■ Bodywork: Dubious bodykits and stickers can always be removed, but watch for rust bubbles underneath the vinyl on the B-pillar, because this can spread and write off the entire door. To be really thorough, remove the wheel-arch liners and underbody guards to make sure the rear of the chassis isn’t hiding any horrors. As with all performance cars, check the front chassis legs, sills and boot floor for evidence of past impacts.
■ Suspension: Worn droplinks are the primary cause of any untoward knocking noises, but they’re a relatively easy fix, so don’t let that put you off. Both anti-roll bars are secured with rubber bushes that perish over time, and if there’s any sign of a leak from the shock absorbers, they’ll need replacing. Budget around £400 for a decent aftermarket set.
■ Gearbox: Years of repeated hard launches will hurt the gearbox. Check each gear engages smoothly, with no crunching noises, and that the clutch has a well-defined biting point and returns as expected. If buying a used gearbox, be absolutely certain that it bears the same part number as your original one.
Also worth knowing
In Japan, the WRX STi took its 304bhp from a twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, so grey imports are better to drive and less likely to rust or fall victim to piston failure. Stick with the 2.5 if you covet that trademark boxer burble, though, as the JDM car’s engine note is slightly less imposing.
How much to spend
£2000-£3999: Project cars ripe for an engine swap. Just £2495 can nab you a 2010 car with suspected crankshaft issues.
£4000-£5999: Mostly regular WRX models, which you could upgrade with the money saved.
£6000-£8999: High-mileage and modified S versions and some neglected STis.
£9000-£14,000: A decent mix of original and upgraded STis. Beware heavy modifications.
One we found
Subaru Impreza WRX S, 2009/59-reg, 46,500 miles, £7750: Not only is this minty WRX the more powerful S version, but it has also done just 4000 miles per year since it was new, hasn’t a mark on it and is priced to compete with much more pedestrian family-haulers of a similar vintage.