Even when parked amongst mid-engined exotica like the Ferrari F8 Tributo, Lamborghini Huracan Evo, and the all-new C8 Corvette, the Subaru WRX STI S209 caused quite a stir among participating judges. After all, this was our first crack at an honest-to-goodness S-Line Subaru outside of Japan, and considering they only imported a namesake 209 units, this may be our last time to sample what happens when Subaru Tecnica International (STI) really rolls up its sleeves.
For the many Subie enthusiasts in the States, the debut of the S209 at the 2019 Detroit auto show was a watershed moment. While Japan enjoyed the S-Line cars and the rest of the world had access to a thick roster of other special edition WRX and WRX STI models over the decades, we’ve made-do with a handful of special paint packages until the Type RA arrived in 2018.
For those die-hards, it was worth the wait. The 2.5-liter EJ257 turbocharged flat-four is massaged, tweaked, and prodded to an impressive 341 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque, up from 305 hp and 290 lb-ft in the regular STI. Beyond the extra power, STI improved every speck of performance hardware on the car, including suspension, steering, brakes, transmission gearing, aerodynamics, and cooling.
It’s not just the extra performance that makes this far more special than a regular STI. Whereas bog-standard STIs are developed by the pseudo-autonomous STI branch, final assembly occurs on the regular Impreza production line in Gunma, Japan. Tolerances are tighter on the S209, so STI prefers to assemble all S209s itself in its small Kiryu-Kougyo plant, where just two S209s emerge a day.
The S209s start life as a regular STI, all “purchased” by STI and brought to the specialty facility for conversion. After the S209 is complete, it leaves the factory floor wearing a vehicle tag from STI, not Subaru. This wasn’t an easy sell for the U.S. government, who allegedly had a tough time understanding the differences between a regular STI, an S209, and the pseudo-autonomy of STI when compared to parent Subaru.
The price of all this hand-built go-fastery? A smidge under $65,000, or an additional $28,000 on top of a regular base STI. That’s quite the chunk of change, and had more than one All-Stars judge muttering about whether its work the extra coin. During one of these discussions, I piped up and turned the muttering into a low roar when I mentioned specialty car broker and market expert Sterling Sackey sourced two S209s for customers—over list value.
So, I was tasked with figuring out the who-what-why of the current and secondary market for the S209, the most expensive Subaru to ever land on our shores. Thankfully, Sackey was gracious enough to answer a host of queries on the subject, and pulled from his deep reservoir of first-hand expertise on top-tier Japanese collector-grade cars in the U.S.
On average, how much above sticker was the STI S209 trading hands for when deliveries began? Have values tapered off?
I only sold a two cars, both in December, so I can speak to the “frenzy” towards the beginning. I spoke to a dealer in Long Island (to my recollection) who wanted over $100k for their car, and another in California who wanted the same. One dealer I spoke to wanted to hold a “silent auction” for their car – I guess this didn’t work because they contacted me over a month later asking if I was still interested in the car.
Both of the clients I worked for wanted White cars, which I think is a bit more desirable for collector types because they will be rarer (81 in Crystal White Pearl vs. 128 in WR Blue Pearl for 209 cars total) and because it was the debut motor show color for the car. Blue cars did seem a bit more plentiful and the asking prices I saw online seemed slightly less rich. I was able to get both White cars for $2,500 over sticker each after calling lots of dealers around the country, but it seemed like at this time most people were paying more like $5k – $10k over sticker for a White example, and probably fairly similar numbers for Blue. I would think values have tapered off by now, but at a quick glance inventory seems fairly low already (I believe the final deliveries were in February) and I don’t see any deals below MSRP on cars advertised. There are dealers still asking into the $80k+ ranges.
I noticed that it was much easier to secure cars on the East coast, likely due to the freezing weather there during the holiday season, versus the West coast where all cars seemed to be accounted for far prior to dealers even getting them.
To your knowledge, is this the only new STI to sell for over sticker?
SS: Some Type RAs certainly sold for over sticker, as I called around for a client on those when they hadn’t started deliveries yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if plenty of new STIs back in ’04 sold for over sticker too.
Did the STI Type RA attract the same amount of demand?
SS: I think it did attract a lot of demand, but the S209 takes this formula to a level (with the wide-body, major power boost, super limited numbers, etc.) that eclipses what the Type RA did. The Type RA perhaps didn’t have as much going on outwardly that made it seem “special” as compared with the S209, although I think both cars are very special and will be thought of as siblings in the future when these become collector cars. They are both numbered and both have a lot of unique touches from STI. S209 will always be worth more, but both will be worth far more than a standard production STI.
Do you know the current market of the Type RA?
SS: I don’t know the current market well, but at a glance I believe they’ve held their value quite well, especially compared to a standard STI.
What kind of buyers are picking up the S209? Are they collectors? Is this purchased as a weekend car, or a daily driver?
SS: One of the clients I helped is a serial Japanese car enthusiast, who has owned every serious Japanese performance car in recent memory (R35 GT-R Nismo, S2000 CR, NSX Zanardi, Evos, STIs, etc.) and he is using the car as his daily driver. The other buyer is a collector who already had a Type RA stored away in bubble wrap so to speak, and planned to start driving that when he gets the S209 (which will be stored away). I would say buyers at large will probably be similar, some drivers who are total STI fans and have to have the best STI to drive, and some collector types who are attracted to the rarity and STI story behind the car.
For the collectors, do they have a preference for JDM rarities?
SS: Absolutely, I think that’s a prerequisite for spending this type of money on a car like this – other people simply wouldn’t understand the pricing.
Compared to other desirable new-ish Japanese performance cars, how does the immediate desirability of the STI S209 stack up?
SS: If you are someone who has a small (or large) collection of cars, and consider yourself a serious fan of STI or limited-run specials in general, this car is head-and-shoulders above any regular production car you could buy, because those won’t have the exclusivity or special-factor that this does.
But, if you are just someone who wants a car that will give the most bang for your buck, there are going to be better options than a hand-built Subaru that costs $65k!
What is/was the buyer’s experience with the S209? Any special treatment/attention/goodies from Subaru?
SS: Here is one of my clients, he is located in SoCal but I sourced his car from Wichita, Kansas: “Thanks to not having to deal with Southern California car dealerships who treated the car opportunistically, I had a pleasant experience. The dealership in Witchita was professional, courteous, and kept their word throughout the process. Several weeks after taking delivery of the vehicle I received a package from Japan. It contained a nice letter by the development team and the President of STi (signed with wet ink), thanking me for purchasing the car. In addition, they included a very high quality model of my exact vehicle. Nice little touch. “
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What does the future market look like for the S209?
I think the future is very bright for this car. I can’t really see STI devoting this type of attention to a hand-built car for the USA ever again. The next STI will no longer have the classic EJ engine (for better or worse), it won’t have hydraulic steering, it won’t have the old school mechanical feel of this car, it may not even have a manual transmission, etc.
If they do make an S210 and it comes to America, I would expect it to be more of a pre-meditated and profitable trim level of the STI, rather than a custom-built factory tuned, super limited internal STI product.
Additionally, a production run of 209 cars is extremely rare in general – there aren’t many desirable special cars that come out that are limited to such low numbers these days. I would expect the cars to be worth serious money one or two decades down the road.
Now that the S209 was a success, do you think this paves the way for future super-limited editions from Subaru?
SS: As noted above, I could totally see them making “S-Line” or something similar a trim of the STI that has further performance upgrades. But, I don’t think they would do it in the way they did it here again, as it sounds to me like it was probably a very expensive and very un-profitable exercise for them.