2018 Subaru WRX STI Type RA: First Drive Review

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMore Than Happy Puppies
Subaru may be well known in the U.S. for its TV commercials about love and puppies — which are effective spots — but there’s another side to this dog-happy brand. The other side comes from Subaru’s motorsports division, Subaru Technica International. Vehicles that emerge from STI are all about performance and handling rather than cars full of happy puppies — not that we have anything against cute canines. The latest exciting model from STI is the limited-edition WRX STI Type RA.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSpecial STI
The WRX STI offers excellent performance in “standard” guise, but the new STI Type RA is designed for enthusiasts who want ultimate performance for the street as well as the ability to truly excel at the track. To accomplish this, many enhancements have gone into the Type RA, designed to upgrade performance and handling as well as make this special sport sedan stand out from the crowd. Only 500 Type RAs will be made available in America, and each will display a badge on the center console indicating the vehicle’s sequence number.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceWeight Reduction
As a 4-door sedan the STI is not a lightweight sports car; however, Subaru has taken steps to lighten the Type RA — the most significant of which was replacing the standard roof with one of carbon fiber. This not only reduces weight, it improves stiffness and lowers the center of gravity for better overall performance. In addition, the spare tire has been replaced by an inflation kit. Total weight loss compared to the standard STI is 68 pounds.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceWheels and Tires
Further weight loss can be attributed to the Type RA’s lightweight BBS 19-inch forged alloy wheels. Wheels are fitted with sticky 245/35R18 Yokohama ADVAN Sport high-performance tires.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceImproved Handling
In addition to the upgraded tires and wheels, the Type RA gets a Bilstein STI Sport Suspension with special Bilstein dampers for the inverted-strut front suspension and double wishbone rear suspension. The Type RA also features an enhanced Multi-Mode Vehicle Dynamics Control for increased stability. Like the standard STI, the Type RA uses Subaru’s Active Torque Vectoring which reduces understeer and enhances handling.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBrembo Brakes
All WRX STI trims — including the Type RA — get the Brembo Performance Brake System. This features stronger monoblock 6-piston calipers in front, monoblock 2-piston calipers in the rear and larger cross-drilled rotors all around. There also are new brake pads that provide greater surface area for improved braking feel and fade resistance. The Type RA sets itself apart with calipers that feature an exclusive silver finish.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceUnder the Hood
Horsepower for the Type RA has been increased by five ponies over the standard STI for a total output of 310 horses. The 2.5-liter turbocharged boxer engine gets the extra power via a new cold air intake, a high-flow performance exhaust, a retuned ECU, sodium-filled exhaust valves and stronger pistons. In addition to the added power, the 6-speed manual gearbox gets a short-throw shifter that has been revised with a lower-ratio third gear for better midrange acceleration.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceStandout Styling
The Type RA stands out from the standard STI with a front underspoiler, Cherry Blossom Red accents around the front mesh grille and rear bumper, black rearview mirrors and a Type RA badge on the rear decklid. The 19-inch BBS wheels in gold finish are also unique to the Type RA.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRear Wing
The most noticeable differentiator from the standard STI is a large adjustable carbon fiber wing at the rear. We prefer the look of the Type RA wing over the standard STI’s spoiler — it isn’t as busy as the standard design, and it doesn’t interfere with rear visibility.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceColors
The WRX STI Type RA will be available exclusively in WR Blue Pearl, Crystal Black Silica or Crystal White Pearl.

© Subaru of AmericaInterior
Inside, the front occupants sit in Recaro performance seats adorned with red bolsters and stitching and an embossed STI logo on the head restraint. Additional red stitching throughout the cabin also matches red highlights on the gearshift and start button. The flat-bottom steering wheel is covered in Ultrasuede for improved grip.

© Subaru of AmericaRear Seat
Rear seats get similar color treatment with suede seating surfaces and red leather trim in the bolsters. Although the rear seat is a bit tight for three, two adults would find the space more than adequate. With the right driver, this could be a fun place to travel.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFaster?
So how do all these tweaks of increased power, weight reduction and aero enhancement translate to the track? According to Subaru, the Type RA is about 0.1 seconds faster to 60 mph and 5 percent quicker in third gear when accelerating from 50 to 70 mph. More telling is how the Type RA lapped Virginia International Raceway. Rally driver David Higgins was able to complete the circuit 4 seconds faster in the Type RA than in the standard STI — an impressive improvement.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn the Road
One of the things we love (there’s that word again) about the WRX STI is how easy it is to live with every day. The Type RA carries this everyday drivability but feels so much more precise when the road gets twisty. We tested the Type RA on winding roads leading out of Palm Springs, California, and were constantly impressed with the grip and handling, even as turns got sharper and speeds higher.

© Subaru of AmericaMore Power
The WRX STI Type RA also possesses impressive available power. Even exiting turns as the road continued to climb, the Type RA exhibited strong acceleration. Add the impressive traction of all-wheel drive and torque vectoring in the turns and the result is great fun on the road.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceIn-Town Cruising
Equally noteworthy are the gentle handling and easy ride when simply cruising on the highway or rolling through towns. Yes, since this is a track car the ride is a bit stiff, but not overly so. And the Recaro seats are quite comfortable.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn Track
We had the opportunity to test the limits of the STI Type RA at the Thermal Club track. But before being left on track to their own devices, journalists had the opportunity to ride with rally racer and stunt driver Mark Higgins at the controls. As we flew through turns with tires squealing, Higgins told us that the Type RA feels noticeably different from the standard STI. The Type RA is quicker, steering input is much better, and in general it “just feels very planted, the car just goes exactly where you want it to.” In fact, Higgins told us how much harder it is to get the Type RA to break free from the track surface. “You can’t really chuck it around too much, but it’s good fun,” he noted.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperiencePower and Brakes
Even though attending journalists were not as quick as Mr. Higgins, we had to admit he was right about the Type RA being good fun. Pushing harder and harder into corners, the Type RA’s brakes remained consistent and predictable with no fade. Even on hard acceleration out of corners, the car is incredibly stable, putting the power down without any drama. With 310 horsepower on tap acceleration is always strong. The Type RA will have driving enthusiasts grinning in seconds flat.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRight for You?
Buyers of the Subaru WRX STI are already a certain breed of driver. This car is all about performance and handling, and with full time all-wheel drive, the fun doesn’t have to stop when the weather turns bad. But for those who like to take their sports car to a track day or really push the limits on twisty mountain roads, the upgrade to the limited-edition Type RA could be worthwhile. With unique styling, improved handling and a bit more power, this STI will feel right at home at the track, on the road, in the snow or running errands. The Subaru WRX STI Type RA is priced at $48,995 and is expected in showrooms this spring.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRating: 9.0
Pros: Standout styling; superior handling; all-season capability.
Cons: Almost $50,000; droning exhaust at idle.
Bottom Line: An all-season street car built for the track.


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