No one expected another special-edition WRX to happen. We thought the S204 was the last. It was so dialed-in, so impressive, there seemed no more room for improvement on this platform. However, the engineers at Subaru Tecnica International managed to push the envelope yet again to create the baddest factory-tuned Impreza WRX STI--the RA-R.
Of course, we didn't know that right away. The general feeling among us Japanese journalists was that the new R was nothing more than another WRX with a few more STI racing parts. We were wrong. The thing is impressive in every way, from its power delivery to the way it corners. Most impressive is how it brakes. The front brakes are monoblock six-pot calipers equipped with STI logos (first time that the genre isn't equipped with Brembos) and ABS. Tuned for maximum performance, they repeatedly deliver eyeball-squelching brake force directly through the tires, without a hint of fade even after a full day hot-lapping Fuji Speedway's short road course.
The suspension is basically the same as the S204, although the anti-roll bars have been beefed up, while spring and shock damping rates are firmer by 20 percent. Just driving around town, there's not too much difference between the RA-R and the S204, but once on the track, driving near the limit, the RA-R shows its mettle. Where the S204 understeers through tight corners (an inherent trait for most all-wheel-drive cars) the RA-R feels like its rear-driven. Get the corner right and the handling balance is absolutely neutral. Turn-in is crisp, with little body roll.
The engine remains the same as the S204: turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-four putting out 320bhp at 6400rpm and 318lb-ft of torque at 4400rpm. What differentiates this engine from that of the stock car--besides the output--is the sound. Tap the accelerator pedal, and the four-cylinder sings its deep, throaty song.
Also, the RA-R is quicker than the S204 because it's lighter. The car pounces from a standstill, with all four Bridgestone Potenza RE070 tires (235/40R18s) biting the tarmac at the same time. Once the tach needle brushes past 4000rpm, the car surges forward as the turbocharger delivers a high-pitched whine. The way the RA-R sounds, feels and reacts is eerily similar to the Super Taikyu WRX race car. It's not the most comfortable thing on the road, but it sure delivers a thrill though the curves. Only 300 models will be made (111 models were sold in the first three days), so the chances of this thing making it to the US are pretty slim. Too bad, because it's a car that every sport-compact fan should sample at least once.