Ending the theological conundrum: Evo or STi?
Written By- Haseeb Chowdhury
Pictures- Saikot Roy
Being involved in the car scene is a ton of fun; a wide variety of people with an even wider variety in tastes and appetites for different walks of the modification culture. Being an automotive journalist, however, might not always be fun because we now have to debate about things such as our topic today. The automotive market is vast and given how passionate the ever-evolving car community is, a lot of people tend to have a lot of favorites. The two cars in question, the Subaru WRX STI and the Mitsubishi Evolution are such two examples. Think Xbox vs PS4 argument, and each community will show no hesitation to shun the opposition who do not share the same opinion. The “Evo vs STi” debate has been going on for decades, and this is my attempt at settling the feud.
The STi and the Evo are direct rivals, both are turbocharged 2 litre 4 cylinder all-wheel drive sedans born and bred for the rally track. They were made to compete against each other in the early 90s, when both Mitsubishi and Subaru were active participants in the World Rally Championship. Since then, the rivalry has been blossoming, with both brands making updated versions and new iterations of their respective cars, trying to one up the competition. Until Mitsubishi stopped producing the Evo in 2015 and focused their interests on electric cars and abominations such as the Xpander. Not cool, Mitsubishi. Nowadays, these cars are affiliated with supercar slaying performance because of the downright insane potential of modifications available for both platforms. Now that we understand what makes them so similar, let’s discuss what makes them different. To make this easier, today’s argument will be broken down into a few categories.
The Mitsubishi Lancer developed as a replacement for the Galant for the rally racing side of things as a smaller chassis, which meant it was lighter, quicker and more nimble. The original Evolution was a Lancer chassis stuffed with a Galant VR-4 drivetrain and was sold in Japan only. Since then, there have been 10 different versions of the Evolution. In a nutshell, the Evolution is a rally engine, suspension and drivetrain packaged neatly in a Lancer chassis. A base model Lancer could be had with a fuel efficient 100 horsepower engine, or it could be had as a Lancer Evolution with nearly 300 horsepower and supporting parts to match. Journalists at the time, and even today don’t shy away from calling it a rally car for the roads, because that is exactly what it is.
If the Evolution is Joe Fraizer, then the STi is Muhammad Ali baby. Just like the Evolution, the STi is based on Subaru’s Impreza platform, which can also be had in a guise suited more for family duty than spirited driving. As Mitsubishi developed a nimbler platform to take the ropes from the arguably outdated Galant, Subaru too needed to make a comeback. Thus, as a replacement for the Subaru Legacy, came the Impreza platform. And exactly like the Lancer, you could have a regular Impreza to take your daughter to school, but you could also buy an Impreza STi if you ever felt like tearing up the rally stage. Other than the all-wheel drive system, there was one major difference between the two despite both of them being 2.0 litres and turbo 4 cylinders. Subaru, specializes in a completely different orientation of engine cylinders; the boxer engine.
As previously mentioned, the development of the STi and the Evolution came as a direct result of Mitsubishi and Subaru’s heavy involvement in WRC, World Rally Championship. A homologation rule is a type of approval process for a car to be certified to be driven in the competition. Typically, this is a fixed number of production cars based on the racing car have to be available for purchase by the general public. This homologation for WRC ended in 1997, which meant that companies did not need to make production vehicles based on their competition cars. This meant a lot more racing teams could compete, as not every grassroots team had the bandwidth to produce a large number of cars. So, the competition has been upped, but Mitsubishi and Subaru are none to back down. The progression of rally technology blossomed, and things went much faster than it had been previously. As all things, this technology came full circle and trickled down into their road going STI and Evolution models. This fierce battle gave birth to legendary drivers such as Colin McRae on the team of the stars and Tommi Makinen on the team of diamonds. That year was perhaps one of the most exciting years in rally racing, because all the bothersome regulations had been eliminated and the spectators could see the true, unfiltered side of rally competition. Tommi Makinen had won the driver’s championship that year, but 555 Subaru World Rally Team won the constructor’s title. The iconic 555 Livery on the first generation of Imprezas is enough to send chills down my spine, thus, in this regard, Subaru is the winner.
