A celebration in blue and gold© Subaru
Few sights get us more excited than a blue and gold Subaru ripping through a Welsh forest, scattering mud and gravel as flames erupt from its exhaust. Many great Subaru road cars were also inspired by rallying success – including the Impreza 22B seen above. Starting in 1989, we’ll take a journey through the greatest sporting Subarus. Sit down and strap in for a wild ride.
1989 Subaru Legacy RS© Subaru
The performance Subaru story began with the fairly innocuous first-generation Legacy saloon. It may have looked plain, but beneath the bodywork was a 220hp 2.0-litre turbocharged flat-four engine and four-wheel-drive combination that would become the trademark of the brand.
In January 1989, STI used four modified Legacy RS models to set a new world endurance record in the scorching heat of Arizona. Covering more thanr 62,000 miles across 20 days, the Legacy RS proved to be both quick and reliable, averaging a speed of 138mph.
1993 Subaru Legacy RS Group A© Silverstone Auctions
Marking the link between Subaru and Banbury-based Prodrive, the Legacy made a limited World Rally Championship debut in 1990. More WRC events followed in 1991 and 1992, with a certain Colin McRae picking up British Rally Championship titles in the same years.
However, 1993 would mark the introduction of sponsorship from the State Express 555 tobacco company, creating the now iconic blue and yellow livery. The year would also see the Legacy take Subaru’s first WRC win, with McRae tasting success on the Rally of New Zealand.
1993 Subaru Impreza 555 Group A© Subaru
Subaru did well with the Legacy, but the WRC field was turning towards smaller, nimbler cars. This made the recently launched Impreza perfectly placed to start competing, with its first outing at the 1993 1000 Lakes Rally. Starting as it would go on, the Impreza finished second on its debut, with Ari Vatanen proving the ability of the new car.
1994 Subaru Impreza Turbo 2000© Subaru UK
The Impreza was launched to UK buyers in 1993, but it wasn’t until May 1994 that the real fireworks began with the release of the 211hp Turbo 2000 model. Although the power output might seem tame today, at the time it pitched the Impreza into direct competition with the Lancia Delta Integrale and Ford Escort Cosworth.
It also looked apologetically drab, but performance of 0-60mph in 6.0 seconds, combined with the offbeat burble of the flat-four engine, helped the Impreza win fans.
1994 Subaru Impreza WRX STi© Subaru
Japanese buyers had been able to purchase a 240hp Impreza WRX saloon since late 1992, but 1994 saw the launch of the first STi-branded model. Built to order in limited numbers of 100-200 per month, the WRX STi gained a 10hp boost in power, courtesy of a special handmade version of the flat-four engine.
Also added were bigger alloy wheels, a taller rear spoiler, strut bracing for the suspension and new sport seats inside.
1995 Subaru Impreza Series McRae© Subaru UK
Just two years since the introduction of the Impreza, Subaru and Prodrive found World Rally Championship success in 1995. Colin McRae, with co-driver Derek Ringer, overcame retirements early in the season to beat teammate Carlos Sainz and clinch the WRC drivers’ title.
To celebrate the success of McRae and the Impreza, Subaru UK offered a limited edition of the Turbo 2000. Only 200 cars were produced, all wearing gold Speedline alloy wheels, dark blue paint, and special commemorative decals.
1997 Subaru Impreza Turbo 2000 Wagon© Subaru UK
The four-door Impreza Saloon may have been the one claiming wins on rally stages, but mere mortals could also have 4WD fun with a practical five-door hatchback/estate bodyshell. It may have looked slightly awkward, but the Impreza wagon brought greater boot space to the party.
Japanese customers were able to enjoy the five-door version in full-fat STi specification, which by 1997 had been pumped up to an impressive 280hp. The real figure was closer to 300hp, but claimed as lower to honour a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ with other Japanese manufacturers.
Subaru Impreza WRC 97© Subaru
With a new set of rules and regulations for the 1997 World Rally Championship, Prodrive picked the two-door Impreza coupe model as the basis for Subaru’s new WRC-specification car.
