Once were Warriors

HEAD-TO-HEAD Subaru WRX STI vs Mitsubishi Lancer Evo

by SCOTT NEWMAN pics CRISTIAN BRUNELLI

Itís Evo vs STI in one final stoush, but can either compete with the new-age hot hatches from Europe?

A USSIES are well familiar with the concept having to choose between red and blue; whether itís cars (Ford vs Holden), football (Queensland vs NSW), beer (Tooheys/Cascade) or, back in the day, smokes (Winfields), most folks tend to naturally form a preference for one side or the other.

But Australia doesnít have a monopoly on this match-up.

The fight between Subaruís WRX STI and Mitsubishiís Lancer Evolution might not have the history of our local dust-ups, but the battle lines are equally clear: fast Lancer fans arenít likely to join the boxer brigade, and vice versa.

With the arrival of the Lancer Evolution Final Edition, however, the contest is nearly at an end. Given that makes the WRX STI the last man standing, you could argue the Subaru is the winner by default, but is the Mitsubishi able to land one last knockout punch, in the manner of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler?

Does it matter? For the past 25 years, low-volume Lancia Integrale aside, turbo all-wheel-drive road rockets have predominantly been the domain of the Japanese. In recent times, however, Europe has taken to the concept like a fish to water, with first Audi (S3/RS3) then Volkswagen (R32/Golf R) and Mercedes-AMG (A45) all releasing their own takes on the theme.

The latter is here as a representative rather than a competitor, to test, do our Oriental protagonists still bring anything to the table in the wake of this Euro onslaught? Or have they been overwhelmed by the technological superiority of the Germans?

After 24 years and 10 generations, the Final Edition is the swansong for the Lancer Evolution. Sadly, the mouth-watering 353kW Final Concept has been significantly watered down for production, however this is not just a badge-and-stickers job either.

ECU fiddles and sodium-filled valves for improved cooling liberate an extra nine kilowatts at the top end and add 48Nm of mid-range punch, bringing totals from the 2.0-litre turbo four to 226kW/414Nm.

But aside the from the engine changes, the Final Editionís greatest strength is its value proposition.

At $53,700, itís $5790 cheaper than the Evo Xís 2008 launch price and includes as standard the Performance Pack that once added $5500 and features two-piece Brembo rotors, Bilstein dampers with Eibach springs and forged BBS rims. Just 1000 Final Editions will be built, with 150 coming to Australia, each individually numbered.

Subaru also recently updated the WRX STI for MY16, however the changes are limited to increased safety and convenience features on Premium models. The venerable EJ25 2.5-litre turbo flat-four continues with 221kW/407Nm, sent through a sixspeed manual gearbox. Subaru claims an impressive

Do our Oriental protagonists still bring anything to the table in the wake of the European all-paw turbo onslaught?

Few cars are more at home being driven on their door handles than the Lancer Evolution

4.9sec for the 0-100km/h sprint, however extracting numbers continues to be as cruel and brutal as the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan.

The only way to get the STI off the line is to use as many revs as possible, dump the clutch and hope the drivetrain doesnít blow itself to smithereens. Wetting the tyres helps slightly, reducing the shock load and allowing a little wheelspin to keep the car on boost.

It jumps off the line like itís been stabbed and then itís a matter of changing gears as quickly as possible, something the synchros arenít too fond of. Crunch.

Nought to 100km/h takes 5.49sec, a disappointing six-tenths slower than Subaruís claim but roughly in line with what weíve managed previously. The STIís benchmark time was set in mid-winter with rally ace Cody Crocker at the wheel, however itís difficult to see where the time difference is, especially given the STIís ultra-short gearing requires a time-sapping shift to third at 95km/h.

Anyhow, the Evo requires a similar technique, but an artificial 5500rpm rev limiter when stationary limits the violence with which it can launch. Thatís not enough, and the Mitsubishi bogs down slightly, losing three-tenths to the Subaru by the time the pair hit 40km/h. Interestingly, trying the same wettyre trick as the STI sends the Evoís active all-wheel drive system into conniptions, spinning either the front or rear wheels like mad and crabbing down the strip like a wonky dog.

It still trails slightly at 100km/h (5.61sec) but from there the two are virtually neck and neck, the Lancer crossing the 400m mark in 13.67sec at 164.78km/h, a mere 0.05sec and 0.20km/h behind the STI. Of course, the best European hot hatches are more than a second up the road these days, and even price rivals like the VW Golf R are at least half-a-second clear, but weíll continue.

The Lancerís 4B11 engine is rather remarkable.

A replacement for the venerable 4G63T, it revs to an impressive 7600rpm (600rpm beyond redline) and is backed, along with the rest of the driveline, by Mitsubishiís 10-year/160,000km powertrain warranty, so itís fair to say youíre not likely to wear it out in a hurry. Unfortunately, this on-paper promise doesnít translate too well in the real world.

