Subaru has been selling turbocharged high-performance cars in Australia for more than 12 years. The Impreza WRX has sold in record numbers and is unquestionably one of the most widely modified cars on the road (when was the last time you saw a completely standard WRX?). As a result, you can now find a plethora of second-hand Subaru turbochargers being sold – just check out eBay, the Trading Post and all Subaru related forums.
In this article we’ll take a look at the range of second-hand Subaru turbos on the market. For only a few hundred bucks you can grab yourself a late-model turbocharger in good condition. They’re great for one-off build ups and a very cost-effective power-up for your Nissan Pulsar ET, Toyota Starlet or Mazda 323/Ford TX3.
So let’s take a look at what’s available!
Early Generation Subaru Turbos...
The first genuine high-performance Subaru in Australia was the MY92 Liberty RS. The locally-delivered RS employs an IHI-designed VF12 turbocharger which helps deliver 147kW and 260Nm. Like all turbos in the range, the IHI VF12 uses oil lubrication and water cooling. The VF12 can safely run to around 220kW while maintaining reliability and a sane charge-air temperature. Expect to pay around AUD$350 for a VF12 in good condition.
In addition to the VF12 fitted to the Australian Liberty RS, the Japanese market received an automatic version (aka Legacy RS) using a smaller VF10 turbocharger. There’s also a VF8 version, which we believe was fitted to pre 1991 RS engines teamed with a manual gearbox – the VF8 is bigger than the VF10 but smaller than the VF12. These VF8 and 10s are commonly pulled from Japanese import engines and sell for around AUD$300.
Interestingly, Brett Middleton - from Subaru tuning specialist MRT - says a TD05 turbo was fitted to some versions – perhaps during a transitional stage leading up to the introduction of the WRX. We have not seen any ex-RS TD05s for sale.
In 1994, Australia saw the first generation Impreza WRX. These Rexes use a high capacity Mitsubishi-designed TD05L turbocharger. This turbo is around 10 percent larger than the VF12 unit in the Liberty RS. The TD05L is a very strong turbo that we’ve seen pushed to beyond 20 psi and around 250kW. There are also plenty of upgrade parts to increase the power potential.
Unfortunately, the TD05L is a pretty laggy turbo – keep this in mind if you’re installing it on an engine of 2-litres or less. We expect it would perform very well on a slightly larger capacity engine (like a 2.4 litre KA-series Nissan engine).
The TD05L is quite popular as an upgrade for Liberty RS owners so you’ll pay around AUD$500 for a good one.
Late ‘90s Subaru Turbos...
In late 1996, the Australian-spec MY97 Impreza WRX was introduced with a dramatically smaller turbocharger than its predecessor – and even smaller than the Liberty RS’s VF12. This photo shows the TD04L on the left compared to the TD05L on the right. On the upside, the compact TD04L turbocharger is much quicker to spool up than previous models – and this transforms the way the 2-litre Subaru feels in normal driving.
If you like a quick spool-up with a maximum output of around 210kW, you can pick up these turbos from AUD$200 – AUD$400. There are plenty available to chose from.
The baby of the Subaru turbo range is the Mitsubishi-based TD35HM 14T, as fitted to the Forester GT 2-litre. Factory rated at 125kW, the TD35HM isn’t great for high power 2-litre engines but is excellent for anything from about 1.3 to 1.8 litre. You wouldn’t want to push this small turbo past about 150kW.
These turbos frequently appear for sale when Forester GT owners step up to the larger TD04L from a WRX. We’ve seen them advertised at just AUD$120 – an absolute bargain!
The IHI VF22 turbocharger came as factory fitment to various MY97 Japanese market Impreza STis – and it’s the big daddy of all Subaru turbochargers. The VF22 has a large turbine (coded 9.4 PZ20-H) and a huge compressor but, despite having a ball-bearing centre, it is quite laggy and unresponsive. The MY97 STi is factory rated at 206kW and the VF22 turbocharger can comfortably run to over 250kW.
A great performer that can be bought from around AUD$900.
The VF23 is less aggressive and offers better response than the VF22. The VF23 (which came fitted to the MY98 STi 22B) has a smaller compressor and is good for slightly less power than the VF22 – we’d suggest a limit of around 250kW. Again, this turbo uses a ball-bearing centre to enhance boost response. You’ll pay a similar amount to the VF22 – about AUD$800.
The IHI VF28 turbocharger is factory fitment on the MY99/00 Australian-delivered STi two-door and four-door (GC8 series). Brett from MRT says the VF28 turbocharger is the same as the VF24 turbo used in contemporary Japanese-spec STis but uses a different wastegate actuator. Both use the same compressor as the VF23 but employ a one step smaller turbine housing (coded 9.4 PZ18-H) to further improve response and bottom-end torque. A ball-bearing centre is also used. These are excellent all-round turbos for enhanced WRX engines making somewhere in the low 200kW range. They are a very hot item in WRX circles (and in Group N rally) so you can expect to pay about AUD$900.
A VF29 turbocharger was also fitted to Japanese-spec MY00 STis. The VF29 turbo has a slightly tamer compressor compared to the VF24/28 and a different wastegate actuator assembly. These are relatively rare units that fetch around AUD$800 in good condition.
Current Subaru Turbos...
From late 1996 to current, the Australian-spec Impreza WRX has retained a Mitsubishi designed TD04 turbocharger. For the ‘bug eye’ MY01 WRX, an updated TD04L version was released with a slightly larger turbine wheel and wastegate bypass. This lets you control boost pressure more accurately at high outputs. The MY01 WRX generates 160kW in standard form and the stock MY01 TD04 can be worked slightly harder than earlier TD04 units – take it to just over 210kW while maintaining reliability.
These turbos, which we believe are the same as fitted to the current Forester XT, sell for around AUD$400 second-hand.
A new design IHI turbo series appeared with the release of the bug eye Impreza STi.
The biggest banger in the current line-up is the MY01 WRX Type RA’s VF30. The VF30 is comparable with the VF23 but has a slightly larger compressor and a smaller turbine (the same size as the VF24/28/29). Curiously, the VF30 doesn’t have a ball-bearing centre like the rest of the STi VF-series. A ball-bearing centre is found in the VF34 turbo which is otherwise identical. The VF34 is fitted to the MY02 WRX Type RA.
You’ll pay up to a grand for a good second hand job.
The smallest member in the current range is the VF35 turbo. The VF35 has the same compressor as the VF30/34 but has a much smaller turbine. Although it doesn’t use a ball-bearing centre, this turbo provides much better response and low-end torque. This turbo is standard fitment to the MY02 Australian-spec STi and Japanese STi Type RA Spec C.
Again, you’ll pay around a grand.
Buying a second-hand turbocharger is always a risk – but it does seem that Subaru turbos (which are mounted a relatively long way from the exhaust ports) are very durable.
All turbos from the Subaru stable are capable of well over 200,000km before requiring a rebuild and there are no widespread cracking problems (a common trait in some Mitsubishi turbos). As always when buying a second-hand turbo, it’s wise to check that the shaft spins freely and has minimal axial movement. There should also be no signs of wear against the housings or foreign object damage.
Brett from MRT says the only Subaru turbocharger with a poor reputation is the VF22. He says many people who have installed a VF22 on their Subaru have ended up with bent compressor blades (which Brett believes may be because of inadequate blow-off valve capacity).
But, aside from that, these are bullet-proof performers. Go for it!