There’s an unwritten rule that applies to fast Subarus: the longer the name, the better the performance. Just think of the Impreza WRX STI Type R, arguably the most focused version of the original GC8 type, and the hardcore Impreza WRX Type RA-R that can lap the Nurburgring faster than you can say its name. Granted, there are some exceptions, such as the S series and the mighty 22B, but, generally speaking, if you need to take a deep breath after telling people what kind of Subaru you drive, you’ve got something special on your hands.
That’s exactly what owners of the Impreza WRX STI tS Type RA NBR Challenge face when JDM fans walk past and inevitably ask: “what’s that, then?”. And you’d have to earmark a good half an hour of their precious time to explain exactly what it is, as the NBR marks a turning point in Subaru’s history. Many of us will consider Subaru’s glory years to be the 1990s and most of the 2000s, where blue saloon cars – and one hatchback – tore up rally stages across the globe, sealing three WRC drivers' and constructors' championships in the process. But the financial crash of 2008 put paid to Subaru’s WRC project and, crucially, it could no longer market the Impreza WRX as a road-going rally car.
So, at the turn of the decade, Subaru set about rebranding itself as a bit of a Nurburgring specialist. It managed to back that up by winning its class at the Nurburgring 24 Hour race in 2011 and 2012, with a lightly modified Impreza STI. And because Subaru loves an excuse to fire out a special edition, it marked its successful transition from gravel to tarmac with a run of hardcore Type RA models.
Most of the improvements were chassis related, with the upgraded dampers, springs and struts, along with a front strut brace. Up front is the JDM-spec 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot, rather than the more tuneful (but more temperamental) 2.5-litre unit found in UK cars. Power remains unchanged over the standard STI at 308hp, though it does come with beefier six-pot Brembo brakes and a new, faster ratio steering rack to improve responsiveness. In essence, the Type RA had pretty much every option in STI’s arsenal thrown at it, making it the most hardcore model in the third generation line-up.
Unless, of course, you opted for the NBR Challenge pack. It retained all the goodies of the Type RA, only with the addition of a carbon fibre rear spoiler and Recaro bucket seats on the inside. NBR cars also received 18-inch forged aluminium BBS wheels similar to those on the older S203 and S204, which came wrapped in stickier Bridgestone Potenza RE070 tyres. It’s littered with badges, too, with NBR Challenge stickers down the side, a carbon Type RA badge at the back and tS markings inside and out. What does tS stand for? Tuned by STI, apparently, which seems a tad excessive given there are just as many STI stickers dotted around the car.
Oddly enough, Subaru built 200 NBR Challenge cars and just 100 examples of the Type RA, both of which were sold exclusively in Japan. This one, however, has made its way over to the UK and is listed at a reasonable £39,990. That may seem like a hefty amount for what is ultimately a decade-old Impreza saloon, but the old Type RA-Rs have been edging closer to the six-figure bracket for some time now. So why not pick up something newer – and just as rare – for around half the price?
SPECIFICATION | SUBARU IMPREZA WRX STI tS TYPE RA NBR CHALLENGE
Engine: 1,994cc four-cylinder, turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 308@6,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 317@3,200rpm
Year registered: 2013
Recorded mileage: 57,000
Price new: £30,000 (Japan)
Yours for: £39,990
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