While effective, the 4B11 is laggy by todayís standards; weíve become spoiled by new-gen turbo engines that pull from idle. It also sounds strained at higher rpm Ė chasing the 7000rpm redline sounds like youíre hurting it Ė and devours 98RON at a tremendous rate. Combined with a tiny 55-litre fuel tank, the Evoís thirst results in a pathetic touring range; fill-ups in 350km or less are commonplace.

Itís not helped by ill-conceived gearing. With Mitsubishiís SST dual-clutch íbox having ended production a while ago, the Final Edition is only offered with a five-speed manual, and in an effort to force buyers into the then-new whizz-bang selfshifter, the manual Evo X was seemingly saddled

with whatever cogs were left on the shelf.

First to fourth are extremely short Ė no bad thing Ė while fifth is a big jump without being tall enough to deliver decent cruising economy, the engine buzzing away at 3000rpm at 100km/h. The shift itself isnít great, either, often baulking between ratios and with a fairly long throw. The STI, meanwhile, is no Porsche Cayman, but the shift is better, which is just as well, as its rally car ratios mean you have to row the íbox like a member of the Oarsome Foursome trying to escape another Goulburn Valley advertisement.

Unfortunately, the Subaru is a very difficult car to drive smoothly; itís all too easy to get out of Ďsyncí with the car and end up looking like youíre on your third driving lesson. Without fail, everybody who drives it stalls it, too. Thankfully, itís at its best when youíre driving it like it was designed to be driven.

The EJ25 has lost a bit of its boxer character over the years, but keep it singing between 3000-6000rpm and itíll slingshot you between corners in a rush of turbo boost. At this point you lean on the brakes Ė strong on road and just about adequate for track use Ė turn in and feel the car grip, grip and grip some more. Any under or oversteer at road speeds is usually the result of driver error; the latest STI is massively stiffer both in terms of bodyshell and suspension set-up than its predecessor, and while this does bugger-all for the ride quality, it has made it a much sharper cornering tool.

So far, so good, however the fly in the Subaruís ointment is its steering. The weighting is about right and thereís enough feedback, but itís very sharp just off centre and feels strangely Ďspringyí with lock applied. Far worse, though, is its behaviour over mid-corner bumps; the rack rattle sounds like the bolts havenít been done up properly and the kickback has the wheel bucking and writhing in your hands. Itís a major dynamic flaw and costs the STI dearly on the very roads it should shine brightest.

In contrast, there are few cars more at home being driven on their door handles than the Lancer Evolution. The tyres can be screaming in torture and the scenery a blur, yet more often than not the mood behind the wheel is as relaxed as a yoga retreat. This really is such an easy car to drive. Easy, but not unrewarding. The Evoís trick Super All- Wheel Control all-wheel drive system is constantly shuffling torque around, but at no point does the driving experience feel synthetic or digital.

The steering is quick and accurate and the Mitsubishi peels into turns like a rear-driver; you can also trail the brakes to move the rear slightly but on exit the result is the same Ė total traction bar a hint of oversteer. Thrown around on the dirt for Brunelliís camera, the STI is great fun, but feels edgy and unpredictable compared to the smooth fluidity of the Evo. No matter how ambitious the entry or aggressive the oversteer angle, you always feel like

Thrown around on the dirt, the STI is great fun, but feels edgy and unpredictable compared to the Evo

Stat attack

Japanís fi nest hit the strip

LANCER EVO

0-10km/h 0.33 0-20km/h 0.66 0-30km/h 1.09 0-40km/h 1.49 0-50km/h 1.88 0-60km/h 2.31 0-70km/h 3.19 0-80km/h 3.76 0-90km/h 4.46

0-100km/h 5.61

0-110km/h 6.45 0-120km/h 7.41 0-130km/h 8.49 0-140km/h 10.10 0-150km/h 11.42 0-160km/h 12.87 0-170km/h 14.62

0-400m

13.67sec @ 164.78km/h

80-120km/h

3.0sec

100-0km/h

40.1m

SPEED IN GEARS

1st 70km/h @ 7600rpm 2nd 102km/h @ 7600rpm 3rd 138km/h @ 7600rpm 4th 182km/h @ 7600rpm 5th 262km/h @ 7600rpm 6th n/a

WRX STI

0-10km/h 0.30 0-20km/h 0.63 0-30km/h 0.92 0-40km/h 1.20 0-50km/h 1.70 0-60km/h 2.48 0-70km/h 3.07 0-80km/h 3.67 0-90km/h 4.64

0-100km/h 5.49

0-110km/h 6.37 0-120km/h 7.32 0-130km/h 8.75 0-140km/h 10.01 0-150km/h 11.36 0-160km/h 12.88 0-170km/h 14.54

0-400m

13.62sec @ 164.98km/h

80-120km/h

3.3sec

100-0km/h

37.6m

SPEED IN GEARS

58km/h @ 6700rpm 95km/h @ 6700rpm 133km/h @ 6700rpm 186km/h @ 6700rpm 237km/h @ 6700rpm 255km/h @ 5700rpm* As tested by MOTOR: Heathcote Dragway, 4.23pm, 15 degrees, dry. Driver: Scott Newman


Four play

Keeping in line, or a boxer rebellion?

