28 April, 2020 by Simon Descoteau
Project Aethyia: 2002 Subaru Impreza WRX Wagon – The Story So Far
Shortly after selling the XJR for lack of use, despite thoroughly enjoying driving on the country lanes in Synthia, I started to miss a faster, more practical car and went on the hunt for something 4 seater, and a little bit faster. I stumbled across Aethyia on the Facebook market place. At the time she was owned by an aircraft mechanic in the American Airforce stationed at one of the RAF bases near Cambridge.
Upon speaking to the previous owner, it became immediately obvious that the car had been well looked after mechanically, and well modified, to a reliable and fun 330BHP. In a fairly light car, with 4WD, and a close ratio 5 speed gearbox, 330BHP certainly felt just as fast as the 550BHP XJR, especially in the way that it delivered the power from the 2 litre turbocharged boxer engine.
A short drive up, and on the 21st of August 2019 I was the proud owner of my first Subaru WRX Wagon. Despite being the “ugly” bug-eye version of the car, I immediately fell in love with the slightly offbeat and aggressive styling of the Japanese rally car, and the fact that it was an estate meant that it was supremely practical too with plenty of space for luggage. The bodywork was not in perfect condition, and there were the odd scratches and carpark dents on her, but the dark blue metallic paint still shined through and she definitely had a certain charm about her.
As I mentioned, the car had been fairly heavily modified at the time when I received it, with an absolute laundry list of parts so at least for the most she didn’t require much beyond maintenance and driving. The modifications included BC Racing coilovers, chassis bracing, and the majority of the upgrades on the engine side from the STI to allow the car to make a comfortable 330BHP reliably yet still handle as these cars are supposed to. She had also had her brakes upgraded to the STI brakes which meant she stopped faster than she went.
On the drive home, the noise from the boxer engine, and the absolutely insane levels of grip from the Subaru 4 wheel drive system was definitely addictive and I realised I had definitely made the right choice with this car. To add to the fantastic levels of grip, the car came standard with Momo reclining bucket seats in the front and a Momo steering wheel which really kept me in place during aggressive cornering and provided great feedback from the tyres and chassis.
The car still had a standard cassette CD player in it, which was the first thing that had to be upgraded. I installed a Pioneer SPH-DA130 CarPlay enabled headunit which made a fantastic upgrade to the stock unit, and allowed me to connect my phone to the car to get access to my Apple Music library, as well as sat-nav solutions through Waze and Apple Maps. This was the only dated part of the interior of the car and was a quick install.
At this point, I had thought already made plans to take Aethyia up to the Lake District so I decided it would be best to give the car a health check at the tuner who had originally mapped her which was Zen Performance. I have to say at this stage, Zen were one of the most professional, friendly and approachable Subaru specialists I have had the pleasure of dealing with and they booked me in for a health check slot so I got into the car and made the short drive up to Huntingdon where they are based.
I’m almost convinced that cars aren’t as inanimate as they would like us to believe that they are, and once again things escalated quite quickly at this stage. Almost as if she knew she was going to the car doctor, Aethyia decided she wanted to develop a slight crack in her radiator on route to Zen Performance. Thankfully, they had a second hand aluminium radiator that they were able to fit for me at a very reasonable cost, while also carrying out the health check.
On the whole, she was in as good condition as can be expected for a car of its age and was making a safe amount of power. There were some parts of rust on parts of the rear subframe which is normal for these, and the oil pan was saturated which meant that it had begun to leak oil very slowly. This would have to be addressed at some point but was not a priority at this stage. Aethyia had also been set up on the coilovers to sit slightly higher at the front than the rear.
Work completed, I set off on my way back home and just as I had turned off the driveway of the workshop, I heard a crunching noise and the steering wheel went strange. It seems Aethyia had decided to break her front lower wishbone, a common problem on these and one usually fixed under warranty by Subaru when these were newer. Thankfully, I was close enough to be able to limp back to Zen and they very kindly dropped me off to the train station to get home.
On the train ride, I was able to source a set of the uprated lower wishbones for delivery to Zen, and asked that they please take the time that the car was with them to lower the front slightly, replace the oil pan, and give the car a full service including timing belt. I also sourced a set of Whiteline track rod ends and ball joints, what they call their roll centre correction kit, which fixes the problem of bump steer on lowered cars.
A moment here on what bump steer is in basic terms. Bump steer happens when your car hits a bump, and the wheels want to steer themselves without steering wheel input. Yes, I know, very imaginatively named. Car designers account for bump steer when setting up their suspension geometry so that the effects are minimised. However, when a car is lowered this often introduces bump steer as by lowering the car the suspension geometry is changed.
In short order, these parts were delivered and installed which only left the alignment to be adjusted before I took the car up to the lakes. If you’ve read the story so far on Synthia (part 1 of which you can find here) you’ll know what’s coming next. Joe at Wheels in Motion was again tasked with setting up the suspension and alignment on Aethyia as he had done for Synthia. After ensuring the preload on the corners was set correctly, he went about aligning the car to his specifications based on how he know I liked my cars to behave and she was ready to make the trip.
I have made the trip up to the lakes countless times in the past in various cars and I can categorically say this was the most fun I have ever had driving through mountain roads in my life. The Lake District is surrounded by mountains with lovely twisty roads which were perfect for the balanced and poised WRX. The ample luggage space meant that I was able to fit all my stuff, including thing like blankets and extra water in case of breakdown, but I need not have worried. She behaved flawlessly through the entire trip, and despite the roads being a little icy as it was mid November at this stage, I felt safe and in control throughout.
Aethyia came to me in an already heavily modified state, and in a way I feel that I would have enjoyed getting her up to the condition she is in now power wise, but that trip cemented in my mind that I had made the right choice with this car. Every drive was filled with rapid acceleration, and the unique growls and noises that only a turbocharged boxer engine can make and the distinct noise and mind boggling level of grip from the excellent drivetrain had a permanent smile plastered on my face.
That brings us to the present day, with my most recent trip up to the lakes called off on account of COVID-19, she is sat waiting patiently for our next road trip. I’ve had many cars in my life to this point, but aside from Synthia, this is the first that I’ve felt was a keeper.
I have a few plans for this car to take her to the next level in terms of both power and aesthetics, with drive train improvements and a better sound system being high on that list, so I hope you will join me on this journey.
As always, I look forward to your questions and thoughts, so please do leave a comment below.