11 February 2021

Emerging classic and rally hero: Subaru Impreza

The Audi Quattro and Lancia Delta Integrale are road-going all-wheel drive rally cars that have already established their classic status. The next emerging, turbocharged cab off the classic rank is surely the Subaru Impreza.

Initially launched into Europe in 1992 with a range of naturally aspirated engines in saloon and estate form, the Impreza failed to set pulses racing. That was OK though, as it wasn’t supposed to. However, turbocharging did for its image what Cosworth did for the Sierra. 1994’s Turbo 2000 model, as it was known in the UK, brought motorsport to the commute.

The go-faster WRX and STi models were available in the Japanese domestic market prior to the UK launch of the Turbo 2000. As a general rule of thumb, a WRX will be a ‘grey’ import while the Turbo is a UK car from new. Any potential confusion is fairly representative of a vast and complicated range of special editions destined for various parts of the world, but let’s focus on the important, oily, bits.

The turbocharged cars featured a flat-four Boxer engine, meaning that two pairs of pistons move in opposing directions from a central crankshaft, instead of up and down as in a conventional four-cylinder. This gives a lower centre of gravity and smooth revving characteristics ideal for motorsport, and it’s this which exploded UK interest in the marque and inspired a loyal following. Plus, of course, an all-wheel drive system featuring a viscous coupling centre differential and a limited-slip unit in the rear.

Colin McRae’s 1996 WRC car sold for £230k around 3 years ago. Now, however, as an indicator of the rapidly growing interest in the cars, rare roadgoing models such as the 22b have exchanged hands for over £100k.

A standard UK Turbo 2000 was rated at just under 210bhp, with the WRX cars supposedly closer to 240bhp. All offered 0-60mph figures of sub-6 seconds. The range continued to expand and evolve until 2000, when the next generation cars were launched. Power steadily increased throughout the production run and by the late ‘90s you could buy an Impreza that came with a fully forged engine and over 300bhp as standard.

During its lifespan, various limited-edition models appeared, including cars equipped with blueprinted engines or carrying the name of celebrated partners such as Prodrive, which of course helped Colin McRae become the UK’s first World Rally Champion in 1995. These limited-edition cars carry the loftiest values (although we’d say that even these could be susceptible to the rusty rear suspension turrets and sills that beset so many early Imprezas).

Sought-after models include the 22b, a wide-bodied, spoiler-sporting celebration of Subaru’s third WRC manufacturers’ title, and the P1; a two-door limited-run Prodrive-influenced rocket ship. If you’re a fan of subtlety, the RB5 may be more up your street, or farm track: a four-door saloon with only slight visual cues as to its commemoration of the late Richard Burns’ return to the WRC team.

If you were looking for an homage to ‘90s rallying, where would your money go; Impreza, Evo, Escort Cosworth or maybe the bad boy of the bunch, the outlawed Celica GT4?