Subaru fans understandably lost their minds when news broke about the limited-edition WRX STI Type RA coming to the US. The model celebrates Subaru's successful Nürburgring lap record attempt for a four-door sedan with the WRX STI Type RA NBR Special race car and accordingly gets a full slate of go-faster goodies.
Sadly, the Type RA street car isn't powered by the race car's 600-horsepower engine, but engineers did extract an additional 5 horsepower from the venerable 2.5-liter turbocharged boxer four-cylinder. I know, it's not much, but it's something. Total output nudges to 310 ponies thanks to a freer flowing intake, exhaust, ECU tuning and reinforced pistons. A lower third gear ratio in the six-speed manual transmission also helps liven up acceleration a smidge.
The uprated drivetrain does see fuel economy in the city fall to 16 mpg from the base STI's 17 mpg rating, but the highway number stays steady at 22 mpg. I don't expect most STI owners to care all that much.
Weight reduction is another big part of the Type RA package, with a carbon fiber roof, forged BBS wheels and the deletion of the spare tire working together to trim 68 pounds. A front lip spoiler, rear bumper outlets and an adjustable carbon fiber rear wing improve aerodynamics. New Bilstein dampers round out the performance enhancements.
On mountain roads outside of Palm Springs, California, these upgrades don't seem to result in any meaningful increase in driving performance. The Type RA's turn-in response is a hair quicker, body roll is better controlled through corners and rocketing out of bends in third gear is a slightly brisker experience. Lightly weighted steering takes some fun, however, out of the short blast through the mountains.
2018 Subaru WRX STI Type RA: More performance comes at a priceSee all photos
Moving to boring, busy roads with slow-moving traffic reveals some harshness as a result of the Type RA's stiffer suspension. On perfectly smooth California asphalt, the ride is mostly manageable, but on crummy, winter-ravaged Midwest roads, it might be a different story for people who aren't willing to give up some ride compliance for sharper reflexes.
On the infotainment front, Subaru's Starlink multimedia system with a 7-inch touchscreen comes standard. The touchscreen is responsive and intuitive, with large menu tiles to easily navigate through different screens. If you're looking for a full suite of advanced safety technologies, the RA isn't for you. As far as driver assistance goodies are concerned, only a rearview camera is offered.
That said, people on the hunt for a no-frills, track-capable, all-wheel-drive performance sedan should pay attention. My test day ends at The Thermal Club's 1.4-mile Desert Circuit, featuring a variety of corners that allow me to experience the RA in its element. Through fast sweepers, the car is comfortably planted. The Yokohama Advan tires give gobs of grip and side-to-side transitions are handled with aplomb. The Recaro seats, which are cushy and supportive on the street, also gamely latch onto occupants around the track.
While the light steering bothers me on the street, I don't mind it as much on the track, allowing me to easily get the car turned in and hit my marks. Sharp hairpin exercises induce understeer tendencies in the 3,395-pound STI, but as long as you follow the slow in and fast out mantra for the tight corners, it isn't a huge issue.
Even though the 2.5-liter boxer four has been around for what feels like an eternity, it's still a sweet engine, with plenty of thrust throughout the rev band to quickly shoot the STI out of corners and down straights. Clutch take-up is high in the pedal stroke and takes time to get used to, while the short throw shifter is slick for a Subaru gearbox.
Most impressive are the brakes, which get upgraded on all STIs for 2018 with six-piston Brembo front calipers and cross-drilled rotors in all corners. In previous years, STI clampers weren't up to snuff for extended track duty, but the new setup handles the abuse just fine. My session comes at the end of the day after numerous other journalists had made their way through the cars and, remarkably, brake performance is still strong with zero signs of fade or a soft pedal.
The 2018 Subaru WRX STI Type will arrive in showrooms in the next couple of weeks wearing a $49,855 price tag, including $860 for destination. That's a hefty premium over the $36,955 base STI, but with only 500 Type RAs destined for the US, the exclusivity factor and additional performance capabilities are likely enough to entice Subaru enthusiasts to gobble them up.
For folks who aren't Subaru nuts, a $50,000 STI is probably a more difficult sell.
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