Pros: Steering quickness and feel, high-end power, sharp yet safe handling, Recaro seats
Cons: Boost lag, stiff ride, cheap interior
This is the original version of my review. I've since posted it to the other listing, as mine was the only one under this listing. There is no reason to read both.
After driving the WRX STi, I just had to also test its archrival, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. But how? They had always been scarce, and the only one at the nearest dealer was the 2005 MR edition with an official do not demo sticker attached to the window. But the next week I had my oil changed at the Mazda dealer in another part of town, and the Mitsubishi dealer next door had a 2003 Evo parked outside. As with the STi, I assumed that with a used Evo it would be easier to get a test drive without swearing an intense interest to buy one on the spot. (Sure, the STi and Evo are cars I could conceivably buy if I loved them, but as a rule I never claim Im ready to buy that day.)
So I inquired inside, and learned that the car was actually new, with only 153 miles on the odometer. (I never obtained a full explanation of why a car that had been manufactured in September 2003 had so few miles, only that it had never been titled.) New or not, I got my test drive. Two in fact, the second without the salesman. I was taking a considerable risk here. My favorite cars tend to be compacts, and along with the STi the Evo is the highest performance compact going. So this was a car I might really love and have to dig up the cash for.
After driving the Evo, I returned to the Subaru dealer and drove a second WRX STi, to confirm my impression of the differences between them. My conclusions follow.
Neither the STi nor the Evo is a beauty. Still, especially in the Evos case it is much more attractive than the run-of-the-mill compact it is based on. Credit large alloys and a sleeker front end. Both cars are available with a huge wing on the trunk, and those I drove were so equipped. I suppose it must be there to make clear this is no ordinary compact. Every time I glance the things in the rearview mirror, though, I initially think someones right behind me.
Inside both supercompacts are rather pedestrian. But where the STis is merely plain, with solid materials, the Evos interior looks and feels cheap. The climate control knobs feel especially flimsy. This is probably my largest issue with the car, and the one that keeps my lust at bay: I cannot imagine spending $30,000 for a car with an interior unfit for a $10,000 car. And Im not comparing the Evo to more expensive cars. The interior in the Protege5 I paid $13,000 for puts this one to shame, and that in the high teens Mazda3 is in another league, as it just about puts mine to shame.
You sit lower in the Evo than in the STi, or the instrument panel is taller, or both. Whatever the reason, I prefer the more open driving position in the STi. The seats in neither are adjustable for height, and at its standard height the Evos seat felt too low relative to the steering column to me. I had a hard time adjusting the wheel to please both my hands and my eyes. I have to see the instruments, especially since the Evo unlike the STi has no beep to warn when the redline approachest, so the hands lost out.
The Recaro buckets in the Evo are reasonably comfortable and provide exceptional lateral supportan advantage over the STis merely very good seats if you expect to explore the cars abilities in corners. The Recaros have a rotary recline adjuster, which is bad for accessibility but good if levers always leave you wanting a position between detents.
The Lancer is a half-foot longer than the Impreza, yet somehow this does not translate into a roomier rear seat. That in both cars is pretty tight, but both heads and knees are most in danger of making contact with the ceiling and front seatbacks, respectively, in the Evo. The Evos rear seat is also positioned low to the floor, so forget about thigh support.
Trunk space is okay in both cars, but folding rear seats have been sacrificed on the altar of structural rigidity.
On the Road
Now for the reason people buy these cars. Unlike the American market STi, the Evo adheres to the World Rally Championships 2.0-liter standard, so its down half a liter. Still, it makes 90 percent of the STis power, 271 vs. 300. The obvious source: more boost, a lofty 19 pounds vs. 14.5 in the STi.
More boost and less displacement translate into a much weaker engine before the boost kicks in, and a greater lag to boot. While the STi engines power was generally RIGHT THERE, with the Evo it takes a moment or two after you floor the throttle for serious thrust to occur. Boost pressure must build up, and this is simply a peakier engine. Where in the STi the major power was available from the high 2000s, the Evo needs roughly another thousand revolutions.
The sounds made by both engines also differ, as might be expected from an flat vs. an inline configuration. But its more than this. In the STi you hear every last mechanical componentthe engine, the transmission, the driveline. In the Evo you mostly hear the turbo. Its a loud one, whether by location or design much more evident than that in the Subaru. Given the boost lag I mentioned earlier, the sound you often hear is of it spooling up. The Evo engine might be quieter, but it is less smooth. At idle the engine vibrates the whole car. Rigid engine mounts?
Boost lag isnt all bad. While the STi was a bit difficult to drive around townkeep the revs low or it just wanted to godrive the Evo normally and the engine doesnt feel all that different than that in a regular Lancer. If you want big power, you have to seek it. Frankly, the 2.4-liter in the Lancer Ralliart feels stronger in typical suburban driving (i.e. engine speed under 3500).
Of course, seek and yee shall find. Keep the engine on boil and the Evo is a very quick car, a touch quicker than the STi in one comparison Ive read. In the STis defense, it has six more closely spaced ratios vs. the Evos five, and this forces an extra shift before sixty. Pick a speed other than sixty that requires the same number of shifts, and the STi should have a slight edge. Subjectively, the STi feels considerably quicker than the Evo. Credit a much plumper midrange, shorter gearing in those crucial first few gears, and much less turbo lag. When the Evos turbo is pumping out those nineteen pounds of air the car flies, but because this power comes on more graduallythe Mitsu doesnt produce a kick in the lower back to nearly the degree the Subaru doesthe car feels less quick than it is. Lets just say that once I glanced down and spotted the speedometer needle FAR closer to the triple digit mark than I thought it was. Thankfully, the Evos Brembo brakes feel even stronger than those fitted to the STi.
