The Subaru Impreza versus Mitsubishi Evo is a battle that has been raging for nearly a decade now. Bar bragging rights have been propelled by advances in technology driven by competition in the World Rally Championship. These have translated into some barmy road cars that in the real world offer performance that match some of the most exotic supercars for the price of a mid spec junior saloon. They have created a niche of their own that few others have entered ensuring that it has always been something of a private, personal battle.
As well as on the stages of the WRC this battled has raged on the preferred operating theatres for these cars: the twisty B-road. In recent times there has been precious little to separate them in terms of straight-line performance, thanks mainly to the fact that their two-litre turbo engines have always produced similar power outputs. In turn each technological advancement in the engine department has increased their potency in parallel.
For the last 5 or 6 years, however; the Lancer has enjoyed significantly better handling, by and large due to the sophisticated Active Yaw Control (AYC) system with the vital characteristics of turn-in and exit speed being significantly better than the Subaru Impreza could muster. Where the Evo gripped and drove, the Impreza understeered and lurched. When the Impreza was behind, the pilot would be able to keep pace in a straight-line and under braking but would always lose missile lock on the equivalent Evo on the way into and out of corners, as the Evo's transmission set-up allowed more incisive turn-in and earlier and easier deployment of power. Similarly the Mitsu Evo driver would always be held up waiting for the Impreza driver to coax the nose into a corner and get the power down cleanly.
This is now no longer the case as the new Impreza set-up not only mimics the Evo, but slightly improves upon it. Subaru has finally acknowledged the advantages offered by the Mitsubishi's AYC and has fitted its own similar version called Driver Controlled Centre Differential (DCCD), but with an even finer resolution on the control of the differentials and therefore more control over the driving characteristics of the car. Where the old Impreza is ponderous, the new one is agile and quick to react. Turn in, in the latest car is a world apart from the non DCCD versions.
At the same time, the balance of the Subaru in corners is vastly improved, power on understeer has been all but eliminated and you can feel the car clinging on and using the transmission to hold your chosen line. How much of this is down to the tricky tyres isn't clear; I'd like to try a similarly shod Evo IX to be able to tell. What is clear is the subtle difference the extra number of settings of the DCCD offers over and above the three positions of the Evo's and the extra adjustability available as a consequence. The three settings of the Evo sometimes don't allow the subtle adjustment needed to find the absolute optimum, particularly in lower grip situations.
Such is the success of Subaru's latest changes and their resultant influence on the Impreza that deciding between these two is now a matter of very small differences. For the first time ever the Impreza stands absolutely toe to toe with the Evo and consequently decisive differences are hard to pick out. The Impreza's bigger fuel tank gives a better real world range, the interior is better and the longer service intervals will improve the ownership experience. For me the Evo looks better, has better steering, is more desirable and has a better image. Ultimately the factors that separate these two will come down to personal preferences as in terms of capabilities there is very little in it now.
The fact that the call is so close says a lot about how far the latest Impreza WRX has moved on the Subaru's game. It is also a reflection of how these two icons are beginning to converge on what would appear to be the common goal of the optimum configuration and specification for their ilk. Their outright pace and execution is now very similar. In fact in a blindfold test you'd be hard pushed to differentiate the two.
How much further the game can be moved on from here is debatable; further improvements are likely to be small, with significant steps becoming increasingly harder to come by. However minute and hard to come-by they may be, I look forward to trying any of them, and for the first time I'm looking forward to the next Subaru as much as, if not more than, I wait for the next Evo. For me that represents a significant redressing of the balance of power.
Performance: Evo IX FQ-300:
WRX STi Type UK:
Nothing in it in terms of real world performance.
Powertrain: Evo IX FQ-300: WRX STi Type UK:
Smoother shifting gearbox sneaks it for the STi.
Handling: Evo IX FQ-300: WRX STi Type UK:
Very similar handling traits. WRX's tricky tyres and extra settings on the centre diff give it a slight advantage.
Ride: Evo IX FQ-300: WRX STi Type UK:
Neither has overly compliant rides, but nor are they too harsh.
Economy: Evo IX FQ-300: WRX STi Type UK:
Both manage cruising figures in the mid twenties but drop into the teens when driven hard.
Tactility: Evo IX FQ-300: WRX STi Type UK:
Evo enjoys slightly better steering.
Appearance: Evo IX FQ-300: WRX STi Type UK:
A matter of personal taste.
Interior: Evo IX FQ-300: WRX STi Type UK:
Neither is sumptuous but the latest Impreza's interior is appreciably better than the Evo 9's.
Safety: Evo IX FQ-300: WRX STi Type UK:
Both offer the ultimate in dynamic safety combined with all the necessary protection for when the worst happens.
Equipment: Evo IX FQ-300: WRX STi Type UK:
Impreza offers a Tracker now as standard. Both have the expected air conditioning, CD player and electrics.
The models we've tested to date:
- Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX FQ-340
- Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260
- Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII FQ-300
- Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII FQ-300
- Subaru Impreza WRX STi Type-UK
- Subaru Impreza WRX STi Type-UK with Prodrive Performance Pack
Dave Jenkins - 29 Mar 2006