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1998 Subaru WRX STI 22B: driving your heroes

By Scott Newman, 25 Oct 2018 Features

1998 Subaru WRX STI 22B driving your heroes feature

Rally hero every bit as good to drive as you’d hope

Never meet your heroes, that old chestnut. It often rings true when it comes to cars, though.

I have friends and colleagues that have driven iconic supercars that steer like trucks and muscle cars that wouldn’t pull the skin off warm milk yet were still under-braked. Bad examples? Perhaps, but also a sign that the relentless onslaught of automotive progress takes no prisoners.

So it was with trepidation that I climbed into the driver’s seat of the Subaru WRX 22B STI used for the ‘30 Years of STI’ feature you’ll find in our November issue. I wasn’t writing the feature, I didn’t need to drive it, but Morley (who was and did) wasn’t having it: “when are you going to get another chance?” Fair enough.

A quick refresher. Contrary to popular belief – and plenty of poorly researched articles – the 22B was not a homologation car. The new World Rally Car rules, introduced in 1997, were intended to do away with such nonsense, requiring manufacturers merely to base their rally car on a model of which 25,000 had been produced, of which 2500 had to use the base engine.

From there, manufacturers could go wild, adding turbos, all-wheel drive, flared guards and wings. The only real restrictions were a 2.0-litre engine with a 34mm inlet restrictor, length greater than 4000mm, maximum body width of 1770mm and track widths of 1550mm.

The fact the 22B has a stroked 2.2-litre turbocharged boxer engine should be the first clue as to its lack of homologation intent. It’s also arguably the highlight of the car. Remember how GC8-series STIs needed a fair slug of revs before they really got going? Not the 22B. Lag is minimal and the boost threshold is low, a fat mid-range making the most of the short gearing of the light weight (just 1270kg).

Its boxer burble is spot-on and the flexibility of the engine and sweet gearshift make it a doddle to drive. This car is immaculate, essentially museum-worthy, so no hard cornering is attempted, but there’s so much feedback through the beautiful Momo wheel, the slightest movement eliciting a reaction.

The 22B’s most surprising strength is its ride quality. It may have been firm by 1999 standards but it’s supple, breathing with the road with a fluency a lot of modern cars lack.  In short, the 22B is as good to drive as it is to look at, those massively pumped guards, high-rise wing and blue-over-gold scheme turning those of a certain generation (i.e. me) weak at the knees.

Its status and rarity always made the 22B hugely appealing, but having now driven one it has to command a spot in my dream garage. To petrolheads who grew up watching the golden era of the WRC and playing Colin McRae Rally and Gran Turismo it’s the equivalent of a GT-HO Phase III or Torana A9X and I know if I had the means, I wouldn’t hesitate to spend silly amounts of money to secure one.

Engine: 2212cc flat-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Power: 206kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 363Nm @ 3200rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Weight: 1270kg
Price: $132,000 (new)