbers, as the driving force. Owner, Anthony Sanchez also addressed other important aspects of the motoring experience-suspension, brakes and the cockpit. Sanchez may be familiar to hardcore readers as he is the owner of the 'Bet Money' Civic cover car from the November '05 issue.
Duck under the hood and you'll find a GReddy turbo upgrade as the big player. The upgrade, which costs in the $1,695 to $1,995 range features a Mitsubishi T518-Z turbo and is designed to retain the stock exhaust manifold. The wrenching and tuning on Sanchez's REX, just like on the Civic, was performed by DRT of Woodside, New York. The stock top-mount intercooler looks kind of small in pictures but until you hold one in your hands it's hard to appreciate how small it really is. For improved efficiency, and a by-product of good looks, a GReddy FMIC kit was added. In a strange twist of fate, HKS hoses were used to connect the I/C pipes and an HKS SSQ blow-off valve snuck under the hood.
When upgrading the turbo on a stock engine you better pay equal attention to the fuel system. In many cases misguided wisdom from enthisiasts has said I am only running four psi more boost. But you have to remember we're talking about volume, not pressure here. A bigger turbo will move considerably more air at the same psi; up this bigger turbo by 4 psi and you could be dropping the hammer of a four-wheel grenade. To this end Ralphy Estevez and the DRT crew followed up the boost upgrade with a high-capacity fuel system featuring a Walbro 255 lph in-tank pump and 650cc injectors. The 650cc squirters flow 35 percent more fuel than the stock 420cc units and are more than ready for the prescribed target boost of 24 psi.
As for tuning, the car came together just as AEM released its WRX EMS system so Ralphy was quick to secure one for this project. "Tony wanted a kick in the pants, but an off-boost tune aimed for reliability," says Ralphy. "He wanted the car to feel like it had a stock ECU in it. I waited a year for that thing and I was told the one we got was the first box out of AEM's headquarters.
After extensive dyno tuning the Subie proved generous, pumping out 420 whp and 305 lb-ft of torque. Ralphy is quick to point out that getting the peak power is just a matter of using fuel and timing in relation to the air/fuel ratio. For off-boost, part-throttle tuning-the keys to driveability-an advanced understanding of the combustion process is required. The WRX's clutch has been fortified for bigger boost with a tried-and-true Exedy twin disc.
We've all heard how the all-climate safety of Subaru's all-wheel drive makes it the smart choice for near-freezing locales, but the dry grip the WRX can generate with minimal manipulation is awe inspiring. And like the rest of the car it doesn't take much to really pump out the gs. For Sanchez it was as simple as the correct set of JIC adjustable coil-overs, namely JIC SA-1s. A street unit with the usual ride-height adjustment inherent with coil-overs and five-position damping adjustment for added grip or commuter ride quality, the SA-1s are ready for any scenario.
The braking system was upgraded all the way around with Wilwood components. Wilwood has complete kits for the front and rear of the WRX. The front kit sports 13-inch GT Racing rotors, Wilwood billet Superlite calipers with six-pistons clawing at the rotors like a rabid pit bull at the height of its fever. Wilwood's rear axle upgrade uses 12-inch GT series rotors and four-piston Superlite calipers to balance out the stopping power. The Wilwood kit retains the factory ABS system and parking brake function, which fits Sanchez's commuter profile to a tee.
The final footwork item is the rolling stock. Sanchez rides on 215/40-18 Yokohama Parada Spec-II rubber and well-used, gold-dipped Prodrive aluminum.
Inside, a set of Sparco buckets are installed along with matching fabric for the rear seats; even the Sparco logos were copied on the bench seat backs. An HKS boost controller is housed in the center console, a Blitz turbo timer is perched on the steering column and an air vent has been cleverly sacrificed to mount an Auto Meter boost gauge. An AEM Uego gauge is mounted to the left side of the dash for the driver to eye that all-important parameter-the air/fuel ratio.
"As you can see this is more of a show car than a street killer like what we created with the Civic," says Ralphy. "But [the] WRX has a much different target and, like the Civic, it really hits the bull's-eye." We'd add, with the ease and finesse of a Zen archer.