Who would Darwin choose? Rivals since conception; Born of fire, metal, and plastic to do battle on asphalt and dirt. Beginning in 1992 with the Evo 1 and the WRX, they offered supercar performance with 4 thin doors. 20 years later, the formula remains: AWD, 300(ish) HP turbo-charged 4-cylinder engines, and aggressive, polarizing designs.
Judging them solely on price and features, this would seem like an unfair competition. The Subaru WRX STI costs $5,000 more than the Evo ($39,914 to $34,495, respectively), and has comfy things we expect, like leather seats and NAV.
But this comparison isn’t just about money, or which car comes with the best on-board blender. The STI and the EVO began as cars for people who wanted to go as fast as possible but couldn’t afford the European fare. They’ve won rallies, track events, and stoplight battles. 0-60 in 4.5 seconds is not new to these cars. If you want something that’s quieter, nicer inside, or better looking there is a lot of options for $35k.
But these made their name for how they drove, and that’s what will decide the winner.
The 2012 Mitsubishi Evo X GSR is the stripper model. It has a 5-speed manual transmission (the STI has a 6), no NAV, no leather, no screen, hell, the readouts for the radio look like they were ripped out of a gasoline pump. It’s Pele practicing with rolled-up socks. Other than the Recaro seats and sticky tires, you feel like you went back to a 1998 Tercel. The cabin is neither handsome nor quiet. Cars costing $15k less have nicer interiors.
But this car is as dangerous and determined as Bane himself. The 291HP 2.0-liter gets you to 60MPH in 4.6s, which is quick, but it’s not the best part.
Turn it once, and you’ll get it. It hits apexes before your fingers even move. The car stays flat. It sticks so well (.97g on a skidpad) it’s like driving on flypaper. The computer-controlled S-AYC (Super-Active Yaw Control) system sends power to whatever wheel gets you around the corner as fast and stable as possible, and it works. It’s phenomenal to drive fast. It’s 3,517lbs (100 more than the Subaru) but it feels no heavier than a coffee bean. Few cars drive this good.
Comfortable, sexy, visually appealing? No, not really. But once you’re moving, you do not care.
Since the STI landed in America in 2004 it’s been just behind the Evo performance wise, but just ahead of it in overall quality. I should know: I owned a ‘06. In 2005 the STI was as fast in a straight line as the Evo, and just barely behind it in the slalom, or around a road course. It was close. 6 years later, has it caught it? No.
It’s $39,495, and as a daily driver, it’s definitely more comfortable, and feels like it’s more deserving of its price (though 40 grand is a lot.) But in 8 years the 0-60 time has dropped half a second (from 4.7 to 5.3). How can you get worse at baseball after playing it more? The Evo’s skidpad score is .97g; supercar status. The STI? .90g.; Family sedan status.
It leans too much, it feels heavy, and the leather seats make you feel like you’re sitting on a greased baking sheet. The powertrain is still excellent: the brakes, transmission, diffs, and engine all feel more robust than that of the Mitsu. It feels better inside and out; a baseball compared to a Whiffle.
But 6 years later, I can’t ignore the stunted growth. The EVO began was one of the most exciting, electric cars on the road, and Mitsubishi has continued to improve on that. I wish I could say the same for Subaru.
I loved my STI. It was fast, stout, and never faltered. This one is as well, but that’s the problem. It feels exactly the same sloppier, actually. The EVO is just in another league now.
There’s a reason they call it the Evolution, because it evolves. The Evo handles the way I wished the STI did.