In the dim and distant past, before people started getting excited about electric cars, global warming and other such things, some cars just had… muscle. Not in the sense that a Shelby Mustang has, whose sheer raw power reduced strong men to whimpering and weakness of the knees, but in the sense that whatever pulled up beside you at the traffic lights whether it had a horse on the hood or not, if you were sitting in even a relatively modest Subaru, most of the time you could be pretty confident that you were going to knock blisters off whatever was alongside.
Subaru with their iconic badge, originally based on the Pleiades star cluster, and with an undisputed rally pedigree have been embarrassing the Italians and even the iron men from Stuttgart for years – and they’re very good at it.
What Are The Fastest Subaru Cars?
In this article, we are celebrating the rally pedigree and sporting heritage of Subaru by looking at 10 of the fastest Subarus ever to grace the tarmac (or the gravel, in some cases!)
With a highly competitive rally pedigree, all of these cars aren’t just for anoraks or school-run jockeys; although they are all quite well-behaved in urban environments as well as injecting adrenalin on racetracks or winding mountain roads.
So, from the top, let’s take a look and identify the best of the best. Some or perhaps almost all of the following applies to each featured vehicle so do forgive a wee detour to begin with. In earlier, Neolithic times, getting a Subaru to start and do what you wanted often required, if not a degree in mechanical engineering, at least a working knowledge of the vehicle’s Dynamic Control System, ubiquitous on a number of the cars featured here. Older models had a key to start it up.
You were then presented with a series of options. How much traction control, front or rear wheel power transfer – in manual mode there are up to six possibilities. Then you have to choose the throttle response – sporty, extra sporty or ‘intelligent’. Put simply this meant that the car’s response time could be managed by how hard and for how long you put your hoof down. Subaru have perfected this and on later models, it adds a blast of high tech to an already feature-rich vehicle.
How do we determine the fastest ten of all time? First off, we have to discount hybrids. By this, we have to look at a pure-bred Subaru, not one which has been cross-bred with a Toyota, for example. Secondly, figures vary and what people think is important depends on who is collecting the stats.
Manufacturers have been known – what insolence – to massage their figures in light of whatever their perceived competitor is doing. Also, torque varies depending on the rpm chosen to measure it, for example and brake horsepower is only a comparative metric because the cars have curbside weight, different engine sizes and may be differently aspirated. Sticking with the pedigree then ‘how fast’ should be something easily measurable and reproducible. So, perhaps a look at the spine-wrencher. How fast are they out of the starting gate? To keep it simple, Europeans use 0-100km/h and Nm for torque.
The British and Americans use 0-60mph – it really should be 0-62 – and lb-ft so we’ll stick with that.
And – as with all the best beauty contests – we’ll count down in reverse order.
#10 – 2010 Legacy 2.5 GT Limited – (0-60 5.8s)
The 2.5L turbocharged flat-four engine pushes out 258 lb-ft worth of torque and 265 bhp. You can get hold of them with an automatic box, but the 6-speed manual does the business more than adequately and people who buy Subarus think that only wimps and old ladies drive cars with automatic gearboxes.
People say that if you can find one of these with a still-working clutch, it’s a serious contender in the second-hand car market. The reason for saying this is that almost all Subarus are frankly legendary at acceleration – they do it better than almost everybody else for the price and, as any roller-coaster geek can tell you, what makes the heart go faster isn’t how fast the thing moves it’s the time it takes to crank up to top speed that fires the adrenalin rush.
A remarkably deceptive-looking vehicle; it looks like a pretty average saloon car (a wagon was also available, of course) with little by way of outstanding features, but the figures speak for themselves.
#9 – 2010 Impreza WRX Sport Wagon (0-60 5.8s)
The WRX handle stands for World Rally EXperimental and suddenly we hear the magic word ‘Impreza’ for the first time. This isn’t just another Legacy with a hole in the hood. Once again it has a well-tried powertrain; the 2.5L turbocharged flat-four is able to deliver 217 lb-ft of mid-range torque and a minimum 227 horsepower or 265bhp at 6000 rpm – it rather depends on who you ask. It has been described as ‘one of the coolest carpool vehicles on the planet’. I am inclined to agree.
