Unique JDM

Unique JDM Hot Hatch Subaru Vivio RX-R | Forgotten Heroes

Chances are that you’re not familiar with the Subaru Vivio name, in fact, you might not even have known that Subaru manufactured small hatchbacks or in this case, Kei cars. If so, you definitely wouldn’t have heard of the Subaru Vivio RX-R.

The Vivio RX-R shared many familiar features with the Impreza Sti/WRX such as the bonnet scoop and large fog lights on the front bumper, and it was actually used for rallying – but the familiarities end there.

Americans are now able to import the Subaru Vivio RX-R as it has passed the 25-year-old import rule. And while still being relatively unknown, the RX-R can still be had for reasonable prices.


The Subaru Vivio RX-R was considered a Kei car, Kei car meaning “light automobile”. Thanks to its low weight and small displacement engine, owners in Japan could get a tax break from the government since a Kei car doesn’t produce as much pollution.

The Vivio RX-R was powered by a tiny 658 cc supercharged Inline-four. Producing about 63 BHP at 7,200 RPM and redlining right after 9,000 RPM, providing a smooth power band compared to its turbocharged competitors.

The Vivio RX-R was available with a 5-speed manual transmission and came with either Front-wheel drive (FWD) or All-wheel-drive (AWD). The AWD versions were commonly used for rallying.

The RX-R was put on a diet, weighing in between 650-700kg depending on the specification of the car. It is considered one of the lightest Kei cars sold in the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM). Even though the RX-R only produced 63 BHP, thanks to its low weight and AWD system, it was still able to do 0 to 60 mph in about 8,5 seconds.

The interior of the RX-R is very basic. Plastics are everywhere you look, and you only received the absolute basics of necessities in order to shed as much weight as possible. It came with a nice red-cloth interior, and some red-leather stitching on the gear selector. If you wanted to make any altercations then you would have to visit an aftermarket dealership to provide you with parts.


The Subaru Vivio first came to be in 1992 after replacing its predecessor, the Subaru Rex. Manufacturing of the Vivio continued until the end of 1988 when it got replaced by the successor, the Subaru Pleo.

Rallying History

Since the Vivio was manufactured during Subaru’s golden age of rallying, they had an excellent idea of producing a performance version of the Vivio that could be entered in various domestic rallies, and thus the Vivio RX-R was born. The rally version increased power output to 84hp.

Although it had some international entries as well, the most famous rally entry being the 1993 Safari Rally. Three RX-R’s were entered with Masashi Ishida, Patrick Njiru, and the legendary Colin McRae behind the wheel. Unfortunately, only Patrick Njiru managed to finish the race, as both McRae and Ishida had to retire. Before McRae retired due to a suspension failure, he managed to put up two of the fastest stage times in the RX-R. McRae jokingly said, “You can hide the whole car in every single pothole along the route!”.

Driving Characteristics

Being part of the Kei car family, the RX-R is not known for its straightforward speed, but rather for its handling and how fast it can take a corner. Comparing the RX-R to something like a Suzuki Cappuccino which is turbocharged, the RX-R is able to provide instant power and a more linear powerband.

The best way to describe the driving characteristics of the RX-R is to compare it to driving a Go-cart. It is so incredibly small, nimble, and light and provides the driver with quick and responsive handling. You can take almost any corner on a track flat-out without lifting off, so it is a very confident inspiring car to drive to say the least.

The supercharger provides an excellent sound reminding me actual of the supercharger whine of a Hellcat. And who can forget about the 9,000 RPM redline, especially in today’s time and age of turbocharged vehicles, finding a car with over 7,500 RPM is rare. The RX-R is a gem that should be protected at all costs.


The Subaru RX-R is a 3-Door Kei car producing 64hp from its 658cc supercharged inline-four. Weighing in at around 700kg the RX-R is not only a good handling car; it was also commonly used for rallying. And more famously so by the legendary Subaru driver, Colin McRae – setting two-stage lap record times, before unfortunately having to retire due to a suspension failure. The Subaru RX-R can now be imported to the U.S. as it has now passed the 25-year-old import rule.

E. Lindgren

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