Review: The Subaru WRX STI Type RA is as polarizing as a rally car can be
Objectively terrible, subjectively amazing.
(Disclosure: 𝘏𝘰𝘸 𝘥𝘪𝘥 𝘐 𝘨𝘦𝘵 𝘢 𝘛𝘺𝘱𝘦 𝘙𝘈? 𝘛𝘸𝘰 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘥𝘴. 𝘉𝘰𝘳𝘦𝘥. 𝘛𝘶𝘳𝘰. 𝘠𝘦𝘴, 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘭𝘪𝘮𝘪𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘦𝘥𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘴𝘱𝘰𝘳𝘵𝘴 𝘴𝘦𝘥𝘢𝘯 𝘪𝘴 𝘭𝘪𝘷𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘭𝘪𝘧𝘦 𝘢𝘴 𝘢 𝘛𝘶𝘳𝘰 𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘢𝘭. 𝘐'𝘮 𝘢𝘴 𝘴𝘩𝘰𝘤𝘬𝘦𝘥 𝘢𝘴 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘱𝘳𝘰𝘣𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘺 𝘢𝘳𝘦.)
To most consumers, Subarus represent comfortable, tech-laden value deals with loads of practicality for the adventurous types who'd love to bring the dogs plus their vegan friend hiking with them. They're Snowbelt saviors and motorized mountaineers. Smooth-driving, versatile, easy to live with, and easy to love is their order of the day. I've driven standard WRXs and found them to be a smidge too dull but perfectly suited for their intended mission, and a friend's Crosstrek proved to be wildly usable on a week-long group trip to the Golden State.
The 2018 WRX STI Type RA is not quite that. It's not meant for the Brocks and Karens who shop at Whole Foods and enjoy nature walks. This is geared more towards the Chads and Alexias who shotgun Bang energy drinks (because Monsters are for wusses) and go extreme downhill mountain biking while being chased by meth'd-up grizzly bears... Okay, yeah, that's a bit much, but this is still something special if a bit imperfect.
With RA standing for "Record Attempt," the Type RA slots into the lineup as a slightly tweaked, track-oriented STI fitting nicely between the common folk's STI and the balls-to-the-wall, widebodied S209. Using the term, homologation, as loosely as can be, it's intended a sort of homologation special for the Type RA NBR which Subaru used to take on the Nürburgring. For something implied to be outstandingly unique, most changes are actually quite marginal.
The boy racer's Subaru.
The exterior is where the biggest differences lie with plenty of boorish yet lovable boy racer vibes. The road is translated through a set of drool-worthy, gold-painted 19-inch BBS wheels. They shield appropriately-sized, six-piston Brembos. An STI front splitter adds some aggro flare to the face while the ass end is adorned with a carbon fiber, two-position wing. The BMW M-esque carbon roof amplifies the curb appeal and contrasts beautifully against this car's Crystal White Pearl paint which shimmers in the daylight.
Mechanical changes are less phenomenal yet still welcome additions. The ancient 2.5L EJ25 boxer four which powered STIs back when 𝘍𝘢𝘮𝘪𝘭𝘺 𝘎𝘶𝘺 was still funny remains but with a revised tune, intake, and exhaust, although this example has a tasteful aftermarket unit. Those tally up to a total of (drum roll, please) FIVE EXTRA HORSEPOWER! Rejoice! Total is 310 ponies and 290 pound-feet. I've seen more change in American road construction. Internals have been beefed up, however, with the 2.5L engine now sporting stronger pistons and valves.
Those aforementioned BBS wheels come shod in 245-millimeter-wide Yokohama Advan Sports which work in conjunction with a revised stability control system and Bilstein dampers to keep handling in check. The carbon beauty pieces, wheels, and other miscellaneous weight shedding lower the center of gravity and cut a hair over 50 pounds off the normal car's heft.
Expecting something more? I'm sure some people were too. Some may think of this as a half-baked collection of dress-up parts thrown at an STI. Modders could view it as a better starting platform for builds, especially when factoring in the revised engine internals. The optimist in me likes to think of the RA as the slightly more honed-in interpretation of the base car in the same spirit as the 911 Carrera GTS, Mustang Mach 1, or BMW M3 Competition.
Step into the spacious interior awash in red accenting and suede, slide into the appropriately-bolstered Recaro seats, and fire up that rumbling boxer motor via the red start button. You're rewarded by a healthy burble synonymous with Subaru boxer engines and further amplified by this car's custom unit. The plaque near the drive mode selector is quick to remind you of the RA's exclusivity. This example is chassis number 407 out of 500 units.
The clutch is incredibly light but easy to get used to for both performance driving and commuting, and the Bilstein dampers are completely livable. All the journalist malarky about this car being too stiff or bouncy is nonsense. Even with Reno's God-awful road quality, the RA was firm but never harsh. If this car is too stiff, you're too old.