#8 – 2006 Legacy GT spec.B (0-60 5.3s)
A very respectable 250 bhp and 250 lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm from the old standby 2.5L boxer flat four configuration and a six-speed manual box. This really was a four-door saloon with ideas above its station. Not very many were made, in fact, and Henry Ford’s old adage about ‘you can have any color you like, as long as it’s black’ does seem to have been picked up by Subaru. For this model at least was only available in super, go-faster metallic silver and unfortunately, they didn’t come cheap.
#7 – Subaru Legacy (B4) S401 STI (0-60 5.2s)
This superb website (for those capable of reading Japanese, or capable of using Google Translate and living with some of the foibles that this brings) contains a treasure trove of information about this exceedingly rare Subaru, written from the perspective of someone who was fortunate enough to buy one of these brand new in Japan.
The S401 STI has shown up for sale in various markets, but due to rarity is hard to come by and many enthusiasts aren’t even aware of its existence. The following example will probably have found up being shipped out of Japan to another market.
The S401 is interesting not just because of its excellent power and handling capability – it was also one of the last Subarus to feature sequential twin turbocharging; after this car Subaru went back to single turbos. The S401 also featured a six-speed gearbox from the WRX STI.
#6 – WRX STI – (0-60 ~4.5-5.5)
Clocking in at number six on the list is not a specific model, but rather a “family” of cars (some of them get special mention further on in this article).
If you ask anyone to name a fast Subaru, WRX STI is almost certainly going to be the answer.
There have been many generations of WRX STI since the mid 1990s, all of which are capable of rapid acceleration.
Depending on exactly which generation/model you pick (as well as if you have an export or JDM variant) the exact acceleration times and top speeds will vary, but suffice it to say that any WRX STI is going to be quick, even by today’s standards.
What generation WRX STI is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.
#5 – 2009 Impreza 330S (0-60 4.8s)
Little to choose between #6 and #5. The stats tell me that ‘maxed out’ speed is 155mph. I never like seeing this since it suggests that the beast is perfectly capable of much more but the manufacturers rather unsportingly decided that 155 is sufficiently trouser-dampening for the average purchaser.
Equipped with the same engine configuration as in many other, earlier models, this time we have a 2.5L 16 valve turbo flat four with 347 lb-ft of torque at 3400rpm and 325 bhp paired beautifully with a 6-speed manual box and symmetrical all-wheel drive.
This car was the one that used to most impress the serious aficionados in the UK since there was a UK-only version which at the time was described as being among the best models Subaru has ever built for this market.
#4 – 2013 WRX Special Edition (0-60 4.7s)
These are a rare unicorn indeed. Only two hundred were made and served up in an eye-catching pumpkin orange and black, if that’s what takes your fancy.
Here’s the numbers: Engine 2.5L turbocharged flat 4 with 244 lb-ft of torque and a respectable 265 bhp, five-speed manual box and all-wheel drive. Nuff said.
#3 – 1998 Impreza 22B STI (0-60 4.7s)
Do forgive me spending a bit more time on this one. She might be twenty-three years old but she ain’t no slouch, that’s for sure. At the time, the 22B STI was considered to be Japan’s Ferrari and on British roads you were usually behind one; Brits describing it with characteristic understatement as ‘a bit quick’.
Indeed, over twenty years ago, this very special car was about as close to a road-going World Rally Championship car as you could get.
Die-hard petrol-heads got really excited about this and not just because it came in Subaru-blue. If you’re into badging, this baby was all badged up with the titanium rally STI just behind the front wheel guards. Under the hood was where the real action took place. The muscle came from a 2.2L – bored out from an original 2.0L – flat four boxer; Subaru never waste a good idea, just like Ferrari.
They claimed it delivered better mid-range torque than the smaller two liter version.
