Romania’s Transfagarasan Highway attracts more than its fair share of enthusiast drivers, as there are some who have said that the Transfagarasan is the best driving road in the world. Our encounter with the Highway was a bit of a good news/bad news scenario: the good news was the road was closed off to the sheep and fellow drivers who generally impede the full experience; the bad news was it was pouring rain. Those clouds had one silver lining, however: we wouldn’t be braving the elements on the rough pavement of the Transfagarasan in anything delicate—we were here to drive Subaru’s new WRX STI Type RA.
Limited to a production run of 500 cars for the United States market, the STI Type RA is the latest “greatest” version of Subaru’s beloved rally racer-inspired road car that has been defying all odds—by selling in the U.S. at all—since 2002. The “RA” in its name is a designation Subaru uses for in-house “Record Attempt” cars. Not only was new Type RA inspired by an RA STI that was built to successfully set a four-door sedan lap record at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, it also lends the production car a few of the modifications that helped it break that record.
One of the major differences about the WRX STI Type RA is a weight reduction of nearly 70 pounds compared to the standard STI. Contributing to the weight loss are forged 19-inch BBS wheels in gold, the deletion of the rear armrest, and a tire repair kit where the spare used to be, as well as a carbon fiber roof (which also improves body strength) and a GT racing-style rear wing, which is adjustable to add downforce. A front splitter is said to increase grip, while rear wheelwell vents reduce drag.
You’ll find fancy suspension underneath the STI Type RA: a flexible draw stiffener links the front suspension crossmember with the subframe, applying a pre-load. This is meant to reduce delay in the chassis’ response to steering input during acceleration and braking, though it’s said to offer the benefit across a broad range of driving situations. The springs and dampers have been changed to account for the Type RA’s wheel/tire combination, with inverted monotube Bilstein dampers offering higher damping force at lower speeds. Overall, the Type RA is 15-percent stiffer up front (3 percent at the rear) than the standard STI, which Subaru says results in a 15-percent reduction in pitch and 18-percent less body roll.
The heart of the Type RA is the 2.5-liter turbocharged boxer engine seen in the STI for a (very) long time now, with 310 horsepower compared to the regular STI’s 305 hp. Those additional five horses are wrung from the boxer via a retuned ECU and lower-restriction intake and exhaust systems. The intake and exhaust also aid in reduction of pressure loss in the turbo, which along with a revised third gear and short-throw shifter helps keep the Type RA in the boost.
The fleet for our Romanian trip was comprised of a group of standard WRX STIs and a single Type RA. Our time behind the wheel of the Type RA found us chasing the STIs through the endlessly twisting 50-mile stretch of highway. As you might imagine, the two cars are more than a little alike; the biggest difference in the driving rain was in the tires. Where the less aggressive stock-STI rubber found grip in tight hairpins, the Type RA was noticeably squirrellier. Hammer down out of a corner and the Type RA isn’t appreciably faster, either. Where you perceive the greatest difference in the Type RA is in its suspension. It’s perfectly judged—stiff yet compliant over bumps and dips, offering better composure when setting up for each corner. It just wasn’t enough to overcome the relative lack of wet grip. Our suspicion is that the RA would handily shine as the better tool on dry surfaces.
What feels the same, unfortunately, is the steering, which is perhaps the one real knock on the Type RA, and the STI in general. The rack is precise and fast, but the general feel is overly artificial—rather than feeling locked on target under cornering, there’s the simulated weightiness that’s characteristic of electric systems, but here it’s not fake-heavy enough. It’s easy to seesaw the wheel even accidentally mid-corner, which does nothing but take away from the experience. With that said, there isn’t technically the need for incredibly talkative steering in a brute like the Type RA—you’re not likely to be dancing the delicate line between understeer and oversteer like you would in, say, a mid-engined car with tall tires and no stability control. The Type RA offers more of a “jam the brakes, turn, jam the gas, let the AWD sort things out” experience.
That brings us to the real joy of the 2018 WRX STI Type RA: its seemingly ancient turbocharged boxer engine. The five-horsepower boost isn’t a game changer in-and-of itself; the tweaks made to coax that extra horsepower, however, amount to a roaring good time. Turbo lag is present, as expected, but once it reaches a boil the Type RA feels like it can move mountains all day long. There’s nothing subtle here: the STI Type RA wants you to step on it and stay on it, throwing it into and through corners—apexes be damned, you’ll carve a line one way or the other.
All the fun of the 2018 Subaru WRX STI Type RA comes at a price, however: it’s listed at $49,855, which is about $13,000 over the standard WRX STI. Even with the carbon fiber and engineering tweaks, it’s still quite a lot to pay for an STI, especially one you’ll have to take to regular track days or commandeer an entire government to build you a private highway as your playground to really appreciate.
Whether or not the STI Type RA is right for you may simply come down to a matter of will and means. On the one hand, it’s a good deal of money to spend on a cool-looking STI with a slightly angrier engine and a very well-sorted chassis. On the other hand, it’s a cool-looking STI with a slightly angrier engine and a very well-sorted chassis. If you want to be one of the 500, this review is likely redundant because you’ve bought one already. For the rest of us, the Type RA earns its spot as the current top-of-the-line STI, but its appeal beyond diehard Subaru enthusiasts is debatable. If you can try one, you should; maybe it’ll be right for you.