With less need for WRC cars to closely match their road-going counterparts, the WRC 97 featured wider bodywork, extra aerodynamic appendages, and a boost in power to 300hp. The Subaru team picked up another Constructors’ trophy, but Colin McRae would lose the Drivers’ championship by just one point.
1998 Subaru Impreza 22B© Subaru
Arguably the closest to a road-going Impreza rally car, the 22B was built to celebrate Subaru’s three successive WRC Constructors’ titles, and the 40th anniversary of the company. Limited to just 400 examples in Japan, the entire allocation of cars sold out almost instantly. A further 16 cars were imported to the UK under the Single Vehicle Approval scheme.
With a more powerful 2.2-litre version of the turbocharged flat-four engine, power was rated at 280hp with UK-spec cars capable of 0-60mph in 5.0 seconds. Yet it was the addition of the extra-wide bodywork from the WRC machines that made the 22B stand out. Today, values are more than twice the original £39,000 asking price.
1999 Subaru Impreza RB5© Subaru UK
Somewhat more affordable, but still highly regarded in Impreza folklore, the RB5 was launched to celebrate the return of the late Richard Burns to the Subaru WRC team. The 444 examples produced received metallic grey paint, titanium-finished 16-inch Speedline alloy wheels, special decals and unique interior trim.
An optional Prodrive WR package saw the addition of a new exhaust and modified ECU, boosting power to 240hp. A larger rear wing also came as part of the deal.
2000 Subaru Impreza P1© Subaru UK
With Subaru UK almost besieged by ‘grey imports’ of Japanese-specification Imprezas, Prodrive was once again called on to help. The plan was to offer an Impreza that matched the performance of the JDM machinery, but would meet all the relevant EU regulations.
Launched in May 2000, the P1 – standing for ‘Prodrive One’ – featured the 280hp engine used in the Japanese WRX STi. More important was the use of the two-door coupe body hell, with each of the 1,000 examples painted in Sonic Blue and fitted with 17-inch OZ Racing wheels.
2000 Subaru Legacy B4 Blitzen© Subaru
Proving that Subaru didn’t only concentrate on developing performance models of the Impreza, the third-generation Legacy received special treatment in 2000. Developed in collaboration with Porsche Design, the Blitzen featured a bodykit and set of alloy wheels developed by the German company.
Mechanically, the Blitzen matched the regular Legacy B4, meaning a twin-turbocharged 2.0-litre flat-four engine with 280hp was mated to an automatic gearbox. Naturally the power was sent to all four wheels, with the Blitzen offered in both saloon and estate bodies.
2000 Subaru Impreza WRX© Subaru UK
If the original Impreza had been labelled as bland, the second-generation car sought to change that immediately. Labelled the ‘Bug Eye’ Impreza, the large headlight units polarised opinion amongst Subaru fans. Also out were unique names for the UK market, with the Turbo 2000 now badged as a WRX – just as it would be in Japan.
Only marginally larger than the outgoing car, in the UK the new WRX retained the same 218hp 2.0-litre flat-four turbocharged engine as its predecessor.
Subaru Impreza WRC 2001© Subaru
With no two-door coupe in the ‘New Age’ Impreza lineup, Prodrive was forced back to the four-door saloon as the basis for its latest WRC contender. The body of the second-generation Impreza was reported to have been widened specifically to make it better suited for rallying use.
The looks may have been new, but beneath the surface the 2001 WRC car was mechanically similar to the previous generation. Richard Burns would go on to claim the Drivers’ title for Subaru, before departing for Peugeot at the end of the season.
2002 Subaru Impreza WRX STi© Subaru
British buyers had their first opportunity to purchase a proper Impreza WRX STi model in 2002, with the launch of a specific Type UK version of the four-door saloon. With a 265hp version of the turbo 2.0-litre flat-four that was almost 80 percent different to the normal WRX, and mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, the STi model was a substantial step up from the regular car.
An optional ‘Prodrive Style’ version added a giant rear spoiler, deeper front bumper and more shapely side skirts inspired by the WRC car. Inside was a riot of blue suede, with added extras including a button to spray water onto the intercooler.
