Doesn't matter though. For JDM fanboys this is one of the ultimate in Japanese exotica, a proper celebration of all that made the original Impreza such an icon.
Like all hero cars it's a dedicated ownership proposition though. Most folk won't tell it apart from any regular bewinged, burbly, blue on gold Impreza and yet it costs many multiples more, is constructed from bespoke and expensive parts and is harsh, single-minded and relentlessly full-on to drive.
It's the kind of car that begs to be driven hard and yet the thought of putting even a scrape on those probably irreplaceable body panels is enough to bring you out in a cold sweat, especially given the owner of this example has asked us to insure it for £50K and is standing nervously beside a twisting Sussex backroad as we circulate for photos, flat-four echoing off the steep-sided woodland bordering a very rally-stage like series of hairpin bends. Basically there is nothing whatsoever relaxing about the 22B, from either an ownership or driver perspective.
The 22B's exclusivity was assured from the start. Originally shown as the WRCar-STI at the 1997 Tokyo show it was offered for sale in production form as the 22B in March 1998 at a Japanese market price of 5m Yen - 2m Yen more than the contemporary two-door STI Version IV Type R on which it was based. The JDM production run of 400 apparently sold out in 24 hours nonetheless, 16 additional cars being built for the UK market, another five for Australia and three '#000' prototypes originally owned by Colin McRae, Nicky Grist and Prodrive's David Lapworth.
Subaru fans will be well versed in what makes the 22B so special but in case you're looking at it and thinking 'so what' here's a quick history lesson. First thing you'll notice is the flared bodywork inspired by the WRC cars of the day and a whole 80mm wider than a standard Type R. Like box-arched Integrales, Quattros, Escorts and the like this puts it in a very exclusive club of rally-inspired road cars. Front and rear valances, bonnet vents and that giant manually adjustable wing were all similarly inspired by, if not exact replicas of, those fitted to the rally cars and on the road it looks a whole lot more purposeful than any comparable Impreza.
Mechanically it was just as exotic, bored out to 2,212cc from the regular 1,994cc and designated EJ22 rather than EJ20 as a result. It got the same turbo as the 1997 STI but unique forged pistons and other internal components, the super short gearing the same as the contemporary Type RAs but driven by beefed up drive and prop shafts. Official horsepower as dictated by the restrictions of the time was 280hp with 267lb ft of torque delivered in a fat wedge from around 2,800rpm all the way to 5,200rpm. Redlined at 7,900rpm it wasn't as zingy as the most exotic EJ20s but punched a lot harder.
Suspension used unique forged aluminium lower links, rose-joined transverse links, inverted Bilstein dampers and unique Eibach springs and there were bigger brakes all round, fatter 235 section tyres on 17-inch wheels, a faster 13:1 steering rack and a host of other detail modifications. And a lot of STI branding.
The 16 22B-STI Type UK cars were SVA'd especially for the Scooby mad British market and got a revised 3.9 final drive against the JDM car's 4.444 for "relaxed high speed cruising" (all things relative), mph speedo, Thatcham alarm, MY99 headlights, additional rust proofing and Type UK branding on mats and badging. Priced at £39,950 you'd be hard-pressed to buy one for less today, even if you can find one.
If the clatter of the glass within flimsy feeling frameless doors and the almost apologetic cough on start-up are familiar to anyone who's ever driven a classic Impreza the heft to the controls and urgency of response is a bit of an eye opener.
Like many JDM specials of the period the chassis is punishingly stiff on British tarmac but with a bit of pace under the wheels it's not entirely unyielding. And it definitely doesn't take long to get a bit of that going.
Even in fifth gear this equates to rapid road pace, commitment to go much faster than this requiring gritted teeth and considerable mechanical harshness as the engine seemingly begs for the sixth gear that isn't there.
It's pretty exhausting and you could make similar progress in - picking an entirely random example - a Golf R without raising a bead of sweat. The less exotic and UK specific P1 is probably just as quick point to point, arguably just as capable and a decent one could be had for a quarter of the price. But in looks, manners and reputation the 22B stands apart and deserves its reputation as the hardest of the hardcore. That it makes you work for it just adds to the hero points.
SUBARU IMPREZA 22B
Engine: 2,214cc flat-4, turbocharged
Transmission: 5-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 280@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 267@3,200rpm
0-60mph: c. 5.0sec*
Top speed: 149mph*
On sale: 1998
Price new: £39,950*
Price now: More or less the same!
*Figures for Type UK car (with revised gearing), as tested by Autocar in December 1999
Watch Subaru's video here.
Photos: Anthony Fraser, dodgy numberplate blanking by Dan (sorry Anthony)
[Sources: Subaru, via YouTube]