Probably the first upgrade on most pre '98 owner's wish list is a set of replacement wheels. The standard 5 spoke 15" design fitted to the pre '98 models must be the most boring and unattractive wheel ever seen on a "sporty" production car. Also, the 6" wide rim is a bit narrow for the 205mm tyres - a 7" rim allows the tyre to sit flatter on the road. However, due to the small number of Impreza's in existence (compared to say a Golf GTi), there is a very limited (but growing)choice.
People associate big wheels with sporty cars, but the key factor is low-profile tyres - the link is that to keep the rolling circumference the same (to avoid introducing speedometer errors) then as the wheels get bigger, the tyres must get thinner. Low-profile tyres reduce the amount of spring and flex in the tyre. Less spring means reduced body roll in corners, but will make the ride somewhat harsher as bumps will not be soaked up as before. Less flex means that there is less lag between turning the wheel and the tyre following, so steering response will be more precise ... but the tyres will not mask ruts and grooves in the road, feeding back through the steering. Also, thinner tyres mean that big potholes have more chance of damaging the wheels.
Prodrive suggest that a 16" wheel offers the best compromise between looks, ride comfort, performance and cost, and indeed from the '98 model year, Imprezas have 16" as standard. However, the fact that Prodrive's demonstrators have always been fitted with 17" wheels shows that they certainly give additional performance - or better looks!
The 17" wheel and tyre combination increases the unsprung weight to about 21kg, up from around 16kg. This will have a noticeable effect on both ride quality and handling, although most owners say it's not too bad and well worth it. Uprated suspension becomes more desirable with heavier wheels.
In principle a 7 x 18" wheel should be fine too, but this will be heavier still and the tyres will need to be ultra-low profile, so this is probably only a sensible option for those who drive on the smoothest of roads.
One important point to bear in mind when shopping for new wheels is that the recommended offset (the distance between centre of the rim and the mounting face) for Impreza wheels is unusually high, at between 52 and 55mm depending on the model. Using more common, smaller, offsets will increase the track (width) of the car, which may cause the tyres to foul the arches, and will have an adverse effect on handling (by increasing the leverage of uneven roads and cornering forces on the suspension and steering components). One knowledgeable wheel retailer claims that anywhere from 45-55mm is fine (even going so far as to say that 55mm is excessive!), whilst a Subaru dealer insists that 55mm is essential and anything else wrecks the handling. It's probably worth pointing out that the standard wheels are 52.5mm offset, and the Speedline Competition 2, sold by Prodrive through your Subaru dealership, is 48mm!
Prodrive, holding the UK concession for Speedline, offer very good wheel/tyre options through their WRSport brochure, in 16,17 and now 18 inch sizes (P1). They are available either as wheels only, or fitted with high performance Pirelli P-Zeros.
The first of these is an 8 spoke design known as the Safari. These were the design fitted as standard to the Series McRae cars. Available in either silver, or the much more common gold, the most popular size being 6.5 x 16 inch. The recommended tyre size for this wheel is 205/50 ZR (or VR) 16. They can also be ordered in a 6 x 15 inch fitment, but anyone changing their standard wheels, would be well advised to upgrade to the 16 inch wheel and tyre combination. This design of wheel is commonly used by Group N and sometimes Group A rally cars, particularly for mud or snow special stages, due to its outstanding strength.
The second is a double six spoke design known in the UK as the Supertourismo. They are available in either 7 x 16 inch or 7 x 17 inch sizes, again in either silver or gold. This design of wheel has been used for the Prodrive demonstrators for the past few years, and are probably now the most common choice of replacement wheel for the Impreza in the UK. The recommended tyre size for the 17 inch wheel is 205/45 ZR 17, although 215/40 ZR 17 tyres can also be used and provide more choice of manufacturer. The Supertourismo does not fit over the STi 4-pot brakes fitted as standard to the 99 Impreza, and there is now a curved-spoke design named Supertourismo2. It looks like a bigger version of the standard 16" wheel, rather than a development of the Supertourismo.
There are two other Speedline designs available to fit the Impreza. One is a five spoke design known as the Mistral (OE in split rim format on Ferrari 308s apparently!), available in a 7 x 17 inch size. The other, available only in gold in a 7 x 16 inch size is known as the "Competition 2" wheel. This distinctive six spoke design is the homologated wheel for Group N Imprezas, and resembles that fitted to the latest generation of WRC cars for tarmac events, although not in the 8 (possibly 9?) x 18 inch size, since they will not fit comfortably under the standard Impreza wheel arches.
Other designs available through many accessory shops in the UK, are a multispoke (Touring car style) and directional 5 spoke designs made by a company called Radius. The models available to fit the Impreza are known as the R2 (5 spoke) and R3 (multispoke), and come in the popular 7 x 17 inch size, although with a 50mm offset. The Radius range of wheels has been heavily promoted in the UK. Compomotive also have a large range of wheels, from which the MO and SL should be available in scooby-friendly sizes.
Another option is to fit the 5 spoke 16 inch wheel fitted as standard to the 98 & 99 model turbo cars. Although available only in silver (unless you can find an STi or Terzo owner wishing to sell theirs!), it would be relatively straight forward to send them to one of the many alloy wheel refurbishment centres throughout the UK for stripping and re-painting in gold or any other colour. The wheel design is identical to that fitted to Japanese models for many years.
A survey carried out by an IWOC member identified many more 17 inch wheel designs. Costs ranged between about £100 and £200 per wheel. Although all of these designs will fit without apparent problem, any which do not have the recommended offset of between 50 and 55mm, may adversely affect the steering and/or handling of the car.
Outside the UK, there are many other designs available to suit the Impreza. Throughout Europe, several different models of Speedline wheel are available, as well as other manufacturers, who do not promote their products in the UK.
Japanese owners, not surprisingly have the widest choice of wheel designs available, with numerous manufacturers offering a variety of distinctive deigns in a variety of colours and sizes.
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