Subaru unveiled a limited-edition version of the WRX STI named S209 at the 2019 Detroit auto show. The flared, 341-horsepower sedan stands proud as the latest in a long line of special STI variants that boast more power, chassis tweaks, or both. To commemorate the occasion, the Japanese firm shipped a 1998 Impreza 22B-STi from its private collection to the Cobo Center.
The 22B-STi started life as a concept car named WRcar-STi. It was introduced during the 1997 Tokyo auto show to celebrate Subaru’s success in rally racing; it had won the constructor’s title three consecutive times. The rally-inspired design study generated such a positive reaction from enthusiasts that Subaru announced plans for a small production run. The first 22B-STi rolled out of Subaru’s Ota, Japan, factory in March of 1998.
Power for the 22B came from a hand-built, 2.2-liter flat-four engine that made 276 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and a generous 267 pound-feet of torque from 3,200 rpm. The engine gave the cars its name. 22 stood for the displacement, and B was an internal code for turbo. Developed exclusively for the 22B, the flat-four was equipped with metal headgaskets, forged pistons, and sodium-filled exhaust valves. Additionally, Subaru fitted the intercooler with a system that sprayed nearly its entire surface area with a fine mist of water in order to better dissipate heat.
The flat-four transferred its power to the four wheels through a strengthened five-speed manual transmission with short gear ratio. Clearly, this was more than a mildly hot-rodded Impreza.
Only available in Sonic Blue Mica, the 22B wore a rally-inspired body kit consisting of fender flares, more muscular-looking bumpers on both ends, and a two-way adjustable rear spoiler. A STi-specific cherry red emblem on the front grille and Pirelli-wrapped 17-inch BBS wheels painted gold rounded out the major visual updates on the outside. Inside, it received a three-spoke steering wheel, bucket seats for the front passengers, and analog gauges with white faces. The dashboard received a coat of the same anti-reflective material Subaru fitted to its WRC-bound cars.
Subaru sold the 22B-STi exclusively online, a bold move at a time when not all households had access to an internet connection. The 400 examples offered in Japan were spoken for in the blink of an eye in spite of a base price that was colossally higher than that of a regular STi. Sky-high demand made the 22B an instant classic in Japan, and a rare forbidden fruit in the United States.
Other countries had better luck. 24 additional examples of the 22B were built for export and distributed by local importers in right-hand drive markets, including the United Kingdom and Australia. To add context, only 200 examples of the WRX STI S209 will be offered on the American market.