Car reviews

Driving the Prodrive P25 brought out my inner car-crazy kid

by Ben Woodworth
24 July 2023 3 min read
Driving the Prodrive P25 brought out my inner car-crazy kid
All photos courtesy Subaru

It had only been two hours since I’d touched down in London on an overnight flight. Still foggy, I walked up to the left-side door of the Prodrive P25. “Sir, it’s right-hand drive,” the company engineer politely pointed out.

Typical. Yank shows up in England for the Goodwood Festival of Speed to drive a £550,000, limited-production Subaru restomod and immediately embarrasses himself. Of course, if you’re one of the 25 people lucky enough to have ordered a P25, the modification and engineering experts at Prodrive will make it for you in right- or left-hand drive.

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The inspiration for this very special Subie is the legendary 22B STI, the late-’90s super-Impreza built to commemorate 40 years of the brand as well as its third consecutive World Rally Car championship title. At first glance, the P25 looks almost exactly like a 22B, the only glaring difference being the lack of gold BBS wheels. It weighs even less in reality – around 1,200kg – thanks to Prodrive’s extensive use of carbon fibre composite for the front and rear quarter panels, bonnet, boot lid, roof, sills, bumpers, and rear wing.

I know a bit about the 22B – that it “officially” made 276bhp from its boosted flat-four, that Subaru only made 400 of them, that it was fitted with a five-speed H-pattern manual transmission. The Prodrive P25 is more expensive, more exclusive, and with more than 400bhp a lot more capable. It’s a long, long, way off from any ordinary Subaru Impreza, the 2.5 RS version of which has always been a dream car of mine.

I sat down in the snug driver’s seat and had a look around, confused. Humbled again – no gear lever!

The Prodrive rep gently reminded me the P25 was fitted with a six-speed sequential racing gearbox, operated by a single paddle shift and an automated manual clutch. In the absence of a traditional shifter (not to mention two handbrakes: one for parking and one for initiating slides) the P25’s clutch pedal had been throwing me for a loop, but I came to learn its two simple applications: It only needs to be depressed to access first gear from neutral, or for returning to neutral when you want to come to a stop. The paddle behind the steering wheel selects the next gear up.

Briefing complete, I lurched forward and pulled out onto the Millbrook Proving Ground, which has a dizzying mix of access roads and test tracks of all sorts. There was a special section reserved just for us. I pulled into the right lane and started into the traffic circle (we call them roundabouts, Ed) – again making a fool of myself. Ever-gentle, my Prodrive co-driver pointed out that I was going the wrong way. Adjusting accordingly, I successfully navigated the traffic circle at a slow speed before exiting and heading to the test track.

Once there I let loose, stunned by the P25’s ripping performance. Even in the hands of an amateur it immediately makes you feel like a race car driver – the instantaneous throttle response, the shifting of helical-cut gears that happen in a mere 80 milliseconds, the insane grip of the Bridgestone Potenza Sport tires. (You can read a full breakdown of the P25’s specs here, from its launch event at last year’s Festival of Speed.) The P25 accelerates with brutal ease and hugs every corner. By the fourth lap I was becoming addicted to every thrilling sensation, plotting ways to quit my job, make a quick half-mil, get my hands on this car full-time. I was a kid again. And like a kid, I was oblivious to the full scope of the P25’s performance potential.

To show us what the car was truly capable of doing in the proper hands, Subaru and Prodrive arranged for eight-time Rally America champion and two-time ARA champion, David Higgins, to take us for a few hot laps. I’m not even sure Higgins pushed the P25 to its the absolute limit, given this was an engineering prototype of a wildly expensive limited-run car, with a passenger he had literally just met clenching every muscle in his body a mere foot away. Even in that context, what Higgins did behind the wheel went far beyond any existing concept I had about speed on four wheels.

I unconsciously giggled through every tight turn as the rear of the P25 slid sideways, quickly regained traction, and rocketed toward the next turn. My smile grew wider when my head snapped forward as Higgins slammed on the brakes, dipped the nose of the car forward and effortlessly maneuvered through the tight chicane at the end of the longest straight on the course. It was pure, violent, unadulterated bliss. And an experience I won’t soon forget.

Needless to say, my few laps with Higgins had fully shaken me from my jet-lagged stupor. What a glorious tribute Prodrive has delivered in honor of a Subaru I’ve long loved. The whole experience brought me a renewed sense fun, of the joy that driving can provide. Once the adrenaline subsided, I resolved to stay at my job, but maybe spend my few lunch breaks browsing the classifieds for a used 2.5 RS. Even with an STI engine swap in it, a P25 it would never be. But even a wisp of my jet-lagged stint in Prodrive’s crazy creation would be a memory worth returning to.

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