– Millbrook, UK
In the 25 years since I first read about the Subaru 22B – when it shared the cover of CAR magazine in 1998 – it has been at or near the top of the list of things I need to drive before I die. Splitting the difference between rally titan and working-class supercar, the 22B was an ultra-rare homologation special that, frankly, never lost its position as the most desirable Subaru of all time.
Three laps into sampling Prodrive's modern reboot of the icon, however, and I'm starting to wonder if this P25 might be more than a pretender to that throne. Bodied largely in carbon fibre, with an exotically hand-built engine, fast-twitch reflexes, and a bad attitude, this is a sequel that could outshine the original.
|Quick Specs||Prodrive P25|
|Engine||Turbocharged 2.5-Litre H4|
|Output||444 BHP / 487 Pound-Feet|
|0-60 MPH||2.8 Seconds (est.)|
Gallery: Prodrive P25 First Drive Review
Upgrades That Matter
Prodrive has already sold the tiny production run of P25 models, so I can’t grouse too much about a limited engagement around one, tightly wound track at the Millbrook Proving Grounds. In fact, the car I’m driving is a development prototype, not a customer car. That, at least, takes some of the pressure off pushing as hard as I dare in a rally car that costs about £460,000.
It doesn’t take long to start to get the gist of this machine, anyway. Tucked under the P25’s carbon fibre bonnet is a heavily modified version of the Subaru "EJ25" turbocharged 2.5-litre boxer four. The powerplant has been upgraded in almost every conceivable way – rods, pistons, cam, cylinder head, injectors, intake, exhaust. you name it – to make a total of 444 bhp and 487 pound-feet of torque. Upon ignition all of that hard work comes to life with a deafening crack and snarl through an Akrapovic exhaust.
The 22B's manual gearbox has been replaced by a thoroughly modern, and slightly intimidating, automated manual transmission. The rally car-style unit has just one massive paddle shifter on the righthand side, with a matching automated manual clutch pedal. The clutch is electronically actuated, and needs only to be used when putting the car in first gear or reverse. The paddle shifter, meanwhile, is dead simple, requiring a pull towards the driver to upshift and a push away to downshift. As long as I’m rolling there’s no issue here, but I do manage to engage the anti-stall feature by forgetting the vestigial clutch pedal when stopping in the pits.
The exotic transmission isn’t there to compliment me as a driver, of course – just to crack off shifts as quickly as possible at speed. It’s a feature I really appreciate the first time I drop the throttle to the floor and watch the tach spin to life at an unbelievably rapid rate.
The closely stacked gears crack off like rifle shots as I finish my recon lap of the shorty handling track and start to explore the P25’s acceleration in earnest. An output of 444 bhp might not sound all that wild in today’s electrified world, but the lightweighting here is immediately evident from my first run up the gear ladder. The claimed 0-60 time of about 2.8 seconds is totally believable, especially considering the featherweight 1,150 kilograms (2,535 pounds) curb weight.
More impressive still is the way this short-wheelbase machine changes direction – I’m not sure that I’ve ever driven anything with quicker steering response. At our pre-drive briefing, rally champion Mark Higgins told us, "You don’t really drive it through the corners, you think it," an idea that’s gleefully hammered home the first time I touch the tiller. The very smallest input is rewarded with an immediate course correction; a kind of reaction time so instantaneous that it’s almost scary, until one reconfigures their senses around it.
And make no mistake, if you’re lucky enough to drive a P25, your senses will be fully engaged. Feedback is immediate and everywhere, at race car levels. Every bit of your body from your feet to fingertips is alive with an understanding about what’s happening under tyre. The uniquely designed Prodrive braking system, with bespoke discs and calipers, is powerful enough to haul one rapidly down from speed of course, but it’s the bite feel from the pedal that puts this car on another level.
Not For The Faint Of Heart
Collectors making the massive investment in P25 ownership should expect an experience unlike any other car – a monster in the shape of a vintage rally car, only just tame enough to drive on the streets. Each example is highly customisable, too, with Prodrive working alongside every owner to ensure their vehicle is exactly what they’d like it to be.
The prototype I’m in is a bit rougher in terms of interior fit and finish, for example, than a final customer car, but the basics are there. A spartan place of business with reassuringly deep racing bucket seats, a grippy Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel, drilled pedals, and a roll cage.
I’m not sure that I’ve ever driven anything with quicker steering response.
I did get a peek at some of the brochure materials that Prodive uses to guide owners through the build process, however. The cabin can be clad in a mix of Alcantara and Bridge of Weir leather with carbon fibre accenting. Rear seats can be had or deleted.
One can also specify any paint colour for the bodywork or for the wheels, though I’m told most people so far have gone with the custom shade of blue you see on the prototype (akin but not identical to the famed World Rally Blue). I’d have mine with gold wheels, naturally, but otherwise I think the demo car seems pretty perfect. Generally, the team seems amiable to working with customers to deliver on their exact vision of this dream. Half a million dollars buys one a lot of flexibility, I suppose.
In any case, the great all-around visibility and shapes of the original Subaru interior and iconic help to pay off the P25’s vintage vibes.
The Lucky Few
By the time you read this – hell, even before I wrote it – the entire allocation of 25 Prodrive P25s will have been spoken for. Pundits who doubted the viability of selling an “old Subaru” at this price point when the car debuted at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last year should be eating their words. The first customer cars are being built now, with deliveries carrying on through 2024.
Prodrive has demurred (so far) to comment on who has purchased a P25, though they did mention that "two or three" cars have been sold in the US. Should any of those owners read this review, hit me up – I’d love to buy you lunch in exchange for a few more miles behind the wheel of this very special car.
I can bet that those folks wealthy and lucky enough to put a P25 in their garage either has a 22B, or, like me, has been waiting a quarter century for the privilege of getting close.