Subaru Launches New ARA Rally Car, Smells Like STI

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Subaru Motorsports has revealed its entrant for the Open 4WD class of the American Rally Association (ARA) Championship. The vehicle is simply being called the “WRX Rally Car” and it’s a painful reminder that enthusiasts haven’t been afforded a hardcore variant of the platform. The ARA racer is effectively what the mind conjures up when trying to imagine a modern WRX STI — a model the fans expected but Subaru elected not to build.

The brand has said that the WRX is maturing with its audience, offering more creature comforts and technology than ever before. However, the execution has left many confused. Complaints have persisted about how the sport sedan hasn’t seen a meaningful increase in peak power, retained a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and is plumper than its predecessors.

Though these may not all be valid grumblings. As loathsome as CVTs tend to be, the WRX's isn't terrible and the car can still be purchased with a manual transmission. Its powertrain also appears to have been optimized for everyday driving, meaning that the 2.4-liter turbocharged boxer-four makes its 271 horsepower lower in the rev range than older models. Size can also be deceiving. Despite the sedan having grown a few inches, it seems equally compliant when driven hard on a twisty road. That stays true until you start heating up the brakes — which Subaru probably should have upgraded on most generations anyway.

It could be argued that the modern incarnation of the WRX hasn’t failed. It certainly isn't a soft-riding or slow car. Subaru has simply shifted its focus in the hope of drawing in more customers. But the WRX GT is unforgivable. The GT is effectively supplanting the performance-focused STI trim and manages to cost $5,000 more by way of cramming in a bunch of customizable tech and fancier seats. It seems less of a replacement for the hardcore STI model and more like a way to cannibalize sales of the Subaru Legacy Sport.

But the manufacturer had found itself backed into a corner and explained to the world that the hottest WRX couldn’t continue existing due to swelling emission regulations. Due to how important the North American market happens to be for Subaru, California’s uniquely stringent emission standards and zero-emission vehicle sales mandates was allegedly the final nail in the STI’s coffin. It wouldn’t make much sense to continue spending development dollars on a vehicle it may not be able to sell.

“As the automotive marketplace continues to move towards electrification, Subaru is focused on how our future sports and performance cars should evolve to meet the needs of the changing marketplace and the regulations and requirements for greenhouse gasses (GHG), zero-emissions vehicles (ZEV), and corporate average fuel economy (CAFE),” the company explained.

But we’re at least catching a whiff of what a modern STI might have been like thanks to Subaru’s ARA racer. In order to adhere to series requirements, the WRX Rally Car produces 320 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque from a turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder. That’s more-or-less what fans were clamoring for (and expected) in terms of a streetable Subie wearing the most prestigious performance badge.

While the Rally undoubtedly could have made more power, ARA regulations meant Subaru was limited to 22 psi of boost and had to be fitted with a 33 mm restriction plate. Fortunately, the vehicle’s interior is totally gutted to keep it lightweight. Sparco ADV Prime seats and FIA-certified roll cage restore a fraction of that lost mass. But, even when you factor in the fire suppression system, wide-body kit, heavily bolstered suspension, and massive rear spoiler (an STI signature item), it’s still a featherweight compared to the retail WRX.

Considering the WRX came into existence so the manufacturer had something to drive in the 1992 World Rally Championship, the ARA Rally Car really whets the appetite for a more focused version of the sedan. Hell, it’s even dressed in Subaru’s most famous racing livery.

The plan is for the car to debut at the Ojibwe Forests Rally on August 24th, driven by Brandon Semenuk along with co-driver Keaton Williams. For the 2024 season, the WRX is supposed to be helmed by Travis Pastrana.

It’s not what Subaru fans had hoped for and it certainly makes one a little bitter that the STI remains absent.

But there’s probably no downside to the brand getting into more rallying. Perhaps we’ll even see Subaru return to WRC — assuming the company builds something that adheres to the series’ current rules or there’s a new class developed that might cater to Subaru hardware already in existence.

[Images: Subaru Motorsport]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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2 of 8 comments
  • Kcflyer Kcflyer on Aug 04, 2023

    I really like the new Impressa RS. If it were offered with a manual it would be most tempting. The STI never made a good value case to me and the current WRX is seriously ugly.

  • Stuki Moi Stuki Moi on Aug 04, 2023

    Toyota has set the bar so high, in what has become a rather niche class of vehicles, that I doubt anyone else can make a case for going up against them.

  • Bob65688581 We bought zillions of German cars, despite knowing about WWII slave labor. Refusing to buy something for ideological reasons is foolish.Both the US and the EU have imposed tariffs, so the playing field is level. I'll buy the best price/quality, regardless of nationality.Another interesting question would be "Would you buy one of the many new European moderate-price EVs?" but of course they aren't sold here.Third interesting question: "Why won't Stellantis sell its best products in America?"
  • Freshblather No. Worried there will be malicious executable code built into the cars motherboard that could disable the Chinese cars in the event of hostilities between the west and China.
  • Bd2 Absolutely not - do not want to support a fascist, totalitarian regime.
  • SCE to AUX The original Capri was beautiful. The abomination from the 90s was no Capri, and neither is this.It looks good, but too similar to a Polestar. And what's with the whacked price?
  • Rover Sig Absolutely not. Ever.