2018 Subaru WRX STI Type RA First Drive | Edmunds

2018 Subaru WRX STI Type RA First Drive

A Love Letter to the Subaru Faithful


Subaru loyalists, rejoice! The 2018 Subaru WRX STI Type RA is here. The rest of you should know that the alphanumeric onslaught refers not to a food processor but to a special variant of Subaru's Impreza four-door sedan.

Think of the WRX STI Type RA as a sharper and rarer STI. It marks the first time an RA-badged Subaru has reached these shores.

RA Stands for 'Record Attempt'
Previous Type RA (for "Record Attempt") variants were sold exclusively in Japan and denoted a lighter, stripped-out, harder-core disposition. Higher performance has been the watchword of these limited-production specials.

Today's Type RA is less about attempting records than it is about demarcating the midcycle refresh of the STI with a special, limited-production halo model. The basics all remain intact: This is a performance-oriented compact sedan that drives all four wheels with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine through a six-speed manual gearbox. It's an STI with a few extra tricks up its sleeve and an air of exclusivity — only 500 Type RA models will be sold in America. It'll be available in just three colors (blue, white or black), demonstrating conclusively that there are not — ahem — many shades of RA.

2018 Subaru WRX STI Type RA

Less Weight and Less Lift
The Type RA doesn't chase down every possible avenue of weight-shaving and remains something you could comfortably drive daily. It fact, its weight savings are pretty modest — the WRX STI Type RA is only 68 pounds lighter than a standard 2018 WRX STI. Ditching the spare for an inflation kit shaves 31 pounds; forged wheels replace the standard STI's cast ones to save 17 pounds; and its carbon-fiber roof is 8 pounds lighter than the steel one. The remaining weight savings come from the carbon-fiber wing and removing the backseat armrest.

The revised wing, in conjuction with a new front splitter and rear valance, reduces lift at both axles without inducing more drag. Type RA models also get Bilstein monotube dampers, while the brakes are carried over from the STI. For 2018, the brakes receive six-piston calipers up front and larger discs all around.

Imperceptibly More Powerful
Subaru also juiced up the venerable EJ25 2.5-liter flat-four engine for the Type RA, but not by much. Peak power rises to 310 horsepower, a mere 5 hp over the garden-variety STI, and while peak torque remains unchanged at 290 pound-feet, the off-peak torque is plumped up slightly in the midrange.

It's a puzzlingly small uptick given the scope of the Type RA's powertrain changes — there's a revised intake, a freer-flowing exhaust, a tweaked engine control unit (ECU) that commands a bit more maximum boost, sodium-filled exhaust valves, and unique pistons that Subaru staffers were at a loss to explain.

Type RA models also get a slightly shorter third-gear ratio (1.590 instead of 1.521) in the six-speed manual gearbox and a short-throw shifter. Elsewhere in the cabin are red-accented Recaro seats and a synthetic-suede-wrapped steering wheel, and there's a numbered plaque on the center console that confirms the Type RA's special status. All STIs get a host of interior refinements including thicker door glass, improved sealing and noise abatement measures, and upgraded materials throughout. It's still a fairly workmanlike place, though even the weight-focused Type RA has eight-way power seats.

2018 Subaru WRX STI Type RA

Behind the Wheel on the Track and Road
If the Type RA doesn't appear to be appreciably different from the STI, it's because it isn't. Where the regular STI is, say, two clicks more extreme than a regular WRX, the Type RA turns things up maybe a quarter-click more. All the changes are aimed at incrementally enhancing track performance. Given this brief, it's surprising that the Type RA wears the same tires as does the standard-issue STI, since tires are typically the first item to change when it comes to building a more track-capable car.

On the road, the changes made in the evolution to Type RA-spec are evident in the ride and handling. It feels more tied-down than the standard STI, transmitting more low-frequency ride motions to the occupants. It's not a brittle or punishing ride, but drivers will discover that roads you thought were paved with smooth tarmac, in fact, aren't.

The flip side is that in hard cornering, this additional damper force helps the Type RA to stay flat and sure-footed, inspiring confidence. The steering is weighted appropriately, with a satisfying heft at low speeds even if feel could be better. Turn-in isn't immediate, but once it's loaded up in a corner, the Type RA's reflexes sharpen.

On track, managing grip at the front axle remains the mission of the driver, though it responds reasonably well to trail braking to help get the nose down to the apex. Though our track time was limited to a few laps, the brakes showed no signs of fade.

Above all, the overriding impression is that the Type RA could easily cope with stickier tires. The car runs out of tire grip well before it runs out of chassis composure, the car eagerly taking whatever you dish out.

Pricing and Availability
Available at dealers in early 2018 for an eye-popping $48,995, plus $860 destination, the Type RA doesn't come inexpensively. This represents a premium of $10,400 over a base STI equipped with Recaro seats and keyless entry and ignition (both features are standard on the Type RA).

The sticker price could be the car's Achilles' heel since it forces the Type RA to be compared with seriously capable stuff. It's thousands more pricey than a Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE or a Performance package-equipped Ford Mustang GT, both of which belt out 50 percent more power and have no shortage of trackworthiness.

What those cars lack, however, is the WRX STI Type RA's limited-edition status, which is destined to secure its place in the pantheon of desirable Subarus among the brand's true believers.

Just be prepared for a rude awakening if you bring one to any tracks frequented by modern pony cars.

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