Battle for high-performance supremacy

By Richard Bosselman on Sat, 2 Feb 2008 | Latest News | Otago Daily Times
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Two performance heroes meet at last . . . almost. Richard Bosselman weighs up the Mitsubishi Evo X and its arch rival, the latest Subaru WRX STI.

Love seeing them sideways on gravel, loathe hearing them rip through the suburban streetscape at 3am? For better or worse, the Mitsubishi Evo and Subaru WRX STI leave a special imprint on our auto culture.

Subaru WRX STI. Photo by Richard Bosselman
The latest editions of these seminal rally-turned-doof-doof cars represent a fresh chapter. More powerful turbo engines and sharpened four-wheel-drive systems plug into stronger new platforms, coated by clean-sheet, bewinged, four-door bodies.

Creating a special version of an ordinary volume model to go international rallying remains the game plan, yet interior treatments no longer stop at a set of rally-style seats. Pointedly, they've come up to speed on airbag count (each now has side impact devices for the first time) as well as wheel size, brake hardware (both now shop with Brembo) and comfort.

As performance goes, they're still seat-slammers. The STI's deliciously thrubby 2.5-litre flat four is the power broker, with 221kW from 95 octane fuel against 206kW, while the EVO X's smooth, 98 octane-dependant in-line four is the torque show, presenting 422Nm against 407Nm.

A five-speed manual seems barely enough for the Evo X. A semi-automatic SST gearbox is coming for a select few, but for now the STI's slick close-ratio six-speed is the go.

Speed-wise, the STI holds pace with its predecessor with a factory-claimed 0-100kmh in 5.2 seconds, exactly on par with the Evo, which has gone backwards - in previous form this was a 4.9sec flier.

The Evo is pinned by a 180kmh speed limiter until the export version comes in April. The STI, being to export spec, will peak at 230kmh, Subaru says.

Getting these arch rivals together wasn't possible on this occasion. Getting quality time in both, on separate occasions, was.

Mature, Euro-inspired looks really lift the Evo. It's a truly handsome car from every relevant angle.
The large body also makes it a better proposition for carting four adults - assuming you can find passengers brave enough - but weight is up by 100kg and it seems a biggish thing to burl down a rally road.Mitsubishi Evo X. Photo by Richard Bosselman

No Impreza has been exactly handsome, yet many of the mainstream models' styling quirks are reconciled here by the muscular body enhancements and a much-widened track.

Its not so big or as airy inside, but is also just 10kg heavier than before and has a great stance. Strange to see a four-cylinder car with four tailpipes, though, and the Si-Drive economy running feature is entirely out of place in this environment.

The Evo has a more pleasant cabin ambience. Subaru's cheap-looking door plastics are very easily marked and equipment includes G-resistant Recaro seats that cost extra in the STI. In fairness, Subaru's seat-upgrade option is in alcantara and leather, whereas Mitsi drivers
sit on cloth.

Those of you old enough to recall how comprehensively the genre-changing Audi Quattro altered the rallying/road driving scene might like to imagine that the
super-ability of all-paw-action and a set of sticky low-profile tyres is enough for
sonic-speed cornering. Actually, that's an outdated notion.

Hard, cold, microchip reality is that you're not in the hunt these days without a yaw, traction and torque harnessing gubbins _ the bewildering acronym-ness alone will stupefy most.

For the main part, Mitsubishi's systems are designed to be left alone, whereas Subaru allows behind-the-wheel operators to have a hand in their fine-tuning.

Essentially, though, all you need know is this: Provided you play to the car's strengths, and follow a slow in, fast out cornering credo, the wheels should never come unstuck.

Cutting between Waikanae and Upper Hutt, the Akatarawa Rd is New Zealand's equivalent of one of the WRC's toughest sealed tests, the Col de Turini stage of the Monte Carlo Rally. Yet, as a workout, it barely raised a sweat.

The Evo danced like a star through the hairpins, smoothing the bumps and making a mockery of low-speed advisories.

Mitsubishi NZ's foresight to provide Kiwi-market Evo Xs with what's called the High Performance package in Japan is a winning, potentially life-saving, move. This suspension and brake upgrade raises the bar significantly.

However, four-wheel-drifting the STI around the Taupo race circuit will long remain a special memory.

The Subaru seems tailor-made for a track; the kart-like nimbleness and steering made for stunning lap-ability.

The amount of attitude through bends differs depending on the differential setting - the 50:50 lock setting allows for the most spectacular results. It could have been lairier still - Subaru asked us not to deactivate the vehicle dynamic control.

Having an engine that is incredibly compact and lightweight, with a low centre of gravity, obviously remains beneficial to better balance, but there's more to it. The new rear suspension and the first-time adoption of 18-inch rims and Dunlop rubber also make a marked
difference, as do the centre differential and dynamic control options.

Ducking out on public roads revealed it's a markedly different car to the Evo.

Though the rear end doesn't hip-hop as it used to, it still feels nervous and brittle over surface imperfections. There's also significant road roar. All of which will sound familiar to drivers of the previous car. The abiding thought is that it's also more of a hands-on machine,
outrageous at extremes though no less competent overall.

Severely limited supply is the big issue for both brands. There's also the obvious threat of ex-Japan used cars, though they'll be surely hard-pressed to better the official importers' sharp pricing and specifications.

Subaru fans need also note Japan's STI has a 2.0-litre engine, with more power but less torque.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X
Price range:
$62,990-$67,990 (SST gearbox).
Engine: 1998cc, turbo-charged, 16-valve, DOHC four cylinder; max power 206@6500rpm, max torque 422Nm@3500rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed manual, six-speed automated manual ($5000).
Brakes and stability systems: Front, 45mm ventilated discs, four-piston calipers; rear, 42mm ventilated discs, four-piston calipers, ABS.
Fuel and economy: 10 litres per 100km on premium unleaded (Japanese combined cycle), capacity 55 litres.
Dimensions: Length 4495mm, width 1810mm, height 1480mm.
Warranty: Three years, 100,000kms.
Main rivals: Volkswagen Golf R32 $67,690; Audi S3 $77,900.

Subaru WRX STi
Price: $59,990 -$64,990 (Spec R pack).
Engine: 2457cc, turbo-charged, DOHC 16-valve flat four cylinder; max power 221@6000rpm, max torque 407Nm@4000rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Brakes and stability systems: Front, 30mm ventilated discs, four-piston calipers; rear, 30mm ventilated discs, four-piston calipers, ABS.
Fuel and economy: 10. 3 litres per 100km (Australian combined cycle), capacity 60 litres.
Dimensions: Length 4415mm, width 1795mm, height 1475mm.
Warranty: Three years, unlimited kilometres.
Main rivals: Lancer Evo X, Golf R32, Audi S3.