His first WRC event was the 1987 Swedish Rally behind the wheel of his Nova, and again two years later, driving the Sierra and finishing 15th overall. Later that year, he finished 5th overall at Rally New Zealand in a rear wheel drive Sierra Cosworth. By 1990 McRae was driving a Sierra Cosworth 4x4 and achieved sixth place in that year's RAC Rally, despite several accidents. 1991 saw McRae turn professional as he was signed by Prodrive boss David Richards to his Subaru team in the British Rally Championship for an annual wage of approximately £10,000. McRae was British Rally Champion in both 1991 and 1992, soon graduating to the Subaru factory team at World Rally Championship level. 1992 also saw Colin McRae make his début in the British Touring Car Championship, with a one-off appearance for the Prodrive-run BMW factory team at the Knockhill round. In the second of the two races of the event, McRae collided with Matt Neal. Race officials found McRae to have caused an avoidable collision and subsequently disqualified him.
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On 5 August 2006, McRae competed for Subaru in the first live televised American rally in Los Angeles as part of the X-Games. McRae rolled the car on the penultimate corner after landing awkwardly from a jump, which damaged the front bumper and left front tyre. Despite this, McRae kept the car running and continued on to the finish, his time only 0.13 seconds slower than eventual winner Travis Pastrana. McRae was, though, to have one more opportunity at world championship level: he was unexpectedly entered for his final rally by semi-works Kronos Citroën at Rally Turkey in September, where he replaced Sébastien Loeb while the Frenchman recovered from an injury he sustained in a cycling accident immediately prior to the event. A final-stage alternator problem consigned him and returning co-driver Nicky Grist, to a final placing outside the top ten.
This particular era was not to last. On the 1986 Rallye de Portugal, four spectators were killed; then in May, on the Tour de Corse, Henri Toivonen went over the edge of a mountain road and was incinerated in the fireball that followed. FISA immediately changed the rules again: rallying after 1987 would be in Group A cars, closer to the production model. One notably successful car during this period was the Lancia Delta Integrale, dominating world rallying during 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992 – winning six consecutive world rally championships, a feat yet unbeaten.
The funeral for Colin and Johnny took place on 26 September at Daldowie Crematorium near Glasgow, conducted by the Rev Tom Houston, who had married the McRaes, and the Rev Steven Reid, chaplain at Johnny's school. An address was given by Robbie Head, a former rally driver and commentator who was a close friend of McRae's, with the Rev Houston giving the benediction. McRae's niece and nephews performed the tune Highland Cathedral, a popular funeral song. The song "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding, a favourite song of McRae's, was played when the family entered the chapel (coincidentally, Redding himself also died in an air crash). The Proclaimers' song "I'm on My Way" was played when they left. Colin and Johnny McRae were cremated in the same coffin. Among the attendees at the funeral were fellow Scottish racing drivers Jackie Stewart and Dario Franchitti.