“Not a chance.” That’s how most of you will react when reading the headlines talking about the $50,000 Subaru WRX STI Type RA. Before slamming your fingers onto your rage-spit-covered keyboard and typing out your 2,500-word magnum opus of hatred, allow me a few words to explain how this is basically Subaru’s own Camaro Z/28.
(Full Disclosure: I drove out to Palm Springs where Subaru put me up in a hipster hotel and supplied some food and booze.)
Subaru has, for decades, offered special small-batch versions of its top-spec machines.
These have been Japan-only vehicles built to acknowledge some record attempt. In fact, that’s exactly what “RA” stands for. The first such vehicle to earn this distinction was a 100-unit run of a 1989 Legacy created to honor an FIA World Speed Endurance Record. Subaru saw one of its cars driven for 62,000 miles over the course of 18 days and with an average speed of nearly 140 mph.
After that Subaru moved the Type RA tag to the back of the WRX STI, when a 1992 example blasted around the Nurburgring in 8:28.93. The newest version earning the two-letter distinction pays homage to a recent race-prepped STI that lapped the ’Ring in 6:57.
So yes, this is such a Very Special Episode of the WRX STI that it could teach you about the dangers of alcohol addiction or teen homelessness. And now it’s for sale in America, which is cool as hell.
This latest version is based on the standard 2018 STI, which gets a handful of upgrades over the prior model year version. This includes updated brakes with six-pistons packed into the front calipers, and lightweight 19-inch wheels.
So we’re starting with a strong platform boasting some decent improvements over the version just one year older. Regardless, the Type RA needs to kick it up a handful of notches to justify its extra badging and the many extra dollars required to own one.
Subaru seems to have done it successfully by transforming the standard STI from a fun vehicle that loves to plow through corners and then save your ass from screwing up with its symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, into one that is actually eager to turn in. Not just content with being flung down a gravel rally stage, the Type RA is available for paved track parties as well.
It’s not simply the fact that Subaru has made a sharper version of the STI, of course. As we’re still talking about a lot of dough for a car that hasn’t seen its engine power driven sharply upward. What matters most is how Subaru achieved its best-driving STI to date.
It involves a combination of better chassis tuning by way of revised suspension parts and calibration, and “adding lightness” in important spots. Most notable of which involves the roof. That’s where Subaru has ditched the steel overhead bit for one made from carbon fiber. Reducing mass that sits higher up on the car results in an improved center of gravity and an inherently better driving machine.
A number of other vehicles have employed carbon for the roof construction, but outside of the BMW i3, the Subaru WRX STI Type RA is the least expensive of any of them. The next carbon roof riot-machine up the price chart? The BMW M3, and its nearly $70,000 asking price. Beyond smart weight savings, this roof increases the torsional resistance of the body, which also means less flex and all four tires remain as planted as possible.
You can’t help but also notice there’s a bit of scaffolding sitting on the rear deck of the Type RA. It’s not there just to appease those of us who prefer the first The Fast And The Furious film, but rather is ratchets up the downforce and forces the car to have a greater hugging session with the ground below. It’s two-position adjustable so you can add a bit more attack when you get to the track.
Laid flat, Subaru claims you’ll find a 64 percent improvement in rear downforce. Flip the wing up into the other position and that figure changes to a 116 percent upgrade over the standard wing on the base STI. There’s less lift on the front and rear axles as well. That extra aero improvement pairs perfectly with the Bilstein suspension, which is a first-time offering on a U.S.-spec WRX STI.
The result of all the chassis improvements is the best driving WRX STI ever offered up by Subaru. There’s proper heft and feel found in the ultra suede-wrapped steering wheel. You’ll run through the gears quickly and cleanly with the short-throw shifter.
Subaru themselves tested the car against a standard STI by turning laps at Virginia International Raceway. They found four more seconds per lap without even resorting to cheaty tires, as manufacturers are typically wont to do.
Still, there’s a boxer-shaped elephant in the room, er, rather under the hood. It’s that 2.5-liter EJ turbocharged flat-four engine, and its increase of just five horsepower. There’s 310 ponies on tap for the Type RA compared to the 305 of the standard STI. Subaru accomplished this by simply freeing up the intake and exhaust flow.
There’s a bit of revised ECU tuning as well, but there could certainly be more power gained with ECU trickery. So what gives here? Subaru’s people say the company decided to get this engine ready for more power if you want to go that route, while making the car more enjoyable as-is if you don’t.
Whatever your feels are on the correct amount of horsepower, I can promise that the Type RA is blast to drive out of the box and as I’ve already mentioned- it feels like a lot more car than a standard STI.
The pistons have been strengthened. If you pried open the head, you’d find sodium-filled valves, which are better at handling heat and another example of tech you’d find in a more expensive vehicle. And third gear has been shortened to get the most out of a slightly increased run of torque found between 2,000 and 3,000 RPM.
You feel that torque and gearing change too, especially on the track or a canyon road, where third gear becomes your new best friend.
There’s no question though: Type RA buyers will be devoted Subaru loyalists. The automaker plans to crank out a mere 500 copies, and they’ll arrive in either black, white, or blue and wearing that familiar gold on the wheels. There are no options, and the suggested retail price rings in at $49,855.
At an initial glance, it certainly seems like a crazy amount of money to spend on a Subaru. I arrived at the event expecting to leave confused as to how Subaru thinks anyone would consider buying one. After spending a day on canyon roads and on a handful of turns at one of Thermal Club raceways circuits, I sing a different tune. One backed up by a chorus of unequal length headers.
Applying the power, and quickly shifting up to that revised third gear, the Type RA seems eager to leap forward. As soon as I apply any degree of steering, the nose begins to respond like a hunting dog picking up a scent. The smell comes from the center of corner, and the Type RA is going after it.
A standard STI might plow past that point but the Type RA tells you exactly how it wants to get there with proper weighted feedback from the steering wheel, crisp throttle response, and smooth damping at each corner. It truly is an impressive upgrade over the standard. Right away, you’ll find you can push harder and the Type RA rewards with higher speeds and more effortless aggression.
Again, it is Subaru’s Z/28.
The Type RA has a number of aero, engineering, and lightweight tricks up its sleeve, and all of that is reflected in the $12,000 jump in the price you’ll need to pay. Do I wish a high-performance version of the FA20F or a massively worked over EJ were added in as well? Of course. More power is almost always wonderful. Regardless, what Subaru has done with the Type RA is mighty impressive.
It won’t be for everyone. But the 500 hand raisers who step up and plunk down the cash for one of these can rest confident in the fact that they will own the best-driving WRX STI ever offered from the factory. And a ridiculously fun car in its own right.
Jeff Glucker is the co-founder and executive editor of Hooniverse.com. He’s often seen getting passed as he hustles his 1974 Mercedes-Benz 280 up the 405 Freeway.