LANCER EVO FINAL EDITION

BODY 4-door, 5-seat sedan DRIVE all-wheel ENGINE 1998cc inline-4, DOHC, 24v, turbo BORE/STROKE 86.0 x 86.0mm COMPRESSION 9.0:1 POWER 226kW @ 6500rpm TORQUE 414Nm @ 3500rpm POWER/WEIGHT 144kW/tonne TRANSMISSION 5-speed manual WEIGHT 1565kg SUSPENSION (F) struts, A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll ba r SUSPENSION(R) multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar L/W/H 4510/1810/1480mm WHEELBASE 2650mm TRACKS 1545/1545mm (f/r) STEERING hydraulically-assisted rack-and-pinion BRAKES (F) 350mm ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers BRAKES (R) 330mm ventilated discs, 2-piston calipers WHEELS 18 x 8.5-inch (f/r) TYRE SIZES 245/40 R18 (f/r) TYRE Dunlop SP Sport 600 PRICE AS TESTED $53,700 PROS Awesome all-wheel drive system CONS Dated interior; poor transmission STAR RATING 11133

SUBARU WRX STI

BODY 4-door, 5-seat sedan DRIVE all-wheel ENGINE 2457cc fl at-4, DOHC, 16v, turbo BORE/STROKE 99.5 x 79.0mm COMPRESSION 8.2:1 POWER 221kW @ 6000rpm TORQUE 407Nm @ 4000rpm POWER/WEIGHT 144kW/tonne TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual WEIGHT 1537kg SUSPENSION (F) struts, A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar SUSPENSION(R) multi-links, anti-roll bar L/W/H 4595/1795/1475mm WHEELBASE 2650mm TRACKS 1530/1540mm (f/r) STEERING hydraulically-assisted rack-and-pinion BRAKES (F) 326mm ventilated discs, four-piston calipers BRAKES (R) 316mm ventilated discs, single-piston calipers WHEELS 18 x 8.5-inch (f/r) TYRE SIZES 245/40 R18 97W (f/r) TYRE Dunlop Sport Maxx RT PRICE AS TESTED $55,390 PROS Sharp handling; improved interior CONS Flawed steering; should be faster STAR RATING 11123

the situation can be recovered.

Itís a trick that only the new Focus RS could hope to emulate and a step beyond Haldex-equipped European rivals. Where the Evo is a step below Ė probably more than one Ė its Euro competitors is inside. The lack of sat-nav and awkward location of the USB port betray its 2008 vintage, but that doesnít explain the lack of steering wheel reach adjustment (luckily, the driving position is pretty good) nor the poor quality of the materials used Ė itís a stark reminder of how far interiors have come in the past few years.

The Subaru sets no benchmarks, however the MY16 update brings welcome improvements. The new 7.0-inch touchscreen is fast-acting and looks slick, miles better than the clunky old unit shared with myriad Toyotas. Itís only available on up-spec Premium models ($55,390, or an extra $300 with the rear wing), as is Subaruís Vision Assist active safety technology which includes blind spot monitoring, lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert.

Hopefully, MOTOR readers donít really need such assistance, however the side view monitor, which points a camera at the front wheels, could prove helpful in avoiding scraping kerbs.

Of our two winged warriors, the Mitsubishi is clearly the less competitive 2016 package. Ironically for a model called Evolution, the Mitsubishi has suffered from a lack of investment and would need a serious overhaul of its interior, transmission and engine efficiency to battle todayís best. Its dynamics are still right up there, and act as a reminder that these cars were once as much designed to fly through the forest as they were to do the weekly shop, which only makes it more upsetting that it will not get that chance. Mitsubishi says the market doesnít want high-powered all-wheel-drive turbo cars, which must be why Ford just spent a bomb developing the Focus RS and the Mercedes-AMG A45 continues to be a sell-out success.

However, while the Subaru is the winner here, it might want to keep the cork in the champagne for the time being. Yísee, when it first popped on to the scene in the late 90s the STIís trump card was that while it might have been a bit unrefined and basic inside, it was the fastest thing on four wheels, capable of giving anything up to (and occasionally beyond) a Porsche 911 a bloody nose.

Subaru has expended a lot of effort in trying to make the STI more liveable day-to-day and has succeeded to a point, but itís barely any faster than it was 15 years ago while everything else has made huge strides forward. It retains a pass mark by offering the raw involvement of a Renault Megane RS with the all-weather ability of the VW Golf R, but it could face a tough test with the mid-year arrival of the Ford Focus RS. M