2018 Subaru WRX STI Type RA Review

An expensive way to juvenile thrills


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Razor sharp steering and handling, impressively powerful, one of the best-looking WRXs in recent memory.
Negatives: Jerky at low speeds, doesn't feel as aggressive as the regular STI, seriously firm ride, cheap interior bits, huge rear spoiler makes you look too boy racer, high price of entry.
Bottom Line: We love the WRX STI RA, though it's definitely not for everyone. Geared far more for thrills than comfort, its space, tech, and interior appointments are afterthoughts. It is a blast to drive, and it looks special, but the price tag is steep. You're better off spending less and getting the regular WRX STI, which is plenty fun.
The Subaru WRX (World Rally eXperimental") is close to becoming a motoring legend. It's been around since 1992. The STi (Subaru Tecnica international) is now going on over a decade, and it's the more specialized version with upgrades to the suspension, brakes, engine, and aerodynamics. Now, Subaru has delivered an even more specialized edition known as the WRX STI RA (Record Attempt), and it's a pricey draw for enthusiasts who want more. But do the various upgrades make a difference, and do they warrant the $50K sticker? We drove it for a week to find out. Read on for the full review.
 

Driving Experience

9.3

 

There's more to love in the RA, including 5 more horses (310), a short throw shifter, suspension upgrades, and lighter wheels with better tires. The car is also a tad lighter overall.

Ride Quality: No question about it, this ride is a firm one. We never felt like it was overly harsh, but don't expect things to be cushy. You feel pretty much everything, but that's the price you pay for performance.

Acceleration: The turbo flat four engine is small but powerful. The traction at all four wheels and the short throw shifter make quick work of speed. 0-60 comes in about 5.6 seconds, a bit slower than we expected. It takes two gear changes to get there. The clutch is also oddly heavy. It's a hard car to drive slowly, and it can get jerky at low speeds during gearshifts.

Braking: The more powerful Brembos bring it to a stop with authority. The bite is firm, but the pedal is progressive.

Steering: The near-perfect steering wheel is complemented by good effort and precision. Feedback is also very good.

Handling: The WRX STI RA handles corners like a champ and takes them flat. The car feels balanced and very tractable. The upgraded Bilstein STI sport-tuned suspension setup is excellent.

Technology

6.8

 

Subaru's in-car tech has certainly improved over the years, but it's not really their priority, which is unfortunate. No one buys a WRX STI for its infotainment since it's the idea is to enjoy the drive.

Infotainment System: The STARLINK system is good but not great. It's clear, and the screen looks good. There are just too many colors that busy up the view. Menus are relatively easy, but it needs more simplicity.

Controls: We love the big, round climate control knobs, and the steering wheel controls work well. The audio knobs are too small and short, so activating the touchscreen accidentally is far too easy.

Styling

9.2

 

Though we really do miss the WRX STI hatchback from the last generation, the STI sedan still looks unique and special enough to set it apart from the hot hatch crowd. With the special trim bits, carbon fiber roof and spoiler, the RA is the model to covet from a visual perspective. We had quite a few Subies try to catch up to us for a look.

Front: Red trim in the grille and a new front splitter add some visual punch to the RA. At least the styling isn't overdone, and the functional hood scoop is always welcomed.

Rear: The big spoiler dominates this view, but its de rigueur for the model. We don't like the busy and somewhat small taillights, but the dark diffuser and quad pipes are great.

Profile: The body creases are a bit weird, and the front overhang is a little long for our liking, but those gold BBS wheels make this view worth it.

Cabin: The Recaro seats are trimmed in red, but they're not the best-looking versions we've seen. They do help dress up the somewhat drab and uninspired cabin. For $50K, Subaru could do better than this.

Comfort

7.1

 

Only front seat occupants will find the cabin comfortable since it's cramped in the back. There are also quite a few hard, cheap materials in the cabin that make the experience a bit worse off than it could've been.

Front Seats: These seats strike a nice balance between comfort and bolstering. They're definitely more comfortable than the versions in the Ford Focus RS we drove last year.

Rear Seats: It's tight back there, and the middle position isn't good for adults at all since it's too flat and upright.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The WRX is well built, but it's just a noisy place to be. Engine noise and road noise intrude but not to the point of being unbearable. It's just an expectation of this type of niche car. We witnessed no errant vibrations or creaks.

Visibility: Visibility is good in all directions, except for the very rear due to the spoiler.

Climate: Heat worked decently, as did the heated seats. More air volume could be moved, but the small vents prevent that.

Safety

9.5

 

The WRX STI RA is a remarkably safe car since its essentially a WRX underneath. That car nailed the crash test, and with the optional EyeSight safety system, the WRX has a robust set of accident avoidance features.

IIHS Rating: The WRX gets a Top Safety Pick+ score, the highest ranking. It also gets "Superior" when it comes to accident avoidance tech, when properly optioned.

NHTSA Rating: 5 stars in crash testing from the federal government.

Standard Tech: Our tester came with automatic headlights, a Tire Pressure Monitoring System and a rear-vision camera.

Optional Tech: No Monroney provided.

Storage/Cargo

5.5

 

For a sedan, there's not a ton of room in the cabin for storage or in the trunk for gear and luggage.

Storage Space: The large binnacle at the base of the RA's center stack is well-sized, and the center armrest is good for concealing larger items.

Cargo Room: Open the trunk, and there's only 12 cubic feet. You'll need to use the split folding rear seats to maximize the car's cargo capabilities.

Fuel Economy

6

 

Though the WRX STI RA is rated at 18 combined, you'll probably experience less because of your desire to push the car hard. We did a fair amount of highway miles, but that didn't get us great numbers.

Observed: 16.3 mpg

Distance Driven: 241 miles.

Audio

7.3

 

Our test car had the upgraded 9-speaker Harman Kardon system, which was pretty good but not great. It just seems to lack some of the fullness and bass we've come to experience from the brand in other car models.



Final Thoughts

Those who want rally-racer looks that will turn mostly heads from younger guys who covet such high-powered street racers have met their grail car. The WRX STI RA is special, at least in the way it looks. Sure, it's fast and handles remarkably well, but the price tag is just too high. $12K+ more than the regular STI without a drastic change in the way it drives just seems like too much.
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