Subaru WRX STi or the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO. Many believe that the battle for who reigns supreme in the sport compact car market is between these two cars. Both cars are formidable weapons in battle. Both cars have similar performance envelopes. Both cars turn nearly equal times around a racetrack. Yet somehow both cars feel and drive quite differently.
The EVO is like a scalpel. The steering is precise and quick, almost to the point of feeling darty. It is very easy to drive fast, it tends to understeer, yet under throttle the front wheels tuck in and the car tightens its line. When lifting off the throttle in a turn the car will maintain control, simply tightening the line. With a ham-fisted, unskilled driver it will gently transition to oversteer. It is forgiving to the uninitiated. I have a way of describing this car. If you find yourself going too fast into a turn, it's almost like the car tells you: "Oh dear, here-let me take it," and somehow you make the turn. That's how good the stock EVO is.
The engine is somewhat pipey, defiantly feeling like the turbocharged small displacement engine it is even though the turbo is remarkably lag free. The engine does have an ample amount of power in stock form. It is a highly-developed engine with a long history of achievements in the world of motorsports from import drag racing to WRC. Thus, the engine has huge amounts of support in the aftermarket with a wide selection of parts.
The big Brembo brakes are superb, the pedal is firm and the stopping is fade free unless under racing condition, in which case a simple change of brake pads will upgrade things enough to work.
Does it sound like I love the EVO? In fact I do to the point where it is perhaps my favorite car for any amount of money.
However, this series isn't about the EVO, it's about its archrival, the Subaru WRX STi. The STi is about as opposite to the EVO as can be. If the EVO is a scalpel, the STi is a sledgehammer. Both are deadly weapons that can kill instantly, they just differ in their approach.
The STi has a huge amount of grip, however, its balance is not as delicate as the EVO's. The STi will understeer in a corner and as the throttle is applied, will understeer more. Apply a little more throttle and it will suddenly and almost violently transition to oversteer. The steering has a rubbery feel and does not return to center consistently. The shifter has the same rubbery feel.
The EJ25 has superior bottom end power and torque. The engine quickly shoots through the transmission's six speeds. It does seem to run out of breath at high rpm though. Although this is the opposite of how an EVO feels, both cars return remarkably similar 0-60 and 11/44 mile times. The engine has a computer-controlled drive-by-wire throttle, which makes it more difficult for aftermarket tuners to fiddle with and it does not enjoy nearly the same amount of aftermarket support as the EVO's 4G63.
Although the STi has the same big Brembo brakes as the EVO the pedal feel is not as good and the brakes are more difficult to modulate. Flex somewhere in the spindle or caliper mount makes the car susceptible to brake caliper piston knockback which makes consistent braking under track conditions more difficult than with the EVO.
When driving both cars around the track I have turned nearly identical lap times but with the EVO I marvel on how easy it is. With the STi, I feel like, Whew, that was a lot of work.