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At first glance, the Subaru WRX STI Type RA seems like it came out of a tuner's garage and not a Subaru factory. Its classic big wing is still there, but it's a racier carbon fiber one. Its BBS wheels have a different design and are slightly larger. The front and rear bumpers are angrier and come closer to the pavement. But Subaru didn't get these parts from a trip to the shop -- it went to the Nürburgring.
Built to celebrate Subaru's record-setting lap at the famed German track, this limited-edition sport sedan takes everything we love about the standard STI and amplifies it with a few key changes. It's better to drive, and depending on your tastes, maybe even better to look at.
In order to ditch 68 pounds off its curb weight, the STI Type RA is outfitted with a roof made of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic, a carbon-fiber adjustable rear wing and lightweight BBS wheels. Combined with new rear fender cutouts, a restyled rear bumper and a few red accents, the resulting look is more racer than daily driver, not that the STI's standard rear wing isn't a statement itself. You'll have to dig that kind of aesthetic to not feel like a weirdo behind the wheel. Make no mistake, it turns heads.
Those hints of red continue inside, landing on the standard (and supportive) Recaro sport seats and just about every part from the doors to the dashboard. Hell, even the seatbelts are red. Thankfully, the STI's Impreza roots means you get a clean, well organized cabin with a great seating position and excellent visibility. One good thing about that huge wing: It's tall enough to not obstruct rearward views at all.
It's hard to care about the looks at speed, and thankfully, achieving speed is just about the easiest thing to do in the Type RA. Subaru's venerable 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-four engine now puts out 310 horsepower, a 5-horsepower bump made possible by a retuned ECU, a new intake, new pistons, sodium-filled valves and a beefier exhaust system.
As soon as the clutch pedal hits its predictable bite point, the Type RA is ready to party. That familiar flat-four engine note drags some turbo whoosh along for the ride towards the top of the rev range, feeling just a touch more sprightly than the average STI. The shifts are as crisp and easy as ever, and thanks to a shorter third gear, it feels like it wants to keep accelerating well past the average highway speed. Short gearing means higher revs at highway speeds, though, which translates to middling fuel economy -- the EPA rates the Type RA at 22 mpg highway, and while I saw better figures closer to 24 or 25, it's less than I've wrangled from the Subaru's competitors.
But power's only part of the equation. The lighter, stiffer Type RA feels more rewarding to toss around, partially thanks to a new set of Bilstein dampers. Its low center of gravity, standard all-wheel drive and sticky 245/35R19 Yokohama Advan summer tires keep the RA nice and planted through turns. Dive into a corner, smash the gas, wait half a tick for the turbocharger to catch up and off you go.
Of course, all these performance parts carry a trade-off. In the metro Detroit area, where the roads waver between iffy and downright third-world, the STI Type RA's Bilstein shocks sound loud and feel crashy. The stiff chassis hops over bumps and leads to a fair bit of human movement in the seats, but my coworkers in better paved parts of the country say the Type RA is just fine on smoother roads.
When it comes to drivers' cars, the focus is rarely on creature-comfort tech, and that's the story for the STI Type RA. There's a standard 7-inch StarLink touchscreen infotainment system, which works well enough in terms of response and ease of use. 2019 models will include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but since this is a 2018, it doesn't have either. The infotainment also lacks built-in navigation, which is a bummer at this price but will be negated when phone mirroring gets added.
In terms of safety tech, the STI Type RA gets a backup camera, and that's it. Subaru's EyeSight suite of active and passive safety systems only goes as far as the WRX (when equipped with a CVT), so you're on your own in terms of preventing collisions.
The STI Type RA is an easy one to spec, because it's only available in a single $49,855 specification. You can, however, option it in one of three different colors -- black, blue or white. Considering gold wheels look best with blue paint, that's what I'd do. Sure, it looks meaner in black, but the second you wash the car with a dirty mitt, it's going to be Paint Swirl City.
At nearly $50,000, the STI Type RA has some weird competition. It's more expensive than the Audi S3, which is a bit smaller but a bit more luxurious. It's a little less expensive than a Mercedes-AMG CLA45, which has a fine engine but is otherwise unremarkable at best. Drop a few extra thousand dollars, though, and you're into 354-horsepower Audi S4 (or 400-hp Audi RS3) territory.
Down at the STI's traditional starting price, though, the Subaru faces some serious opposition from the Ford Focus RS, Honda Civic Type R and Volkswagen Golf R. You can load all three cars to high heaven, and while you might not get the exclusivity of the Type RA, you get some very good rides that won't punish you on crappier roads.
The Subaru WRX STI Type RA is an even sharper knife than usual. It will slice its way through traffic and carve up corners, and it will never stop being fun. It's expensive, but you're paying for its 500-example exclusivity (and that garish wing). If you want to feel like you're constantly trying to beat Subaru's four-door Nürburging lap record, the Type RA will certainly deliver.