2002 Subaru Legacy S401 STi© Subaru
Built as a celebration at the end of the second-generation Legacy, the Japanese-market only S401 was created with special help from STi. The 2.0-litre flat-four engine used sequential turbocharging to produce 293hp, and borrowed the six-speed manual gearbox from the new Impreza WRX STi.
With only 400 examples produced, the S401 is decidedly rare, but marked out by fancy 17-inch BBS alloy wheels, an STi-branded grille and a unique bonnet scoop.
2003 Subaru Impreza WRX STi© Subaru
Stung by the criticism of the new Impreza, Subaru acted quickly to create a facelifted version which went on sale in 2003. Designed by Peter Stevens of McLaren F1 and Lotus Elan fame, the ‘Blob Eye’ Impreza toned things down with a more conventional look.
The interior also featured a number of key tweaks, with the large Momo steering wheel replaced with a smaller diameter one more suited to WRC-esque arm twirling.
Subaru Impreza WRC 2003© Subaru
The 2003 changes to the Impreza clearly helped the WRC contender, with Norwegian driver Petter Solberg claiming the drivers’ championship in the same year. Solberg took things down to the wire, sneaking the title at the final round by just one single point over Sebastien Loeb. Another Manufacturers’ crown eluded Subaru though, with the team managing only third place in the standings.
2004 Subaru Impreza WR1© Subaru
Somewhat predictably, Subaru opted to reward Solberg’s success with another limited edition celebratory model. 1,000 examples of the WR1 were produced, with 500 alone sent to Prodrive to cater for the UK market.
Special Ice Blue paintwork, a stainless steel front grille, extra decals, and seven-spoke Prodrive alloy wheels were the important visual changes. Power was increased to 320hp, achieved by a new ECU and exhaust system, both of which needed to be fitted after registration to circumvent EU rules.
2005 Subaru Forester STi© Subaru
With an image considered somewhat leftfield, despite impressive all-terrain ability, the Forester SUV has been a niche product in the UK. However, in Japan it was still on the receiving end of the full STi treatment.
WR Blue paint and gold wheels may be obvious changes, but there was also a 265hp version of a 2.5-litre turbocharged flat-four engine, along with a six-speed manual gearbox.
2006 Subaru Impreza WRX STi© Subaru
Seemingly not content with just one mid-life facelift, Subaru had another go at the Impreza in 2006. This time the ‘Hawk Eye’ front end design was claimed to have been inspired by the aeronautical origins of the company, with a fuselage and wings formed by the grille.
Changes were also afoot beneath the bonnet, with the old 2.0-litre turbo engine now replaced by a bigger 2.5-litre unit. Standard power for the WRX STi was 280hp, but Impreza fans were more upset about the new exhaust system, which muted the classic flat-four burble.
2006 Subaru Impreza RB320© Subaru UK
Following the tragic death of Richard Burns in 2005 due to a brain tumour, Subaru decided to commemorate its most recent WRC champion with a limited edition Impreza WRX STi.
Featuring a Prodrive Performance Pack that boosted engine output to 320hp, along with Eibach suspension springs and Bilstein dampers, the RB320 was suitably impressive on the road. All cars came in Obsidian Black with black alloy wheels, plus stainless steel grilles.
2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI© Subaru
If Impreza fans had been shocked by the face of the second-generation car, the third-generation one rendered them speechless. Gone was the saloon, replaced with the sole UK offering of a conventional five-door hatchback. The frameless side windows were also ditched, and it left many wondering just what the WRX STI now stood for.
Some things did stay the same at least, with a familiar 2.5-litre flat-four engine underneath the bonnet, but this time producing 300hp. It was still four-wheel-drive, even if Subaru would announce its withdrawal from the WRC at the end of 2008.
2010 Subaru Impreza Cosworth CS400© Subaru UK
Possibly in a move to placate UK Subaru enthusiasts incensed by the hatchback-only third-generation, 2010 saw a new special edition Impreza created in collaboration with Cosworth. More famed for their work with Ford, Cosworth lived up to its reputation by producing an impressive 400hp and 400lb ft version of the flat-four Impreza engine.
A bigger turbo and uprated internals helped the CS400 do its thing, with 0-60mph taking just 3.7 seconds. Only 75 examples were produced, but a £49,995 price tag made it hard to stomach despite the performance on offer.
