Here I am, standing in a garage doorway. Some 50 yards away, a muscle-shouldered Subaru Impreza sits on the tarmac preparing to launch, its engine at full load, pop-pop-popping off the rev limiter like a lawnmower savaging a field of balloons. The rally driver lets it loose, and the car rages toward the horizon, snarling from its titanium exhaust, a streak of blue against leaden Bedfordshire skies.
Accelerating away, the telltale crack between shifts fades to a distant pop. The driver stabs the brake pedal, and with a boom of anti-lag detonation, the $500,000+ Subaru rotates through an off-camber bend and hastens the absolute fuck out of sight. If I close my eyes and picture a Corsican switchback—instead of Millbrook Proving Ground in the East of England—I’d swear I’m on a tarmac rally stage. The only sound missing from the Prodrive P25’s rally-car cacophony is the whine of straight-cut gears as it spirits away; its gears are of the quieter helical type, a nod that a rally car for the street should probably have a refinement or two.
The P25 is no standard restomod. Yes, it’s a two-door Subaru WRX that’s been massively modified by Prodrive—which ran the Subaru World Rally team from 1990 to 2008—with a modern drivetrain, suspension, and electronics. More than the sum of those parts, it’s a tribute car celebrating 25 years since Subaru’s first manufacturer’s championship, under new WRC rules, with the Impreza WRC97. You could call the P25 A two-part proposition: a world-class tuning job and a micro-exotic built in a limited number for those who know precisely why such a car should exist.
The driver—eight-time Rally America champion David Higgins—appears rounding the final corner. The P25 prototype he’s driving looks like something from the Singer or RUF playbook: A tricked-out version of a car we’ve eyeballed a thousand times, and yet are seeing something different in it now. It’s wider, lower, and more taut at every angle than the original WRX, with current-day wheels and tires, and a copious wing at the rear. It’s a reminder the original Impreza coupe was a striking design that keeps getting better with age.
Those familiar with the late 1990s in Subaru rally history are not hallucinating. Prodrive’s P25 is a take on the 22B, a two-door, widebody Impreza Subaru built in 1997 to celebrate its 40th anniversary and three consecutive manufacturers’ championships. Subaru produced 420-odd 22Bs, the lion’s share of them going to Japan and the rest to the UK and Australia. With a 2.2-liter boxer four, around 300 unofficial horsepower, and under 3,000 pounds, the 22B is a hidden gem of a classic car, a cool-as-shit Japanese stradale with a rally-adjacent pedigree.
Inspired by the 22B, and with an eye toward that car’s recent spike in valuation, Prodrive set out to update the concept. Starting with the original two-door WRX monocoque, the Prodrive team stripped and seam-welded it for rigidity, then they fabricated new, carbon-fiber body panels, with the front fenders molded directly from the WRC97 rally car. Only the doors are in metal for impact safety. At just 2,500 pounds, the P25’s power-to-weight rivals more powerful exotics, and Prodrive reps say they’ve gotten the P25 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds during testing.
Achieving that number is a function of modern-day tech. The engine is a U.S.-spec, EJ25-based 2.5-liter four-cylinder boxer, built by Prodrive with a Garrett turbo, steel conrods, forged pistons, bespoke cams and valve springs, and Prodrive’s own intake and exhaust manifolds. The result is a sprightly lump producing around 440 hp at 6,000 RPM (redline is 6,500) in max tune, and 457 lb-ft from 3,000 RPM. Updated electronics, fueling, and cooling round out the tuning package.
Let us not forget that the P25’s engineering brief points to an experience-car for drivers with rallying on the brain. Thus, all the proper gear is in place: A single, two-way paddle shifter controls a pneumatically actuated six-speed sequential manual, with a start-off clutch and Prodrive’s own control software on top. A driver-controlled active center diff, a full, adjustable Bilstein suspension setup, unboosted brakes, and optional half roll-cage and hydraulic handbrake add rally-stage flair.
Three driving modes manage engine output, with Road at 360 hp, Sport with the full beans, and Sport Plus adding that anti-lag detonation that keeps the turbo spinning off-throttle. Thus, a high-temperature-resistant Akrapovic exhaust, with a silencer bypass, is made from a combination of stainless steel, Inconel and titanium. Racecar stuff.
One of the most difficult parts of the P25’s development, Prodrive reps say, was balancing the car’s hardcore rally feel with the kind of refinement the buyer of a half-million-dollar car might expect. Along with forgoing the wail of straight-cut gears, suspension tuning, was a vexing development challenge: too stiff and you’ll turn off the sensitive of spine; too soft and it’s a performance buzzkill.
Slipping behind the wheel, it’s clear the P25’s interior is for business, with fields of alcantara, rally-blue stitching, and a carbon-fiber console with a screen for Apple CarPlay, of all things; I’m pretty sure I’d only use that to stream vintage rally videos from YouTube. Releasing the start-off clutch takes a little finesse, as does modulating the throttle to minimize slap-back.
The P25 hasn’t been smoothed out in the name of effortless drivability. It wants a driver to approach it with confidence and a bit of an attitude. It’s built to be driven quickly and well. If you’re not into that, I’m sure there’s a purple Rolls Royce with your name on it.
With three laps around the small circuit, minus one to learn the corners, the test drive is more of a beak-wetting than a proper shakedown. Still, by lap two I’m more confident; the P25’s light weight, loads of power, acres of grip, and aggressive turn-in match it perfectly to the course’s tight corners and linked sweepers. The steering is an absolute joy, with transient responses following in lockstep, with body roll appearing as a feature rather than a bug. Shifts are quick as a monkey fart, although if you’re not used to the two-way paddle, it’s easy to bang off an accidental downshift.
Later on, when I’m on a hot lap with Higgins, it’s clear he’s at a driver’s feast. The car is perpetually up on its toes, and he’s making fingertip corrections. While the P25 is not for the average exotic-car shopper, it is the perfect exotic for a buyer who craves more engagement than a standard supercar can offer. It’s for a special kind of track-rat enthusiast for whom Subaru’s storied rally history brings more cache than Ferrari’s racing history does.
While the price is in the Ferrari range, Prodrive is only building 25 examples of the P25 in 2023, in both right and left-hand drive, all of which are accounted for. (As for whether it’s road-legal in America, that’s kind of unclear, although at least a couple of orders are going here; being a restomod, things could get murky there. I’d tell you to talk to Prodrive about it, but they are sold out.)
If you have to ask why a Subaru Impreza—ANY Subaru Impreza—might cost more than a condo in Massapequa Park, the Prodrive P25 will put a knot in your brain stem. If you keep a shrine to Colin McRae and Richard Burns, have a VHS collection of 1993-2000 Group A and World Rally Championships in a lock box; can rattle off every style of Impreza headlamp—from hawkeye through, I dunno, Steve eye?—and have a pile of cash, the reason is obvious. If you are one of those people, this is a juicy time to be your kind of motoring enthusiast.
Mike Spinelli needs no introduction, but I’m writing one for him anyway. The founding editor of Jalopnik, former editor-in-chief of 0-60 and co-host of the TV show /DRIVE on NBC Sports, he’s covered cars and car culture across just about every medium there is. —PG
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