Subaru WRX STI Type RA: First Drive

Is a $50,000 WRX actually worth $50,000? Yes. Here's why.

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How do you make someone’s eyes go wide as the sun? Show them the window sticker for this: the most expensive Subaru ever sold in the US. This is the more-different-than-it-looks 2018 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Type RA, a car that would absolutely kill at scrabble if you got enough letters at once to make it; also if you could use proper nouns. Anyway, that wide-eyed viewer is probably just thinking something to the effect of, “Forty nine grand for a 310-horsepower Subaru? Who on Earth is going to want a $49,000 trackday-special Subaru that doesn’t even have any extra power?”

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In order to answer this question, we have to go back to 1998. Your author was a junior in high school, having purchased his first real car, an EJ25-powered Subaru Legacy GT. Exxon and Mobil merged, in order to do charity work together, and Budweiser released its acclaimed “Real Men of Genius” radio ad spots, affectionately saluting the unsung heroes of what would later be called ‘life hacking,’ before that term was a thing. Those ad spots often had me out loud laughing in my Legacy GT; my dumb friends and I would eagerly await each new commercial drop. And I have discovered one of today’s more DL real men of genius.

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But we will return to that, after this incredibly depressing sentence about the Type RA: You only get 5 more horsepower from the same, EJ25 engine that has powered the STI since 2004.

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It hurts to say that. Especially after spending three hundred words crapping on the BRZ’s newer-but-also-aging powerplant last week.

Nevertheless, It’s a welcome bit of honesty to include the word “Attempt,” the “A,” in RA, in the car’s actual name, because as of this writing, said vehicle does not, to this author’s knowledge, actually possess any records. A WRX STI with a Type RA badge does hold the four-door sedan record at the Nurburgring, but that was less road car and more time attack machine totally built by Prodrive.

Moving on, here’s what you get for your extra $9,000 when you order up the only Type RA your local dealer is going to get (500 cars will be produced; there are 600+ dealers).

Matt Farah
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Under the hood, there’s a new air intake, specially tuned exhaust, retuned ECU, reinforced cast pistons and new valves, good for a 5 HP bump to 310 HP, total. This, does not sound like much increase for all those parts, and that’s because it isn’t. The dyno chart shows a bit more torque in the midrange, but according to Subaru, the revised valves and pistons are not meant to withstand bigger power upgrades in the aftermarket, but rather, longer sustained track sessions.

Once inside the cabin, the RA gets a notchy short throw shifter (optional on the standard STI) an ultrasuede-covered steering wheel, red-accented Recaro front seats, and a sequential number plate identifying the car’s serial number.

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Subaru has reduced the curb weight of the RA by 68 pounds compared to the standard STI by removing the spare tire and utilizing a structural carbon fiber roof, a move that supposedly adds rigidity as well. It should be noted that removing the spare tire to cut weight, and then adding a power driver’s seat, to me, makes no sense whatsoever.

The shocks are from Bilstein, a first for Subaru, with custom valving for the RA. There’s new 19-inch wheels with Yokohama Advan tires, an aero kit, re-sculpted front fascia, and an adjustable carbon fiber GT wing (Shared with the BRZ tS).

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On the driveline front, Subaru has revised the third gear ratio, one of those problems I didn’t even know needed solving, and added, to the entire STI range, six-piston Monoblock Brembo front brakes, with two-piston rears carrying over.

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So, it’s a whole bunch of little changes to the STI to create an RA. Is it worth the extra $9,000, assuming you can get one? You’re not going to believe this but yes, it is.

Matt Farah

On the road, the RA’s new suspension is taut and composed, with excellent body control and the desired “one down, one up,” motion over each bump, without a hint of bounciness. It’s not nearly as harsh as the little brother BRZ over bumps or curbing. The throttle response is very sharp, and in fact none of the pedals have much travel at all. The clutch in particular catches low, and only maybe moves eight inches total. The steering is direct and responsive, without being darty. (For comparison, the Focus RS has sharper steering but is also more nervous at highway speeds, and the Golf R is more relaxed than both in all situations, but the steering isn’t as good. This is a great middle ground). The revised third gear is something I didn’t particularly notice until spending a few minutes in a standard 2018 STI Subaru had on hand, and immediately agreeing with the decision to change it. There’s a certain type of bend that was in between top of second and just-below-boost in third gear before, and now there’s a spooled gear for every type of corner. To me, the three most noticeable changes with the RA are the directness of the steering, the punch of the new third gear, and the tightness added with the carbon roof. It should be noted that it would be quite difficult to achieve these changes at any reasonable cost in the aftermarket.

