In the modern world of performance cars, unless a manufacturer announces some massive horsepower bump or a new record-breaking top speed, no one gets out of bed. For the masses, performance has to be quantified, seen as a large number on a piece of paper or a computer screen. If not, it might as well not exist. The 2019 Subaru WRX STI Type RA is not a modern sports car by that definition. Compared to the standard STI, this special edition has only five more horsepower, the same amount of torque and drops only 68 lbs — but comes with a $12,900 premium. The only number Subaru fans can really boast about is 6:57.50: the time Richie Stanaway set at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, making the STI the fastest four-door around the legendary track. Hence this special edition which, as a tribute to Stanaway’s car, is named RA for “Record Attempt.”
It’s easy to turn your nose up at the much more expensive Type RA for being only marginally different on paper than the standard STI. The only way to get close to justifying the price hike is to sit in the driver’s seat and string a couple corners together in one of the best-handling Subarus ever — even if it’s also the most expensive Subaru ever. Because those simple numbers don’t tell the whole story.
The Good: $12,900 is a lot for a measly five horsepower bump and a 68-lbs diet, but what you’re really getting is a professional chassis tune from Subaru’s performance masterminds — the way the Type RA tackles turns is unbelievable. And what the Type RA lacks in superlative power figures and exhaustive lightweight techniques, it makes up for in intelligence in design. Instead of adding more power, which takes a toll on the innards of an engine and drivetrain, Subaru spent R&D on reinforcing the pistons and other components and slotting in sodium-filled exhaust valves to better handle the heat. What you get is a stronger, more agile car.
Watch Out For: If you’re looking for anything other than a driver’s car, look elsewhere. Aside from the Recaro seat and steering wheel, the interior of the Type RA is lacking and fairly dated for how long this generation WRX has been out. Only 500 examples will be built.
Who It’s For: Diehard Subaru fans and enthusiasts.
Alternatives: Once upon a time the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo was Subaru WRX STI’s closest competitor. These days it’s a little tougher to find a direct competitor for an AWD four-door sports car. With the going Ford Focus RS out of production, the Audi RS3 and Volkswagen Golf R come to mind. The Audi is a few grand more expensive, albeit with nearly 100 horsepower more. The VW, on the other hand, is down only 20 horses to the Subaru, but it’s also lighter and $10,000 less expensive.
Review: You won’t be impressed by its horsepower or torque figures compared to the standard STI. Even in an age where light weight is earning equal performance priorities as overall power, the 68 pounds Subaru shaved off to make the RA lighter probably won’t do anything for you either. The 6:57.50 lap time Richie Stanaway set around the Nürburgring? That specially-built, stripped-out STI punched 600 horsepower to the wheels, — so it’s the most irrelevant number of all. Where does Subaru get off slapping a $12,900 premium on an STI with some carbon fiber? What makes the Type RA any better than a ‘base’ STI? Despite the cavernous hood scoop, gold wheels and carbon fiber rear wing, the answer is restraint, subtly and focus.
Leaning on the throttle out of turn six towards the downhill and front straight at Lime Rock Park race track, a deluge of rain pounded the RA’s windshield and its wipers fought a losing battle. I didn’t need more power. Traction, stability and predictability were far higher on my priorities list, and the Subaru delivered. Generally, the best drivers’ cars allow you to get comfortably close to the limit; adding more power just moves that threshold farther away. That’s why the Miata has such a cult following. When the ND generation hit the road, Mazda was able to cut the weight, and so they cut power to keep the limit more in balance. (Miata has since added power, but 180hp isn’t exactly outrageous).
Subaru could have gone the easy route like so many other car companies do to their performance models and flash the ECU, dial up the turbos or bore out the engine. With Subaru’s expertise, it could have easily coerced a whole Miata’s worth of power from the engine alone. Instead, the engineers reinforced the pistons to withstand prolonged punishment and threw in motorsport-derived sodium-filled exhaust valves to hold up under full heat. They tuned the suspension, lightened and stiffened up the chassis with a carbon fiber roof and shed weight by ditching the spare tire and deleting the rear passenger armrest. Admittedly, Subaru could’ve decreased weight further, but again, this is a tribute to a race car, not an actual one. Go too far in that direction and you’ll hear every rattle and every pebble bouncing off the road.
Out on the a nearly-flooded Lime Rock track or significantly drier mountain roads in upstate New York, the STI Type RA never felt out of control or nervous. A substantial portion of the RA’s premium goes toward carbon fiber extras and functional aerodynamics. But the majority of the extra money Subaru is asking you to spend goes toward upgrades that are dedicated to handling and road holding — the part of the car you can’t measure or appreciate until you get to that first turn. A fine-tuned suspension, performance-oriented rebound rates, smarter differentials and better power curves start to make that extra $12,900 look like money well spent because that’s not something the average home mechanic can tack on in their garage.
Verdict: Subaru is asking the modern market to believe that $12,900 can be better spent on handling upgrades than power upgrades — a tough sell for many. After all, how can you brag about handling? Quoting horsepower and torque figures sound cool. In reality, anyone outside of a driving enthusiast won’t appreciate what Subaru did with the Type RA (and even then, we’ll still complain. We always complain) because $12,900 is a big number to tack on to an already great car. Not many people will understand why it’s worth it, but Subaru knows — that’s why it’s only building 500 examples. The WRX STI Type RA isn’t for everyone. But those who get it won’t be disappointed.
Key Specs: 2019 Subaru WRX STI Type RA
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged Flat-Four
Transmission: six-speed manual
Torque: 290 ft-lbs
Weight: 3,400 lbs lbs
0-60 mph: 4.6 seconds
The Lime Rock Drivers Club is like a country club for racing junkies. We spent a day in the passenger’s seat. Read the Story