The 2018 Subaru WRX STi Type RA is the poster child of Japanese rally car design, putting the silly in the serious, and prioritizing handling over engine breath. This limited edition model won't sell much, and not because it's the most expensive production Subaru at $49,000. It won't sell much because Subaru is only producing 500 of them.
The Type RA in this boggle of letters stands for "record attempt" in Subaru's vaunted racing history, including a 2017 Nurburgring speed record for a four-door sedan in a modified STi Type RA.
With its gaping hood scoop and massive wing, which just may be large enough to fit the entire name boggle on it, the rally car looks like a toy car out of a fanboy's wildest dream. The $9,000 difference from the STi — the benchmark for giant wings and four-door rally fun — starts with less weight for better performance.
Carbon fiber is used in the roof and wing, the spare tire is removed, and the 19-inch alloy wheels are lighter, contributing to an estimated 50 pound-weight drop. The gold rims just look cool, though they pop a bit more against the Crystal Black or WR Blue than the Crystal White of the tester.
It feels pretty cool too. While torque stays the same, horsepower gets bumped by 5 over the STi to 310 horsepower from the 2.5-liter turbo boxer four-cylinder engine. High-flow exhaust, stronger pistons and a new cold-air intake make for an engine that can better endure extended track sessions.
Both the STi and Type RA aren't known for power. The sport and sport + dial allows for three modes, and once revs hit about 3,000 rpm the car slingshots ahead. But it peters out at about 5,500 rpm, so on long straights it can get passed by an all-wheel-drive competitor such as the 350-horsepower Ford Focus RS.
The RA excels on an autocross, or wherever it's best to come into turns hot and maintain revs to slingshot out. Steering and handling stay true to the road and driver input, instilling a Porsche-like cornering confidence in a four-door compact. It has the same C-Diff, or driver's control center differential, as the STi and toggling through it feels like an old-school racing game. In "auto" mode, torque is split to 41 percent front wheels, 59 percent rear wheels. Hitting the "plus" button evens the balance for all-wheel needs off the track in bad weather. The "minus" button shifts the amount of center differential lock in favor of the rear wheels for more spirited driving. "Manual" essentially lets the driver determine the amount of lock instead of having the system react to inputs, which could make for more inconsistent lap times, I think.
Inverted front struts come standard for greater durability on the track. The track enhancements are key because everything about this car begs to be hammered. It's loud, it's stiff, it's tactile and it handles with supreme grip.
The short stubby stick has short, quick throws in the six-speed manual. The firm clutch can be forgiving, like Old Testament God shifting into New Testament territory. First to second requires a two-step dance that's all about timing, otherwise it'll rev too high or shudder too low. Rowing into third and fourth isn't as demanding. The only difference over the STi is a revised third gear ratio.
Stiff Recaro seats come standard, and the Type RA has the same everyday four-door functionality as the WRX. Prior to our lovely track day, we fit two hockey bags in the trunk and two hockey tweens with plenty of room in back without their hockey stink assaulting the driver.
Type RA is better for autocross than track laps, although better drivers will make it work on both. The ultimate question for Subaru fans is if it's worth $9,000 more than the STi. Exclusivity has its privileges (and its price tag) and you'll be a standout at the car show for those in the know. More importantly, it will make you want to hit the course more to justify that membership.
Vehicle type: Compact performance sedan
Base price: $48,995
As tested: $48,995 (excluding $860 delivery)
Mpg: 16 city, 22 highway (premium gas)
Engine: 310-horsepower 2.5-liter turbo four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Parting shot: The rally car for Subie nuts.
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