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Matt Farah
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Though not as sharp on turn-in as its little brother BRZ tS, the STI actually feels quick in a straight line, despite its aging powertrain. The new, bigger brakes and chassis tweaks allow you to stay in the power longer, later, and in the fast S-transition at the Thermal Club’s Desert Circuit, you can make the entire transition at completely full throttle, 120 mph, while taking deep amounts of curbing in both directions. Even in this Road & Track focused edition of the STI, it never lets you forget its rally car roots.

Low-speed corners still seem to be the weakness when trying to run a clean line, as turns more than 90-degrees bring about a healthy amount of understeer mitigation work from the driver, but the RA’s best party trick is the ability to use minute amounts of throttle adjustment to predictably steer the car in between the apex and the exit. It’s more than happy to turn in on the brakes, but the balance comes in that 10 percent of throttle input you need to keep the nose in line through the meat of that corner. Then, in typical STI fashion, you just hammer the pedal a few feet earlier than normal, and let it run wide to the exit as the boost builds.

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The whole thing is remarkably easy and civilized; in fact, if it wasn’t for the Yokohama rubber’s tendency to wail out in pain at the slightest hint of steering angle, (a trait newer drivers may find useful when learning vehicle dynamics) you’d be hard pressed to find either the car or the driver running within a few percentage points of their limit, for virtually zero effort. The RA, especially with these tires, is a great communicator; you can actually tell which tire is doing the screeching and adjust your feet or angle accordingly. Once I learned where that limit was, I, the owner, would promptly remove these tires and install Michelins; based on the BRZ tS grip levels on this track, the PS4S would almost certainly be quicker and quieter, though I suspect the softer sidewall may impact the feel..

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Are there downsides? Yes, a few. The new Recaro seats actually aren’t all that supportive, with not enough side bolstering and too much lumbar. The GT wing, though I’m sure it’s functional, does look a bit silly, and Subaru’s infotainment system is still seriously clunky. The shifter is an upgrade over the standard model, but the MOUNTUNE shifter for my Focus RS feels much more solid, despite the fact that it isn’t a rod linkage, like the STI’s is. Lastly, though I haven’t dwelled on it, it should be noted that the entire rest of the world outside the USA gets the all-new 2.0L Turbo engine for their STI, while we’re being sold a $49,000 special edition with, for all intents and purposes, the same exact powertrain you could buy in 2004.

Matt Farah
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Well, when you put it that way, Who is this car for, exactly?

Cues Music

SUBARU Presents – Real Men of Genius

Reeeeeaaallll men of Geeeeeeeennniuuuuusssss

Today we salute you, Mr. 50-year old engineer at the track day in the stock STI! You consistently show up at every single time attack; at every single trackday; you smoke kids with 100 extra wheel horsepower, you laugh at their camber kits, and you don’t even carry any extra oil.

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Hoooooooww’s he running one-tweeeeeeenties at WIIIIIIIIII-LLOW?

When all those kids with their flatbills and their vape pens read on that forum that you can easily push 400 wheel with the EJ25 reliably ‘all day long’….. You sir, know better.

HE SURE KNOOOOOOWS BETTER! AINT VOIDIN THAT WAAAAAARRANTTYYYYYYYYY

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You spent your money on the most important mod of all: The Driver mod! Now equipped with two years worth of data-based lessons, four sets of brake pads, a track membership, and a mini-trailer with Hoosiers, YOU’RE gonna show THEM the most important rule of all when driving a Subaru on track: You can’t win if You. Can’t. Finish.

400 WHEEEEEELLLLL WHO ARE THEY KIIIIIIIIDDDIINNNNGGGG?

You’re gonna be THAT GUY at every track day. You don’t do the talking, your white mustache and open face helmet say everything we need to know: when you list your car for sale after winning the 2019 SCCA Showroom Stock Solo Championships…..YOU WILL KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE.

DON’T WORRY ABOUT NO BOOOOOOOOST LEEEEAAAAK!

It’s stiiiiiillll got compresssssion….

Now as a tribute to YOU, #stockmobbing old white guy, Subaru has brought out the perfect car, The RA. Factory tuned, designed to work better on track days in stock form and YOU NEED TO HAVE PERFECT CREDIT AND BE FRIENDS WITH THE DEALER PRINCIPAL TO GET ONE.

Matt Farah
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THAAAAAT DEALER KNOWS WHAT HE HAAAAAAAAS!

Reeeeeaaal men of geeeeeniussssss……

Here’s to you, old guy with the stock WRX STI Type RA at the track day. You won’t miss the nine grand, because you’ve got it. You haven’t had to fix a busted tuner car. And in 2025, when everyone else’s STI is on their third engine and cheap coilovers, you will still be at the track, and YOU WILL KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE.

Fade out

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