Subaru enjoys twice the fun this year as two milestone
In 2018, the diminutive Japanese
automaker celebrates 50 years of U.S. sales (founded officially on February 15,
1968). From humble beginnings with the undersized Subaru 360 in 1968,
the company sold more than 640,000 vehicles in the States last year (a record
number) with an assortment of well-grounded sedans and crossovers. From
Japanese the word 'Subaru' translates to 'unite.'
2018 sign post involves Subaru's high-octane motorsport vehicle and auto parts
subsidiary joining the fray 20 years later. Back in 1988, the
Japanese automaker unleashed 'Subaru Tecnica International' (STI), a corner of
Subaru where engineers could let loose with high-adrenaline theories while
testing performance hypothesis throughout real-world racetrack circuits.
testing paid dividends in 2004, as Subaru introduced its first track-inspired
vehicle for public consumption here in the U.S., the WRX STI.
Subaru's higher-volume compact Impreza platform serves as the starting point
for WRX underpinnings.
Think of the Impreza sedan as the
Clark Kent of Subaru's lineup, a functional compact that completes assignments
at deadline with minimal rewrites. The WRX reflects Impreza's secret
Superman duality, many of the same bones under the skin, but sporting powers
not found in the mortal Impreza. Now, throw WRX STI into the mix,
sort of the alter-ego Superman after downing a Monster Energy
Drink. Finally, add a "Type RA" special
edition variant into the fray (available now at the tail end of the 2018 model
year). Think of RA as a late-arriving golden-anniversary birthday
present with the energy drink supersized.
conventional Clark Kent Impreza sedan gets by with a 2.0-liter inline
four-cylinder cranking out 152 horses. The WRX pumps the 2.0-liter
numbers up, reaching 268 horsepower. Add the Monster Energy Drink and
WRX STI horsepower pumps up to 305 thanks to its 2.5-liter turbocharged
engine. The supersized "Type RA" adds five more engine
calories and horsepower (310).
For those wondering, RA
stands for Record Attempt. The STI and limited-edition STI RA rank as
the sole models Subaru featuring the 2.5-liter turbocharged four.
engines run off of recycled exhaust gases spinning a pinwheel-inspired turbine
to pump concentrated air into the engine. Turbocharging increases
engine output without adding undue weight in the form of extra cylinders.
WRX target audience skews male born since 1980, some dubbed the 'tuner
crowd.' Those seeking a WRX STI RA need a few extra shillings. Subaru
plans to offer a scant few (only 500) of these RA special editions. Each gets
numbered for posterity sake (via a center console plaque) with three available
exterior colors: Crystal Black, Crystal White and WR Blue.
Major RA differentiators: lighter weight, higher engine output and engaged
With just 500 units, the STI RA sells 'as is'
with the only basic decision being exterior color. Pricing starts and
ends at $49,859 including $860 destination charge and standard six-speed manual
transmission. By comparison, a 2018 WRX STI starts at $36,095 while the WRX
checks in at $26,995.
It's quite the polar opposite of the
$1,290 priced Subaru 360 circa 1968, with looks suspiciously similar to the VW
Beetle, only $300 cheaper and 1,000-pounds lighter with the highly forgettable
tag-line 'Cheap and Ugly Does It.'
The RA's price premium is
felt at the gas pump, too. Fuel estimates register at 16 miles per
gallon city and 22 mpg highway, somewhat embarrassing in a four-cylinder, but
precious few purchase this gem to micro-measure fuel stats. Plus, fueling the
15.9-gallon tank requires 93-octane premium grade.
about all Subarus promote all-wheel drive all the time. Symmetrical all-wheel
drive in the WRX STI RA edition delivers a performance torque spilt of 41:59
front-to-rear, differing from most other models set at 50:50. If slippage is
indicated, the system automatically transfers more torque to wheels with the
best traction to optimize driving situations.
Subaru made an exception to its own all-wheel drive rule by introducing the
low-slung, low-volume BRZ (only about 4,000 sold last year) rear-wheel-drive
coupe in a joint venture with Toyota. A common distinction with the
WRX sedan: limited edition, high-performance 2018 versions as BRZ
offers 500 units of its 'TS.'
Another Subaru differentiator:
its crop of Boxer engines. Shaped similar to a large travel suitcase,
pistons lay flat at 180 degrees (instead of the 'V' inspired 90 degrees), thus
riding shallower in the engine compartment. This lowers the center of
gravity, improving agility, traction, balance and handling. Only a
precious few automakers outside of Subaru, mostly high-end track-specific
types, adopt this design.
A high-flow performance, quad
exhausts adorn the lower back end of the RA, while the short deck lid sports
one of the more notable spoilers not sourced via an aftermarket provider.
According to the tape measure, 10 inches of air/room exists from bottom to
top. The RA edition's spoiler constructs from a carbon-fiber material
as does the roof panel.
A function hood scoop
assists engine cooling while striking a pose. Vertical brake-cooling
scallops, rearward of all four wheels along lower fenders, are largely for
show. Brembo brake calipers include a silver finish and black STI logo. Visual
appeal matches a sporty, deep-throated audible rumble at idle.
doses of 'Cherry Blossom Red' accents throughout STI RA on the shifter knob
top, dashboard-located push-button electric start and sides of the firmly
bolstered front bucket seats. The flat-bottomed steering wheel boasts a black,
suede-like material, comforting the fingers wrapping around the ring. Bucket
seat cushion and backrests contain the same fabric as found on the steering
wheel. This wheel is also home to cruise control functions at three o' clock,
and secondary audio controls at nine.
A drive mode dial
between bucket seats offers three selections (intelligent, sport, super sharp)
adjusting the throttle response and torque. An instrument panel
housed color digital graphic offers throttle response visuals. The vehicle's
stiff suspension contributes to a notably rougher ride, but RA's Bilsten sport
suspension keeps the vehicle well planted during energetic cornering.
Subaru promotes WRX STI as a five seater, two adults enjoy optimal comfort in
row two with a vertical floor hump separating two orbs. Seatbacks
fold down in 60/40-split fashion once pull tabs at the outboard edges get
yanked upward. The trunk's high stance generates 12.0 cubic feet of usable
cargo room, better than average for this segment and large mouth opening.
with a majority of 2018 manual transmissions, the WRX line includes a
hill-holder clutch, eliminating immediate rollback if encountering an incline
while idling or stopped as the right foot moves from the brake to the
accelerator pedal. Subaru promoted the HHC and its benefits way back
in the early 1980s and perfected the convenience over the decades.
Subaru WRX STI RA
Price as tested: $49,859
2.5-liter four-cylinder turbo
Overall length: 181.3 inches
width: 70.7 inches
Overall height: 58.1 inches
weight: 3,395 pounds
Fuel economy: 16 mpg city