As to the horses, 276 bhp on paper but probably more; Subaru were tight-lipped about it at the time (read our article here on why Japanese cars of the era were limited to 276hp on paper) and 267 lb-ft at 3200rpm provided great lower-to-midrange torque.
As revs built, so did thrust and when the needle went above 4000 was when it started to get exciting. Up in the stratosphere of 5000-6000, she was known to attack like a striking cobra.
The close gearbox ratios kept the engine output well in the meat of the power band, so if you weren’t in full boost, you were never too far away from it.
The hood scoop, as the Americans call it, wasn’t there for show, it provided much-needed additional cooling.
#2 – 2012 WRX STI S206 (0-60 4.5s)
Now, we’re in neck-snapping territory. When you get a good idea, namely the WRX STI, all you have to do is just make it better and better.
This particular model has 316bhp and 318lb-ft, so it really doesn’t get a lot better than this unless you have money to burn on high end luxury/performance cars – this is one of the “ultimate” Subarus.
Like many of the best Subarus (or Japanese cars in general) the STI S206 was a limited edition car built exclusively for the Japanese Domestic Market. If you’re not sure what Japanese Domestic Market/JDM means, then make sure you read our guide here.
Only 300 of these cars were built, making them as rare as hen’s teeth but a whole lot cooler and more desirable.
#1 – 2004 Impreza WRX STI WR1 (0-60 4.3s)
And finally, an old warhorse that just blows the young pretenders away.
Seventeen years old, with a boxy, old-fashioned looking spoiler and front end, there are prettier STIs than the STI WR1:
However, the old girl says it loud, proud, and unequivocally with the numbers.
316 bhp from the 2.0L flat four at 5800 rpm, and maximum torque of 310 lb ft at 4000 rpm via a six-speed manual gearbox. Petter Solberg won the 2003 World Rally Championship in a rally version of this car and his imprimatur graces the 2004 road-going limited edition version.
What really sets this car apart are its rallying features, many of which are still in use on rally cars today.
For example, it is equipped with DCCD, or Driver’s Control Centre Differential; a flick from automatic to manual mode and a dial allows you to vary the torque distribution between the front and rear wheels – delivering up to 64% of power to the back end.
This hugely adjustable feature allows classic rear-drive oversteer which transforms its on-track performance.
For non gear-heads, this means you get to slide the back end round while cornering at ridiculously high speeds.
The WRX STI WR1 really is a ‘do it all’ supercar (not in the strictest sense of the supercar term, but insomuch as it delivers such incredible levels of power and handling prowess in a package that can be daily driven if you need to)
Conclusion – The Fastest Subaru Cars Of All Time
Any numbers game is bound to be a little bit subjective; especially if you’re going to believe everything the manufacturer claims (this can be made all more difficult when trying to find accurate stats for JDM cars).
Nonetheless, Subaru’s unrivalled passion for smaller and smaller acceleration times plus their track record in countless rallies make their cars a go-to for serious drivers worldwide.
At this point, one might begin to look at refinements of one kind or another but these don’t really amount to much when brute speed, or rather change of speed is the overarching criterion.
A better analysis could be made, perhaps by applying algorithms based on curbside weight, drag coefficients and so on, but that rather takes the fun out of it.
We might also compare different marques; the Mitsubishi Evo rally range is right up there with some of the vehicles described in this article (read our article here on why the Evo is so popular for more information), but, hey… If you have a Subaru of whatever age, power or indeed, color, enjoy it.
One thing you will note from this article is that many of the most desirable/highest performance Subaru cars are JDM models. Depending on your local jurisdiction, it may be possible to import one from Japan to enjoy on your local roads. Read our guide here on how to import a car from Japan for more information on sourcing and securing a quality Japanese import.
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If you have any questions/concerns, don’t hesitate to leave a comment using the comments function on this site (NB: We moderate/review all comments first, so don’t be alarmed if you don’t immediately see your comment appear).
We are fully aware that this list may have skipped over some vehicles that could compete in the general range/vicinity of the vehicles on this list, e.g. the Legacy GT-B, Forester STI etc; what do you think is missing? We would love to hear from you.