Super Subie: Catching Up With The WRC and Subaru Impreza 22B-inspired Prodrive P25 Prototype
Photography by Robb Pritchard
Petrolicious photography by Robb Pritchard
Others courtesy of Nick Dungan and Drew Gibson
If you’re a fan of Subaru and reading this, your favorite model is probably the Impreza 22B. A few decades ago the World Rally Blue beasts were a common sight tearing up the stages of the WRC, and they did it better than most with 46 wins delivered by drivers with names like McRae, Burns, Sainz, Kankkunen, Mäkinen, and Solberg. The Impreza is one of the WRC’s most successful cars, and the 22B road car that was built to celebrate the rallying success became an icon. It’s funny to some to think of Subarus from the 1990s as classics or collectibles, but the proof is in the prices—cosplaying McRae in a real 22B costs a few hundred thousand. The car pictured here looks the part, but it’s even more expensive.
Built by the same company that prepared the early Subaru success stories in rallying, the Prodrive P25 is the first comprehensive high-end restomod to wear a Subaru badge. Based on the styling of the 22B, but constructed almost entirely from carbon composites, the augmented bodywork is matched by a potent drivetrain packing 400hp and 442lb-ft of torque. It costs roughly $700,000, and all 25 cars are already spoken for. We caught up with the prototype P25 last weekend at Goodwood to go beyond the press release and get a closer look at this special Subie, including a chat with Richard Thompson, the chief engineer behind the car, as well as its test driver, Mark Higgins.
“Subaru” and “restomod” aren’t natural matches in the automotive lexicon, so before getting too involved with the machine itself, I simply wanted to know where it came from. “We can see how wildly popular companies like Singer are with their high-technology, highly refined back-dates,” Thompson explained, continuing, “With Prodrive’s thirty years of experience in top motorsport disciplines such as the WRC, touring cars, cross-country, and GT racing, we knew that with a restomod project we could make a very special car.” It’s easy enough logic to follow; if they can build championship-winners, they can probably muster up a decent road car.
But the P25 is far from being just a spruced up twenty-five year old car. It’s far from being just decent; 400-horsepower Subaru STIs are a dime a dozen, but there’s a difference between a tune that ups the boost pressure and a car that was built as a coherent whole from a company that all but put high-performance Subarus on the map. Indeed, engineers from almost every sphere of Prodrive’s vast pool of expertise were drafted in to develop the P25. “There were people working on just the anti-lag system, others on throttle maps, Ian Harris is the gear shift engineer who calibrated gear changes and launch control for the WRC cars from 2000 to 2008, and he did the same on this car. Arthur Shaw, head of Prodrive’s engine department, has been working on the new EJ25,” Thompson tells me. Nothing was untouched, and expertise was in no short supply.
For example, a test engine spent some four months on a transient dyno where engineers programmed test cycles—such as a whole race of Le Mans, why not?—and simulated every gear change, pit stop, and yellow flag. “But the engine is just one part of the car. We had a team for the center diff mapping, people designing the vehicle kinematics, others on damper and spring rates, to match them to the vertical stiffness of the tyre. Brakes, working out what brake pad materials will be best for the car, how much pressure, on so on… Point being, the P25 has been as intensely developed as any other car we work on.” The more he tells me, the more the supercar price tag makes sense; if you want the ultimate modern classic rally fighter for the streets, the buck stops at the P25.
The fact that its makers were also involved with the works rally team elevates the P25 from other restomods. It’s not just an homage with some easter egg styling details. There is real provenance in this car. Case in point, in a nice connection to the pasts of both Prodrive and Subaru, Peter Stevens, the man who penned the body kit on the rally cars, the 22B, and on a number of other WRX and STI models, helped with the styling of the P25.
But how does it drive? Well, I can’t answer that from experience just yet, but the initial appraisement after a couple of blasts up the hill at the Festival of Speed was done by Prodrive’s tester and former rally driver Mark Higgins, and his first impressions were glowing. “Even straight out of the box it’s incredible how well it feels, and I can’t believe the grip it’s got up the hill on road tires. Chassis wise, I don’t think there’s a massive amount of work to do. We’ve got some more power to come with the engine, more refinement in the electronics, for the electronic clutch control, and some minor work to do on the brakes and ergonomics, that’s all.”
And when the prototype is fully dialed in, he’s sure it will be a special car. “The process is to make it drive like a WRC car, and I am sure that down a tight and twisty lane it’s going to blow away any modern supercar. The P25 is a practical supercar.”
Joining Higgins input for the P25’s fine-tuning will be a full roster of world-class drivers. Nine-time WRC champion Sebastien Loeb is now a contracted Prodrive driver (piloting the Prodrive BRX in the Dakar) will get seat time, as will Jonny Adam, a factory Aston Martin driver, who will get behind the wheel to make sure its tarmac handling capabilities will be on par with its rally stage prowess. For the next few months they and other test drivers will be working with the engineers on details like throttle pedal mapping and center diff mapping, which can be best done in a real world setting. “The end result will be that the car is really stable, that it always does what you expect of it,” Thompson summarizes.
“Where did the 25 Impreza shells come from?” I asked. “For the past 18 months we’ve been searching for the best GC8 [two-door Imprezas of this generation] donor cars with zero rust on them. They do still exist, and honestly, it is a little sad to strip them,” Thompson explains. “We media blast the body shells, dip them, apply any remedial work if it’s needed and modify them slightly for the new EJ25 engine. Also there are some kinematic changes and others for the gearbox installation, the turbo, wiring loom, and dash displays. The build time for the cars is very labour intensive, but with the quality of the parts and the sum value of our thirty years experience going into these cars, what you will end up with is a very high value machine.”
A few little stats of this special car: under the carbon fiber hood is a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder EJ25 boxer engine with variable cam tuning fitted with a Garett turbo with anti-lag so that it puts out around 400bhp and 600Nm (~442lb-ft) of torque. This is mated to a six-speed X-shift gearbox with semi-automatic paddle shift. Gear changes are helped by an AP Racing twin-plate clutch and for rally car style handling an active and adjustable electronic center diff. To keep the weight down, nearly all of the bodywork (including the hood, trunk, wing, side skirts, mirrors, and the roof panel) is made from carbon fiber composites, such that the whole package weighs around 2,650lbs. Stopping power is provided by 380mm vented six-pot brakes on the front axles and 350mm four-pots on the rears. It has a seriously impressive 0-62mph time of just 3.5 seconds, but Richard thinks that on competition spec tires it could get that down a few tenths, even further into supercar territory.
Only twenty-five examples will be made and despite a fair few disparaging remarks on social media, they won’t all be kept parked up accruing value in collections. “I know for a fact that they will be driven at track days and will be on a frozen lake in Scandinavia somewhere. I am happy to say that they are going to be enjoyed by enthusiasts!” Thompson says with genuine excitement. After all, this is Prodrive, and they aren’t really in the business of making garage queens.