It's Time We Stop Calling The Subaru WRX A Rally Car For The Road

Opinion / Comments

Subaru isn't even in the top 5 WRC Constructors of all time.

I can already see hear the stampede and see the vape clouds on the horizon as Subaru fanboys start hunting me down, but I'm going to come out and say it. Your 2022 Subaru WRX is not a rally car for the road. Heck, it isn't even a rally car at all. The embargoes lifted earlier this week on the first driving impressions of the all-new Subaru WRX, the second generation since the moniker went standalone after being offered as a performance trim on the Impreza for little more than two decades. All across the internet I saw headlines calling it a "rally car for the road", and it got me thinking, when last did I hear or see anything about Subaru competing in the World Rally Championship? You know, the pinnacle of rallying where the original WRX and WRX STi made themselves famous?

CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright

We all know the history of the nameplate, how Subaru took the Impreza racing and called it the WRX, short for World Rally eXperimental. A turbocharged Boxer motor, all-wheel drive, and some of the most incredible driving talent behind the wheel in a guy by the name of Colin McRae made the WRX and WRX STI instant heroes. The fact that WRC cars had to be homologated meant that you could buy a streetcar that was 90% of the race car, and the stories of late-'90s and early-2000s WRXs and STIs eating supercars for breakfast on the street cemented that this was definitely a real racecar. But Subaru hasn't competed as an official constructor in the WRC since 2008. Moreover, Subaru only has 3 Drivers' and 3 Constructors' titles to its name, and it hasn't won a WRC title since 2003. That's almost two decades now.

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Subaru
Subaru
Subaru
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"Race car for the road" or "rally car for the road" sounds epic, and they're both great marketing taglines that hailed from the days when "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" was a real thing. But despite not having competed in WRC for 13 years, many still regard Subaru as the king of rallying. I've got news for you: Subaru isn't even in the top 5. Lancia, Citroen, Peugeot, Toyota, Ford, and Volkswagen all have more rally titles to their names than Subaru does. Audi, synonymous with rally because of the utterly dominant Audi Quattro, only has 2 WRC titles to its name.

As much as I adore the Subaru WRX and the STi, and oh boy, do I love how they both feel to drive, calling them rally cars for the road is like calling the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross a car that fans of The Fast and the Furious ought to consider.

Subaru
Lancia
Audi
Audi

"But Roger," I can hear you furiously typing away, "the new WRX even has black wheel arch cladding so it can handle dirt roads." No, the new WRX has unpainted black cladding because the texture of it is better for aerodynamic purposes, with those dimples reducing turbulence around the sides of the car. Most don't, but I actually like those black arches. And I like that the new WRX has an extra half an inch worth of ground clearance compared to the old model. If anything, that would make it more fun to hoon down a dirt road than any other modern performance car aside from perhaps a Hyundai Kona N. But it's not a rally car, not anymore. It's not even eligible to compete in the WRC.

CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright
CarBuzz / Ian Wright

Subsequent to Subaru's withdrawal from the WRC, the rules surrounding the sport have changed, limiting the size of the engines manufacturers can use to 1.6 liters in displacement. There are strict rules surrounding the engines, the size of their turbos, and of course, the homologation of competition vehicles. That means road-going cars have to be produced in a similar spec, and Subaru simply doesn't have anything that could cut it to once again be considered a genuine rally car maker. In fact, the closest thing you can get to a true rally car for the road isn't even sold in the USA. The Toyota GR Yaris was actually developed for rallying specifically, which is why its three-cylinder engine is immensely powerful and why its AWD system is capable of doing donuts as well as tearing up the drag strip. That same tech will make its way into the new GR Corolla, which means that Toyota will have a greater claim to building a rally car than Subaru in the same vehicle class.

Toyota
Toyota
CarBuzz
CarBuzz

I will concede that there's a slight flaw in my logic, and that's because the Subaru WRX STI is still very much used in some form of rally competition. Rally America is a popular rally championship series hosted in the United States since 2005. That series has a strong history of Subaru-driving champions, and no less than 12 of the 14 championships were won by a Subaru, and 11 of those by a WRX STi. You'll still find WRX STis in the ARA National Rally Championship, too, where, in 2021, they took all three steps on the podium and have dominated for the last few years.

But the Subarus that took part were road cars turned rally cars, not the other way around, again supporting the notion that the WRX is not a rally car for the road and hasn't been for quite some time. It does, however, make a great platform for those who want to go racing.

I'm by no means suggesting that the WRX isn't a phenomenal car, and I'd have the previous generation in a heartbeat. I think the new one is going to be epic, too. I lust after having an EJ-powered STI in my garage at some point in my life, and I think they're great cars that still punch above their weight, even if an Audi RS3 and Mercedes-AMG CLA 45 now produce more power and are vastly superior straight line machines. Subaru has managed to still produce a car that connects with the driver and makes you feel like you are one with the machine, and for that, I will always praise the WRX and STi. But for the sake of accuracy, and for the sake of not purporting myths as truths, can we please stop calling the WRX a rally car for the road?

2018-2021 Subaru WRX STI Grill CarBuzz
2018-2021 Subaru WRX STI Front Angle View CarBuzz
2018-2021 Subaru WRX STI Rear View CarBuzz
2018-2021 Subaru WRX STI Rear Angle View CarBuzz
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CarBuzz / Ian Wright

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2018-2021 Subaru WRX STI Grill
2018-2021 Subaru WRX STI Front Angle View
2018-2021 Subaru WRX STI Rear View
2018-2021 Subaru WRX STI Rear Angle View
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