The ul­ti­mate STi – a per­for­mance water­mark so high that modern Subarus are still yet to sur­pass it

Motor (Australia) - - MEANWHILE OUT ON STAGE -

THEY had me at ‘22B’. Se­ri­ously, as a bloke who road-tested the very first WRXs and then STis in the day, the thought of com­ing face to face with an hon­est-to-god 22B was giv­ing me the metaphor­i­cal drib­bles.

While the 22B was a proper kitchen-sink ef­fort, it wasn’t built to sat­isfy any ar­cane ho­molo­ga­tion re­quire­ments. Nope, it was a cel­e­bra­tion car – mak­ing note of the fact that, in 1998, Subaru had just won three world cham­pi­onships on the trot.

To mark that oc­ca­sion, STi took a two-door Rex and grafted on big, fat boxed guards front and rear. With some care­fully con­sid­ered off­set on the 17-inch al­loys, it stretched the front track by 60mm and the rear by 100mm. To say this thing looks tough is an un­der­state­ment and, par­tic­u­larly from the rear, it’s all mus­cle and a warn­ing to oth­ers.

The 2.0-litre en­gine was hogged out to 2.2 (hence 22B), but there’s a lot more to it than that. In fact, the block it­self is dif­fer­ent with a closed-deck de­sign for rigid­ity. With more care­ful match­ing of port sizes, camshafts, com­pres­sion ra­tio and tur­bocharger, the EJ22 makes the same nom­i­nal (and un­der re­ported) 206kW, yet it man­ages an 8000rpm red­line.

Although sim­i­lar in spec to a Ver­sion 4 STi in­clud­ing the ac­tive cen­tre-diff, the 22 also fea­tured a seam-welded bodyshell as proof of how se­ri­ous STi was. Chuck in an ad­justable rear wing, a wa­ter spray for the top-mount in­ter­cooler and pull a bunch of weight out of it with a ban on sound dead­en­ing (and even delet­ing the spot­lights) and you had a 22B.

Take it as read that this grey im­port drives like a new 22B. But even that doesn’t con­vey how re­mark­able this thing re­ally is. Be­fore you’re even out of the car park, it’s ob­vi­ous that de­spite the stiff body, the 22B isn’t go­ing to rat­tle your brains. In fact, the ride is crazy good and, again, makes us ques­tion the cur­rent STi’s con­cretem­at­tress im­per­son­ation. But the steer­ing is equally friendly and the whole show is bal­le­rina-light on its toes, but never feels ner­vous. Like the Type R, the 22B is a stark re­minder of just how dev­as­tat­ing ex­cess weight is to dy­nam­ics and bal­ance.

Then there’s the en­gine. Now, I know modern tur­bocharged en­gines are good, but I’ll put it out there and say that none of them are any bet­ter than this one, and most of them aren’t as good. The mid-range is enor­mous, the low kerb mass and short gear­ing dis­guises any lag (if, in­deed, there is any) and there’s a fab­u­lous ex­haust note that is a mil­lion miles re­moved from the chaff-cut­ter per­sona of a nor­mal Rex with a drain­pipe zorst. The pedal place­ment is per­fect, the Momo is a scalpel and only a slight buzz from the gearshift tells you the car has done any kilo­me­tres at all.

When Subaru an­nounced the 22B in 1998, the 424 cars slated for pro­duc­tion sold out in 12 hours. De­spite a sticker of $132,000 in Aus­tralia, four or five cars did ac­tu­ally make it here while 400 were for Japan and the rest went to the UK. Two of which wound up in the hands of none other than Colin McRae and his co-driver Nicky Grist as a thank you. Nice.


MAINThis par­tic­u­lar car is a grey im­port (from Japan, of course) and has just 15,000km on the clock. Ba­si­cally, it still drives like newBOT­TOM LEFT The cabin, largely, but­ton free with the Momo steer­ing wheel and Re­caro bucket seats tick­ing off per­for­mance­ori­en­tated boxes

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