Grand-daddy Subie

We test the Japanese-market Subaru Leone RX/II 4WD turbo coupe - a true modern collectable!

By Michael Knowling

Click on pics to view larger images

At a glance...

  • A collectable modern classic
  • Turbocharged 1.8 litre engine and full-time 4WD
  • The usual Subaru quirky design
  • Japanese import coupe

Sometimes it’s difficult to recognise a modern classic, but there can be no question that the Subaru Leone RX/II turbo – grand-daddy of Liberty RS and WRX – has “collectable” written all over it.

As you may be aware, Subaru imported the Leone-based RX 4WD turbo sedan to Australiain the mid/late ’80s. But we never received the gun model. In Japan, buyers had access to the full-time 4WD Leone RX/II coupe!

The ‘E-AG6’ 1987 Leone RX/II coupe seen here has been imported by Adelaide’s Yahoo Motorsport and is available for AUD$5000 (not including ADR-ing). The car has 113,000km and is in good overall condition aside from some rust.

On the road, the Subaru RX/II is surprisingly throttle responsive, flexible and torquey – Subaru obviously aimed for a ‘big engine’ driving experience. In the low rev range (from about 1500 to 4000 rpm) the engine swells with torque and you can’t help smile at the WRX-like beat through the exhaust. Unfortunately, the RX/II engine falls flat as you push it past about 5000 rpm - you need to up-shift like you’re driving a lazy-revving six.

Pop the bonnet and you’ll see an engine with technology befitting the era. The all-alloy EA82 SOHC horizontally-opposed four displaces 1.8 litres with a massively oversquare 92mm bore and 60mm stroke. The static compression ratio of 7.7:1 is boosted by around 8 psi thanks to a water-cooled IHI RHB5 turbocharger. There is no form of intercooling but there is multi-point EFI and electronic boost pressure control.

Rated at 88kW at 5200 rpm and 179Nm at just 2400 rpm, the EA82 turbo is all about useable torque – not top-end power.

The driveline of the ’87 RX/II coupe is quite different to locally-delivered Subaru RX turbo sedans. While the 5 speed manual version of the Australian-spec RX sedan had only on-demand 4WD with high/low range gearing, the 5 speed RX/II boasts full-time 4WD with a switchable centre diff lock and high/low range gearing!

The full-time 4WD system provides total traction and the handling surefootedness experienced in Liberty RSs and WRXs. In addition, the RX/II has the flexibility to change its on-road gearing. High-range is intended for normal driving but, at the throw of a lever, you can engage low-range for rapid spool-up and hard launches. Low-range is intended primarily for venturing off the bitumen. And note that the switchable centre diff lock should be used only on loose surfaces such as dirt and ice.

Weighing under 1100kg, the standard RX/II coupe has quarter mile performance in the 16 – 17 second range. We ran a 0 – 100 km/h sprint and recoded around 11 seconds – however, this was in 35+ degrees Celsius conditions and with some audible detonation on premium unleaded. These acceleration times are pretty ho-hum, but raw numbers don’t tell the story of how easy it is to get the RX/II off the line – unlike later models, there’s almost no bogging down.

The RX/II’s conventional front strut and a trailing arm IRS arrangement is standard fitment, but we believe air suspension was offered on some models. Handling is predictable and safe with mild understeer. Braking is perfectly adequate thanks to standard 4 wheel discs; don’t bother looking for ABS.

We must make the point that the RX/II feels remarkably like the later generation Subaru Liberty RS. Sure, it doesn’t have stomping top-end power but its on-road stability, steering feel, gear shift, engine beat and much of the interior feels like that of the younger offspring. There can be no doubt this is the ancestor of the mighty RS.

Inside, the cabin offers good front space and more rear space than a Nissan S13 Silvia/180SX. There are 5 seatbelts installed from factory but, realistically, it’d be struggle to fit any more than 4 people. The rear cargo area is generous, the 50:50 split rear backrests fold forward and you’ll find a storage area for the jack, tools and various other bits and pieces near the base of the taillight panel. Note that the spare wheel is mounted under the bonnet.

Comfortable sports seats, a leather steering wheel and air conditioning are fitted as standard but it seems power windows are optional. The clear and legible instrument cluster includes an oil pressure gauge, volt meter, 6500 redline tacho, boost light and a vehicle diagram showing status of the 4WD system and a door ajar indicator – just like you’ll find in the Liberty RS...

The RX/II body is based on the 1984 version of the Leone. The Japanese-spec coupe has the same sharp-edge design but its sloping rear is quite graceful – much more attractive than a ‘notchback’ and Subaru’s own Vortex. Front and rear spoilers are fitted as standard. Note that this car’s previous owner had gone for a full Prodrive look – Prodrive blue paint with gold highlights and gold 14 inch wheels. Cool or what?!

And what about parts availability for this ‘grey’ import?

Well, the RX/II’s nose, bonnet and front guards appear the same as fitted to local RX sedans – but all panels rearward of the A-pillar are different. On the upside, the engine, turbo, suspension and brakes appear interchangeable with Australian-spec RX. The full-time 4WD gearbox is most definitely not – unfortunately...

The E-AG6 Subaru Leone RX/II coupe is a car that crosses all boundaries. It’s practical and comfortable, it offers useable on-road performance and stability and is sure to appeal to any high-performance Subaru enthusist.

Just imagine turning up to a Subaru club cruise in this...

Tuning Potential

The EA82 turbo engine responds well to ‘the usual’ bolt-ons.

First, whack on a 2 1/2 or 3 inch exhaust to ease backpressure and liberate the famous Subie flat-four beat.

With a high-flow exhaust you’ll also need a high-flow air intake. Interestingly, the RX/II’s air intake arrangement appears very similar to that used in the Liberty RS and early WRX – we wouldn’t be surprised if the later-model airbox can be fitted together with a custom cold air pipe.

Next, rip out the spare wheel from under the bonnet and you’ll have a heap of space to fit an intercooler. An elegant approach is the fitment of a Liberty RS water-to-air intercooler – it’ll fit perfectly with the correct pipe orientation, have ample airflow and cooling performance as well as keeping things ‘in the family’.

Now you can boost it. Apparently, the Subaru RX rally guys of the ‘80s had no problems running up to 15 psi but, as always, we recommend keeping an eye on mixtures and monitoring detonation when bumping up the boost.

These mods should provide a 30+ percent power hike with an even larger percentage gain in mid-range torque. For greater top-end power you’ll need to upgrade the turbocharger and maybe alter the camshaft profile.

Oh, and it’s likely you’ll need to upgrade the clutch at this point – just be careful not to break that precious RX/II gearbox!


Yahoo Motorsport                                    

+61 8 8345 0939/ 0416 080462

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