Evo and STi: Different Creatures

March 25, 2008
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A weeklong drive of Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution GSR impressed jaw-dropping performance, but it also served to help reinforce, quickly, what I liked better about the Subaru WRX STi that I’d driven a few months back: greater livability, drivability, and practicality.

First off, both of these cars are extremely fast. Both can accelerate to 60 mph in about five seconds; and as we’ve pointed out in our road tests of the STi and the Evo, the Evo maintains more of the sharp-edged feel of the last generation of these performance cars while the STi takes a different approach, still allowing tremendous grip but more suspension compliance.

And while it’s entirely possible — based on what I’ve seen from the magazines that have had both vehicles out for some track time — that I might choose the Evolution after a stint of back-to-back track driving, day in and day out on pockmarked roads the STi is the clear choice.

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Yes, the new Evo is somewhat improved in its drivability. The new 4B11 engine is less peaky than its predecessor, with a little less turbo lag and a broader powerband. But drivability is still far from stellar compared to the STi’s revamped 2.5-liter turbo flat-four, which although it turns out similar horsepower figures and yields almost equally fast acceleration, just feels more drivable. And of course there’s the soon-to-arrive BMW 135i, a refined alternative that will further shake up the scene.

Just as in the STi, it pays to keep the Evo’s revs up; if you’re on the high side of 3000 rpm, there’s a lot less lag before the turbo swiftly spools up and delivers its heavy-hitting punch. Much below there in, say, third or fourth gear, you can full-throttle it and still count off a second or two before it really delivers. The Evo's engine is decidedly unhappy lugging along at 1500 rpm in second or third gear in traffic where most other modern performance cars are tolerant if not responsive. And it’s one of the toughest cars I’ve driven in recent years to launch in a smooth fashion from a stop going uphill, without either balking or hurtling ahead—a strong argument for the TC-SST semi-automatic transmission that’s offered in the pricier MR.

The Evo’s steering is arguably superior, as it still manages to have that same quick-ratio feel without feeling too twitchy and while also bringing great feedback from the road.

But you’ll feel and hear the road from wherever you are in the Evo. The overall boom and din inside the cabin at 80 mph on rough pavement (and just about any speed) is perhaps greater than I’ve recently experienced in many roadsters—including the soft-top Audi TT I drove the week before. Is your relationship important? Be prepared for questions like ‘Why is this car so loud?,’ and ‘Why does it have to be so bumpy?’ I certainly heard them.

I much prefer the STi’s hatchback style to the Evo’s sedan body style, but the Evo’s racy front-end styling seemed to be a hit with everyone.

Inside it’s a different story. The Evo’s great Recaro front seats are tremendously supportive but the steering wheel doesn’t telescope. Overall, the interior overall felt a bit plain — certainly better than the last generation car — however the base cloth upholstery felt cheap and unduly attracted lint and hair. The headliner buzzed on downshifts or early upshifts and felt to be made of cardboard; and the doors closed with a disconcertingly hollow sound and feel. And as for first impressions, the first time I got into the Evo with my size-13 dress shoes on, the toe area was scraped up by the sharp, ragged edges of a flimsy heater vent outlet. Sneakers only, folks.

Enthusiast magazines are absolutely gushing over the Evo — rightly so. But if you you’re leaning toward the speedy Mitsu, go get yourself and a companion stuck in traffic on the test drive, ya hear?

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