The Yokohamas provide ceaseless grip.
Trading freeway traffic and suburban cruising for backroad bombing, however, allows the RA to excel where it's most at home this side of a racetrack. Whether on the fast sweepers approaching Lake Tahoe or on the tight hairpins of Route 341 or lower Mount Rose Parkway, the RA takes it all without a fuss.
Mid-corner bumps do little to upset the chassis but are translated plenty through the thick, suede steering wheel. The car refuses to understeer at a fast canyon pace. In fact, I even got the back end to wriggle loose before the front tires ever thought of protesting. Subaru's hallmark all-wheel drive system is telepathic with unrelenting grip allowing for razor-sharp turn-in while allowing the car to start rocketing out of corners before the horizon even comes into view. I never messed with the center differential as Auto was sufficient at shuffling power around for most dry weather conditions. Brakes are boat anchors which I never got to fully exploit during my days with the car. With so much braking force available from such little pedal travel, I simply never needed to.
The engine is as charming as it can be frustrating. Power is ample with plenty of thrust once the engine is on boil. Thanks to short, snappy gearing, it's always on full-send during hard driving. It's when you decide to relax and let the engine fall off its narrow powerband when it truly feels like an antiquated turbo motor, but it undoubtedly calls upon the rally car gods for its unmatched character. That boost surge hits like your Skyrim character charging its Thu'um. To someone who has mostly ever known naturally-aspirated motors, it's an intoxicating sensation to toy with. Fus, ro, DAH! 18 PSI later, and you're off.
Thankfully, it doesn't feel as though it bogs down up top nor does it get gruff with you. Once boost kicks in, the only limiting factor is how quickly you can shift, and the rumbly boxer smoothens out as you let it roar. It pushes you back in the seat as hard as 290 pound-feet can and continues to tug you along to 6,700 RPM. It's not a perfect motor, but it works well enough and is an appreciably willing partner in crime.
Yep. That's an EJ25.
It may not be that headline-stealing S209, but damn, can this car truly dance. Previous WRXs I've driven felt boring yet capable. A last-gen STI I drove afterward, while quirkier, was definitely more special. This is a clear evolution of that. It's a coherent package which you can use every day and trek up to your favorite backroad to carry ludicrous speeds through the corners. Even with all the respect that I have for Subarus, I'm honestly not a big Subie guy, but this car made me fall in love, both wins and sins included.
As much raw, honest-to-God fun as this car was, however, it's still necessary to address the numerous elephants in the room.
This car was nearly $50,000 when new. Half a 911 Carrera or double a base Toyota 86 for a marginally better STI... Which starts at around $37,000. You can go see the plethora of options that exist in the RA's price range which would even include a base STI with thousands of dollars in suspension and power adders. Used examples hover between the mid-thirties to mid-forties. Much more palatable, yet the car is still heavily contested by key rivals such as the razor's edge Civic Type R and gentleman's-choice Golf R.
Dig deep, and you'll see that $50,000 buys an interior of not many quirks nor features. Queue sad Doug DeMuro noises. Aside from a little extra suede here and there, it's largely the same as the vanilla STI. Even the angry red accents, what I thought were RA exclusives, are actually carry-over. Comfy and usable, it's unfortunately hampered by a lack of CarPlay (added the following model year) or built-in navigation.
Subaru literally said, "Congrats on your $50,000 compact, genius. Now, fuck you and get lost. Literally."
The bounty of power feels essentially the same as the standard car too, so take advantage of those stronger guts and invest in some COBB goodies. Hopefully, those factory revisions do anything to sway the notions of questionable reliability that have plagued Subarus for some time.
It's a difficult value proposition among stiff rivals as well as faster cars from other vehicle classes, but I suppose that doesn't stop the Subaru faithful from loving it to death. Subie folk around Tahoe were definitely keen to talk to me in parking lots or wave hello on the twisting two-lanes. It certainly hasn't kept me from having an absolute blast traversing the mountains as I exploit all the speed and grip I safely can out of what started life as a granola-chewing commuter sedan.
That typical Subaru image of an adventurous, versatile, fun-haver? The WRX STI Type RA is a bit of all of that plus a bunch of none of that all at the same time. It's lovable yet annoying, polarizing yet praise-worthy. The Type RA has been an oddball choice since it first arrived, and it still turns heads and raises eyebrows for both good and bad. But I'm glad it exists. Even with a new generation of enthusiast Subies soon to hit showrooms, this iteration is still good ol' fun with a smorgasbord of capability and overflowing with extroverted charm.
It's the practical, blue-collar halo car for a generation of hoonigans. Just keep it in boost.
Built with new underpinnings, the WRX also gets a GT trim
Now, where to find an S209?
That'll do, Subaru.