2019 Subaru WRX Raiu Review

Subaru is on pace to break its yearly sales record in Canada for the sixth consecutive time this year. It’s no surprise that Canadian consumers have flocked to Subaru. With an emphasis on all-weather capability and safety, Subaru’s lineup seems as if it was engineered specifically for Canadians. In fact, the automaker is doing so well in Canada that it rolled out its own special edition WRX variant for the market this year – the WRX Raiu Edition.

SEE ALSO: 2018 Subaru WRX STI Review

Raiu is Japanese for “thunderstorm,” and this WRX is certainly reminiscent of a stormy day with its Cool Grey Khaki paint job (which is neither grey nor khaki) and 18-inch gloss black alloy wheels. The special edition model also gets STI front, side and rear lip extensions, a rear lip spoiler, red brake calipers and black exterior trim. The Raiu is based on the WRX Sport Tech and adds $1,700 (CAD) to the price of the range-topping model, making it the most expensive WRX Canadian consumers can buy apart from the STI.

That $1,700 goes almost exclusively toward the cosmetic enhancements we listed above, with the only performance upgrades being a short-throw shifter and Jurid brake pads. The short throw shifter is a welcome improvement to the WRX’s six-speed manual transmission, which typically has long throws and stiff gear engagements, but this shifter remains a bit funny to use. The gear throws still feel drawn-out and the engagements are vague and rubbery. Toss in the stiff clutch pedal and late clutch engagement that are characteristic of this WRX and you’re left with a package that’s needlessly hard to drive in a fluid manner.

Remembering The Rally Days

Powering the Raiu is Subaru’s 268 hp four-cylinder boxer engine. This engine feels old-school, producing a pitiful amount of torque in the low RPM range before the turbocharger kicks in around 2,500 RPM and hits you with a hilarious barrage of boost. This isn’t really a complaint – I‘d call it the WRX’s party trick. There’s plenty of refined 2.0-liter turbos out there with undetectable turbo lag and silent operation. This somewhat noisy and laggy 2.0-liter boxer is a bit refreshing and not at all out of place in an enthusiast product like this. This, along with the crude, whiny gearbox is enough to convince me Subaru hasn’t completely shifted from the ‘World Rally Championship’ era into the safety-focused ‘They Lived‘ era. Not yet, anyway.

As for handling, this WRX is rather engaging and fun to chuck into corners and I’ve found you don’t need to push hard to have fun in it. The WRX is more capable through the bends and while a bit stiff, the ride strikes a good balance between sportiness and everyday usability. The Dunlop Sport Maxx RT tires aren’t anything special but also aren’t too bad. If you really like to drive fast, consider getting something stickier for warmer months.

‘Sup With That Cabin, Though?

The WRX’s crudeness carries over to portions of the cabin, with hard black plastics accounting for much of the interior surfaces and switches. Most of the things you frequently touch are quite nice, like the microfiber suede Recaro front and rear seats and thick-rimmed STI steering wheel. We actually can’t speak highly enough about the Recaros – they look great, have decent bolstering and won’t completely destroy your back on a long drive. That’s more than we can say about most modern sports seats.

The Raiu has all the creature comforts of the WRX Sport Tech as well, which means you get a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a nine-speaker Harman Kardon stereo system – but honestly, Subaru should be including such equipment at $40k. Especially when they won’t even toss in a set of rear seat air-con vents. We’ve always liked the usable layout of the WRX’s cabin for what it’s worth, and wish all cars were this easy to see out of.

The Verdict: 2019 Subaru WRX Raiu Edition Review

Now toward the end of its lifecycle, the fourth-generation WRX is an interesting proposition for enthusiasts. If you yearn for a time when turbo lag was ubiquitous and Subaru rally cars were still sponsored by Asian cigarette brands, it’s probably the car for you. But unlike a first-generation WRX or any of is 1990s rallying rivals, the 2019 WRX pairs a laggy turbo engine and crude manual gearbox with the highest possible safety rating (Top Safety Pick+) from the IIHS. What a time to be alive!

SEE ALSO: 2018 Subaru BRZ tS Review

As for the Raiu Edition, I think the appeal is limited. It looks great (evidenced by the numerous people who commented on it during my week with it), but it also lacks any ‘Raiu’ badging or branding, so it’s hardly a true limited edition model. For $40k, we suggest you just pull the trigger on the more expensive STI instead (which has a much better gearbox), or save that stack of money and get a regular WRX. There’s only 100 Raius, anyway, and we imagine Subaru’s loyal Canadian buyers will claim them all fairly quickly.

Discuss this story on our Subaru WRX Forum