2011 Subaru WRX STI Saloon© Subaru UK
The four-door Impreza had never really gone away, having been offered in Japan and the USA from the outset of the third-generation car. By 2011 the saloon version was back on sale in the UK, but missing two key ingredients.
Firstly, there was no substantial rear spoiler bolted to the boot lid and, more significantly, the Impreza name tag was absent. Keen to further the WRX STI as its own brand, the Impreza name was now reserved for more mundane offerings. A hefty price increase was one of the few things the 2011 car did gain, though.
2014 Subaru WRX STI© Subaru UK
A fourth-generation of the car formally known as Impreza arrived in 2014. Even if the name was still missing, the giant rear wing had at least returned, and the 300hp 2.5-litre flat-four engine continued where the previous model left off.
The world had moved on though, with hot hatches like the Volkswagen Golf R offering the same 300hp and four-wheel-drive ability, but in an upmarket package. By comparison the WRX STI looked decidedly old-school, even if the driving experience was still fun.
2016 Subaru WRX STI Time Attack© Subaru USA
Despite waning interest in the UK, Subaru of America were still keen to promote the potential of the WRX STI. The result was a series of lap record attempts, including one for the Isle of Man TT Mountain Course. Manx rally driver Mark Higgins set a new record on the 37-mile long circuit in 2011, before bettering it in 2014 and again in 2016.
The same Time Attack WRX STI, driven by Richie Stanaway, also set a new saloon car record at Nurburgring in 2016. A lap time of six minutes 57 seconds was faster than a Porsche 918 hypercar around the German circuit.
2017 Subaru BRZ tS© Subaru USA
Proving that contemporary STI action isn’t all about the WRX, the BRZ coupe got some attention in 2017. The ‘tS’ part of the name stands for tuned by STI, but that didn’t mean any increase in power – perhaps the one thing BRZ fans wanted the most.
Offered for the North American market only, instead of more horsepower there is more carbon fibre in the form of a huge rear wing, along with improved brakes, bigger wheels and uprated suspension.
2017 Subaru Levorg GT BTCC© BTCC
Keen to reinforce the idea that Subaru was no longer about rallying and gold wheels, an entry into the 2016 British Touring Car Championship with the new Levorg was an unexpected move. Using a Mountune-developed 2.0-litre flat-four engine, but powering just the rear wheels, this was a radical departure.
While 2016 was a testing time, things came together in 2017 when Ashley Sutton claimed the Driver’s championship for the Subaru team.
2017 Subaru WRX STI Final Edition© Subaru UK
With Subaru deciding to bring the current WRX STI to an end in the UK, the last hurrah came with a limited edition of 150 cars. Being branded as the ‘Final Edition’ is certainly a definitive move, and buyers of the last cars benefited from a range of subtle modifications.
The centre differential is electronically controlled, there are larger 19-inch alloy wheels and the bigger Brembo brakes feature yellow-painted calipers. Power, of course, is from a 2.5-litre flat-four turbo engine.
2018 Subaru WRX STI RA© Subaru USA
Across the Atlantic, there is still life in the WRX STI, and Subaru is keen to celebrate its lap record successes. Enter the RA model, with the name standing for ‘Record Attempt’ and offering up a seriously modified machine.
Not only was the roof made from carbon fibre, but there was also Bilstein suspension, gold 19-inch BBS alloy wheels, a power boost to 310hp and a big rear spoiler. Just 500 American buyers will have the chance to claim an RA model, and then find somewhere to set their own lap records.
2018 Subaru Americas Rallycross WRX STI© Subaru USA
With popularity of the WRX STI still buoyant in the USA, it should be no surprise that Subaru of America has taken part in the Americas Rallycross Championship. The company already has form for this, with the Subaru USA Rally Team competing in various Rallycross disciplines since 2011.
The future for sporting Subarus© Subaru
The 600hp WRX STI rallycross machines also competed at the Speedmachine festival at Silverstone. We’re hopeful that Subaru’s long history in racing and rallying isn’t over yet – and that more fast and charismatic road cars will follow. The new BRZ coupe arrives next year, so fingers crossed for an STi version…