It’s an eerie feeling to drive what seems like a revered icon you’re old enough to have experienced when it was brand new. This is a first for me as I’m too young to have ridden one of the classics from the 60s, 70s or 80s when they first launched. But now that the Subaru Impreza seems to have made the jump, I can join the “I was there” stamp club. It’s certainly hard to say the Prodrive P25 isn’t a premier league restomod given a price tag of over half a million pounds. Or that it has found a target given that the company claims to have already sold the full 25-car series.
Back when I had more hair and the music was good, I drove the two cars that largely inspired this one. The first was one of the first Impreza STI 22Bs to hit the country as a gray import—that is, the widebody rally rep that Subaru had created for itself. Then in 2000 came Prodrive’s similarly themed version, the P1. This combined the WRC-like two-door bodyshell which was not officially imported into the UK with power and chassis mods as well as full European homologation. It was one of the most successful cars of that era.
Nostalgia has already pushed the values of both variants much higher than they were when new. The most expensive P1 currently in the classifieds is a 15,000 mile for £65,000; the 22B alone is on offer for £213,000. That means you could have both for just over half the P25’s £552,000 starting price. It is the strange economy of limited series of special cars.
My training in the P25 was limited and done entirely on the small 0.8 mile outdoor handling circuit at the Millbrook Proving Ground. Which, fittingly, has been designed to replicate the challenge of a demanding British B-road. The experience was enough to get a good sense of how special the P25 is, as well as what’s both familiar and different from my memories of those original Imprezas. But certainly not a chance to back up Prodrive’s claims that it can deliver more performance than one of its original rally cars.
Eagle eyes will have noticed that a lot has changed since the P25 prototype premiered at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last year. The most obvious difference is up front; the prototype having what was apparently a carbon version of the original STI bumper, the new demonstrator having a new one, still in carbon, but with much larger openings. The finished car also gained new headlights with projectors inside – probably wise given the famous shortcomings of the original Impreza lights – with new LED units in the rear as well. It retains the minimalist WRC-style exterior mirrors and bespoke 19-inch 12-spoke alloys from the prototype with XL brake rotors gripped by AP six-piston calipers up front.
The P25 is a restomod rather than a new continuation model, meaning each will be based on an original two-door STI bodyshell that has been completely rebuilt. The demonstrator’s MOT history suggests it was first imported from Japan in 2014, and also had covered 158,817km when tested in June 2020. Since then it has been lovingly stripped down and rebuilt, with carbon fiber used for the roof, trunk, rear spoiler, fenders, bonnets and bumpers. Prodrive claims a weight of just 1200kg, which seems very svelte by modern standards – although the original 22B is officially only 70kg heavier.
More substantial changes have been made on the other side of the power-to-weight scale. The P25 uses a heavily reworked version of Subaru’s 2.5-liter EJ25, which has been treated with just about a full set of high-end parts – forged pistons, steel connecting rods, neatly ported cylinder heads and a swollen new Garrett turbocharger. It also has anti-lag to keep the turbine spinning when there’s no gas, although this is only available in what’s supposed to be the track-only Sport Plus mode.
Transmission is through a six-speed sequential gearbox and an electronically controlled active center differential. There is also an Akrapovi? exhaust system with titanium finish tailpipes. Last year Prodrive promised the engine would produce at least 400bhp, but that’s now been upgraded to an even more serious 450bhp, accompanied by at least 442 lb-ft of torque.
Entering the cabin is where the P25 begins to seriously diverge from my memories of the original Impreza. Even the fastest first-generation versions had the same low-rent plastic interior as the rest of the clan, but now almost every surface is covered in high-grade carbon fiber or Alcantara trim. Prodrive has done a serious job of rearranging the components, with a panel of miniature rocker switches on the center console – this freed up by the lack of a gear lever. There’s also a central touchscreen for a Pioneer infotainment system, plus a more impressive reconfigurable digital instrument pack. One detail seems incongruous: there is only one gearshift paddle, this one to the right of the steering wheel. Turns out that’s how all Subaru WRC sequential cars were built.
The P25 starts with a noisy mechanical idle and the first gear of the sequential transmission engages with a loud motorsport background noise. Yet from this point on, it begins to feel far more refined than first impressions would suggest. Engine noise is still present, but it doesn’t overwhelm all other sensations as it would in a pure competition car – it’s possible to have a conversation with a passenger while driving without the need for an intercom. Despite the lack of a manual gear lever, there is still a clutch pedal, but this only serves to roll the car or stop it. Once in motion, the transmission can be shifted without a clutch, and I soon get used to needing to pull the solo paddle rearward to shift and forward to downshift.
Dynamically, the P25 isn’t as playful as I remember the P1 was – thanks to considerably higher grip. But it’s much, much faster. It takes a little while for the boost pressures to build, but the engine pulls hard and doesn’t need to rev to start delivering serious craving. The P25’s redline is a relatively low 6,500 rpm; the 22B went to 7750rpm. But there’s so much mid-range torque that it doesn’t seem like a limiting factor, especially not on a tight circuit. The gearbox offers searing shifts and – on the faster stuff – fourth gear seems to pull just as hard as third. The brakes bit hard and there was no trace of fade.
Chassis discipline proved very impressive over Millbrook’s bumps and crests, with the combination of what feels like soft springs with no-frills Bilstein dampers. Compressions and bottoming are handled imperiously, body control over bumps and hard directional changes was brilliant. The P25’s enthusiasm for turning is quite original, largely thanks to the boxer engine’s low center of gravity.
The direction is the big difference. The stock Imprezas always had a slow patch around the straight, but that was engineered entirely into the P25. It feels properly composed, with direct responses and crisp comments. Traction was impressive across the board, but the demonstrator picked up understeer in heavily loaded corners, with limited ability to counteract thanks to the Impreza’s old trick of lifting the throttle to shift the handling balance rearward. To be honest, my turn came at the end of a group of journalists and the Bridgestone Potenza before the protesters definitely started to wither. Even a faster passenger ride with professional driver and rally veteran David Higgins had him struggling to get the front end to bite.
Is it as fast as a stock rally car? Without a WRC99 for back-to-back comparison, that’s an impossible question to answer, though I’d love the chance to return to umpire this contest. But it certainly offers more thrills than any of its famous road-going predecessors.
Is it worth the huge price? It’s a tougher call, but also a subjective call that Prodrive has effectively answered by selling the entire allowance. In a world where high-end restomods seem capable of commanding equally high-end cash, this makes at least as much sense as an all-new lightweight E-Type or DB4.
Specification | Prodrive P25
Engine: 2457cc flat-four, turbocharged
Gearbox: Six-speed sequential all-wheel drive
Power: 450 hp @ TBCrpm
Couple : >442 lb-ft @ TBCrpm
0-60mph: >3.0-sec (claimed)
Unloaded weight: 1200kg
Top speed: To confirm
MPG: To confirm
CO2: To confirm