Motorsport specialist draws inspiration from Subaru Impreza 22B and World Rally Cars with exclusive £552,000 road-racer

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Before we get started, let’s get one thing straight: the car you’re looking at here isn’t a restomod.

Sure, at a glance, the Prodrive P25 is a doppelganger of the 1998 Subaru Impreza 22B, a Japanese icon of near-mythical status of which just 424 examples were built, only 16 of them coming to the UK. Yet despite the same bulging wheel arches, high-rise rear spoiler and metallic blue paint, the similarities between this dynamic duo are almost coincidental.

You see, the P25 is neither restored nor modified – it’s virtually an all-new offering. Yes, it’s built on the bare bones of an Impreza, but almost everything else is bespoke, from the top of its carbonfibre body to the sump of its turbocharged 2.5-litre flat-four engine.

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It has been designed not as an update of a classic but to mark the 25th birthday of the Prodrive-prepared Impreza WRC97, Subaru’s most successful single-season rally car. Notching up eight victories across the 1997 campaign (one for Piero Liatti, two for Kenneth Eriksson and five for Colin McRae), it was also the machine that sealed the brand’s third and final WRC constructors’ crown. So, something worth celebrating then.

We’ve already been treated to a deep dive into the P25 by Prodrive chairman David Richards and engineering chief David Lapworth (Autocar 12 July), but this is the first time we’ve had some serious time behind the wheel on both road and track.


02 Prodrive P25 review 2023 front cornering

It’s worth briefly reminding ourselves what we have here, because there’s a lot to take in.

Structurally, the P25 is built on the same two-door Impreza WRX STi platform that formed the basis of the WRC97, but from there on in it’s completely different.

For the true rally-replica experience, customers can choose to give the front-seat passenger a separate digital instrument cluster and a foot-operated button for the horn.

As with the original, freelance design guru Peter Stevens had a hand in the exterior design, but here the body panels are pretty much all carbonfibre.

Under the skin, there’s a development of Subaru’s current ‘EJ25’ 2.5-litre boxer engine that gets everything from revised internals (forged pistons, unique camshafts, ported cylinder heads and high-flow injectors) through to a new wiring loom, a new cooling system and a bespoke Akrapovic exhaust.

The engine drives through a Prodrive-designed paddle-shift six-speed dog ’box that’s mated to a permanent four-wheel drive transmission with an electronically controlled centre differential and mechanical locking units between the front and rear axles.

Elsewhere, the suspension is a fully adjustable in-house design with lightweight components and Bilstein springs and dampers.


05 prodrive p25 review 2023 engine 0

Settle into the low-slung driver’s seat and your view ahead is both familiar and different. The dashboard architecture is all Impreza, but there’s a TFT digital dial pack nestled within the instrument binnacle, a large column-mounted paddle shifter and a gorgeous, suede-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel.

Flick a small switch on the centre console to prime the ignition, thumb the starter and the boxer bursts into life, settling to a buzzing, rasping idle.

The clutch is electronically actuated, so there’s no way to feel the biting point, but once you’re moving, you can ignore the left pedal altogether as you simply pull or push the paddle for your next upshift or downshift.

That said, the transmission requires some coaxing to get the best out of it. Straight-cut gears mean the system is constantly whining, gnashing and chuntering away, and if you forget to keep it loaded with a little throttle during upshifts, you will be treated to epic driveline shunt and a noise like a mouse farting. Learn to work with it, however, and the changes through the short, closely stacked ratios are quick and near-seamless – a perfect combination for an engine that delivers ferocious and vocal progress.

In the default Road driving mode, there’s a little less than 400bhp and response that’s sharp rather than electrifying. Select Sport or Sport Plus and you get the full 450bhp and a rabidly savage riposte to the smallest flex of your right foot.

You want more? In the latter mode, you can access the anti-lag system, which keeps the turbo spinning off-throttle by injecting fuel to flame-spitting, shotgun-blasting effect – although for the sake of your frazzled senses, you will want to use it sparingly.

In either of those modes, the P25’s pace is eye-widening, its trick four-wheel drive system ensuring that every last horsepower is translated into slingshot acceleration, the searing pace accompanied by a crackling, saw-toothed sonic backdrop familiar to anyone who has spent time stage-side at Sweet Lamb or St Gwynno.

So quick is the P25 down the straights that your first stab of the brakes is likely to be a heart-in-mouth moment, the unassisted AP Racing system requiring thigh-bursting pressure to achieve meaningful retardation. Once you’ve got used to the physicality required, though, the anchors deliver tireless power and perfect progression.


01 Prodrive P25 FD BBDC Anglesey 2023 front cornering

Aim the P25 at a series of bends on the road and you will discover that it’s very much a steer-and-go sort of machine, the gumball grip and terrific traction meaning that understeer and oversteer are more theoretical concepts than dynamic traits you have to deal with.

The steering is light, quick and chatty, while the damping slips sublimely from firm to fluid as speeds increase, making the P25 a potent and precise way to cover ground on our wet and winding Welsh test route.

It’s not a particularly expressive car out here, but its speed and sense of occasion are unrivalled, the combination of rat-a-tat rally soundtrack and explosive performance meaning it’s hard not to laugh out loud when you’re pressing on.

Yet to really get under the skin of the P25, you need to hit the track – although once you’re there, a recalibration of driving technique is required to get the best out of it.

Treat this car like most high-performance metal, gently easing up to its limits using smooth, measured inputs, and it feels truculent and one-dimensional, understeering into, through and out of corners. Instead, you have to wrestle it like you imagine a real rally driver would, which means a bit of bravery and an unwavering commitment to your braking and throttle inputs.

Approaching a corner, you need to brake as late and hard as you dare, then keep some pressure on the middle pedal as you turn in to shift weight over the nose and float it towards the apex with a decent dose of trail-braking attitude. Once it’s pointing roughly in the right direction, get hard on the throttle and let the trick diff do its thing, the P25 sliding forwards and sideways with a lovely four-square attitude towards the corner exit, occasionally requiring just a touch of corrective lock.


prodrive p25 review 2023 rear static

You will still be way off the commitment, speed and skill of a true WRC ace, but the P25 gives a delicious taste of what they’re going through when they’re in steely-eyed stage mode.

It’s hugely immersive and challenging, encouraging you to up your game to match its abilities and ensuring that when you do eventually clamber out, you will be as exhilarated as exhausted.

Of course, this experience doesn’t come cheap: the P25 weighs in at an eye-watering £552,000. You would need to be very committed to use it every day too, its handy dimensions and peerless point-to-point pace offset by levels of noise, vibration and harshness that should warrant a free ibuprofen prescription.

Yet the P25 has impeccable provenance, rarity and, in the right circumstances, a driving experience like no other.

James Disdale

James Disdale
Title: Special correspondent

James is a special correspondent for Autocar, which means he turns his hand to pretty much anything, including delivering first drive verdicts, gathering together group tests, formulating features and keeping Autocar.co.uk topped-up with the latest news and reviews. He also co-hosts the odd podcast and occasional video with Autocar’s esteemed Editor-at-large, Matt Prior.

For more than a decade and a half James has been writing about cars, in which time he has driven pretty much everything from humble hatchbacks to the highest of high performance machines. Having started his automotive career on, ahem, another weekly automotive magazine, he rose through the ranks and spent many years running that title’s road test desk. This was followed by a stint doing the same job for monthly title, evo, before starting a freelance career in 2019. The less said about his wilderness, post-university years selling mobile phones and insurance, the better.