Shift quality is iffy in both cars, but more in the STi than in the Evo. The STis shifter is downright crunchy, with some balkiness thrown in for good measure. In comparison, with the Evos you merely feel every last bit of the mechanism as you snick from gate to gateeven more than I recall in the Lancer Ralliart that supposedly uses the same shifter. I would expect no less from a short-throw shifter, except that the Subaru Legacys optional short-throw shifter is buttery smooth from gate to gate, a pure delight. This is the shifter the STi and Evo should have.
The engine gets most of the publics attention, but what really made me interested in driving the Evo was its steering. Steering feel is my big thing. The STis steering was a bit disappointing, with an overly damped feel for my tastes, and Id read that the Evo had a significant advantage in this area. Well, it does. The Evos steering is much quicker, with a more direct feel. Too quick for typical driving? Not for me, but maybe for you. That said, even the Evos steering trails that of a good sports car. Its feel remains less direct than in a Miata or MR2. Why cant a sedan steer like a sports car? I seriously want to know.
The Evo like the STi channels power through all four wheels, and this makes for generally balanced handling. Where the STi feels more hunkered down (I suppose the loud mechanical soundtrack has something to do with this) the Evo feels more agile. I usually prefer agile, but both have their attractions for me in this case. In either car power oversteer is easy to produce and easy to catch once produced. Both corner with very little lean, courtesy of extremely stiff suspensions.
I did encounter one issue with the Evo that I havent read about elsewhere. A few times when I eased off (but not entirely off) the throttle when driving quickly through a turn, the car bucked as if the engine was hitting the rev limiter. Engine speed was about 4000 RPM, so the rev limiter was clearly not involved. And the fuel tank was half full, so I do not suspect starvation. (Also, the Evo is designed for racing, which would involve much harder turns than I was subjecting it to.) Just a lot of driveline lash that surfaces when torque is reduced? Just this particular car?
Now we come to the area that killed the STi for me: ride quality and noise levels. Both cars are very stiffly sprung. Magazines have stated that the STi rides more smoothly than the Evo. This needs to be qualified. First, the tires on the Evo are significantly quieter both in terms of roar while going down the road and the bump-thump when going over tar strips and the like. Although noise levels are separate from ride quality they do influence the perception of ride quality. Second, while the Evo reacts more sharply to bumps and chuckholes in the road, especially at moderate speeds, the STis ride is busier, especially at highway speeds. The motions in the STi are less abrupt, but they are more frequent. The constant vertical motions on the highway in the STi combined with its high level of tire roar were easily more objectionable to me than the Evos greater roughness over road imperfections. In short, for me the Evo is the more suitable car for regular driving.
Mitsubishi Evo Reliability
I need your help here. Actually, everyone does.
Consumer Reports' reliability ratings leave too much to inference. If one car is "average" and another is "better than average," what does this mean? Does a "better than average" car "never break?" Is a "worse than average" car in the shop "all the time?"
Beginning in 2006, my website, www.truedelta.com, will provide measures of reliability that not only can easily be compared from vehicle to vehicle but that directly relate to how a car or truck's poor reliability most affects its owner.
If you'd like to have this information, then please join my panel. Your participation will make a difference. With enough people I'll be able to update reliability information monthly. With new models I hope to provide an initial read within three months of their introduction. (No more waiting a year or more to see the color of a dot.)
For the details and to sign up:
Mitsubishi Evo Price Comparisons and Pricing
The regular Evo is a few thousand dollars less expensive than the STi, while the new even higher performance MR version costs a few thousand more than the STi. Both cars hold their value well. The Subaru dealer had three STis, and even the 2004 with 37,000 miles on it had a sale price of $24,995. The asking prices for the other two were around thirty. With the new 2003 Evo I drove the dealer would not go below $28,000. With a real deal on the car I might have truly been tempted, but why buy a two-year-old car, even if new, for nearly as much as a 2005?
The bottom line: drive them both, then buy the one you like. The prices are much closer together than the cars characters, so the latter rather than the former should be the deciding factor.
So, which would I buy? This is a tough one, because both cars possess serious flaws for me. With the Evo, I just cannot imagine spending $30,000 for a car with such a cheap interior. I also didnt care for its driving position, but imagine I could have adapted to it. With the STi, I found the ride quality and road noise levels at highway speeds close to unbearable. A different tire might fix the noise issue. I suggest that used on the Evo. The ride quality might also improve with different tires, but this is less likely. And an aftermarket suspension is a dicier proposition.
One the positive side of the ledger, the STi has the better engine, while the Evo has better steering. Usually this would incline me toward the Evo, but the thrust produced by that Subaru engine is intoxicating.
Ultimately if forced to choose between these two cars Id opt for the Subaru for the wrong reasonits interior doesnt feel as cheap. Which is partly why if I managed to talk myself into spending $30,000 on a car it would likely be a different Subaru, the Legacy GT (which I sampled once again after my second STi test drive). Sure, the Legacy GT doesnt accelerate as quickly or handle as sharply as the STi or Evo. But its steering feels at least as good as that in the STi, its even shorter throw shifter is far better than those in either hot rod, and (compared to them) it rides like a dream.
No one needs to comment that I must be getting old. Thanks to these cars Ive figured that out already.
My reviews of related vehicles:
Dodge Neon SRT-4
Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart
Subaru WRX STi