Let’s Talk Performance:
To keep things fair, we will now look at the base performance, stock for stock. However, this is a little difficult to put together as both cars have had a production run for almost two decades, and each had their own iterations. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution started from the first one of its kind, the Evo 1, and the monikers increased chronologically until the tenth iteration, the Evolution X (read: ten) which also happened to be its last. The Impreza also had its own share of refreshes and facelifts that itself are too complicated to put together in a graph. That’s it, right? Wrong. To make matters worse, there had been many special editions of each car, like the 22b STi and the Evolution FQ360. The all-wheel drive systems in both are different from each other.
The AYC (Active Yaw Control) operates through torque vectoring to manage the grip that goes to all the wheels. Subaru’s all-wheel drive system provides a flat 50/50 torque distribution between both axles. Pick your poison, but it is more of a subjective opinion than a factual one. It has to be mentioned though, that historically, the Evolution has always managed to get the better of Subaru, especially in the 2000s. In the 2010s, however, the STi managed to catch up and improve itself immensely while the Evolution went back to the shadows, never to be seen again. At this point, Subaru had a clear path, and came out with their fastest and arguably the best STi yet, the ST209. If you are keeping score, the STi is taking the cake, and having it too.
Since this is an argument, there must be a conclusion. To reach a definitive answer, you have to weigh in cars from one specific era as throughout the generations one has managed to outperform the other only to be left in the dust by the next refresh. At the end of the day, a majority of fans do not really weigh in the pros and cons that heavily; car enthusiasm itself is based on feelings and emotion, which is no different in this case.
The Art of Tunability:
Now begins an impossible argument. I call it impossible because it is simply not possible to reach a conclusion because so much has been done to both cars. They all start from the same stock power but both cars have been proven to go above 1000 horsepower with enough money throw at them. If you argue that an STi can do “X” thing with “Y” amount of mods, there will be another person telling you that the evolution can do the same, and try to prove to you why the way they do it is better.
As stated before, both are 2 litre turbocharged engines making 250 horsepower. The Evo has a standard inline 4 cylinder engine, and the Subaru has a Boxer 4 cylinder engine. There are pros and cons to both.
Since it is a standard 4 cylinder engine, it had been around for a longer time and people knew what to do with it, and understood the overall nitty gritty of how an inline 4 should behave. The Evolution almost always had much sharper steering feel compared to its rival, and hence was the weapon of choice for most street racers and circuit racers. The 4G63T engine itself was much more robust and less temperamental than the boxer engine and naturally, there was a big fan base for the car. The stock engine throughout the generations could handle upwards of 400 horsepower without the need of a built engine given that the supporting mods were competent enough.
The engine and gearbox was a very strong point of these cars, and the short body and quick steering meant that these cars were deadly in almost every scenario. While the stock engine is robust, the amount of power it pushes is has an inverse correlation with its reliability. Stock engines are proven to push 200,000kms, but modified ones can go kaput very quickly in the wrong hands. They also are not particularly efficient, but what’s lost in efficiency is gained in outright insanity. The transfer case and differential can also prove to be a bottle-neck at higher than stock levels of power.
What the Subaru lacks in raw performance, it makes up for in character. The low centre of gravity of the boxer engine means it is very stable even at speed, and the sound it makes is unparalleled. Because of the cylinders opposing each other, it presents a unique opportunity to run unequal length headers, which gave birth to a rumblier engine noise which has now been recognized as the iconic boxer rumble. The STi also has its fair share of aftermarket mods, with hundreds if not thousands of options to choose from on how to make your car better. Turbos, engine internals, suspension; you name it. If you can think of it, it probably exists. The aftermarket has also taken the EJ25 boxer engine to its limits and back, making outrageous amounts of power while still preserving the quirky personality of the boxer engine. It also has its fair share of downsides, with the sidewall of the engine block being thin which may result in warped pistons or cylinder heads. The infamous Subaru head gasket failure is an internet sensation at this point, it being a major issue in the design of the engine as well.
At the end of the day, the Evolution wins this argument, because of the sheer ease of modifying and performance potential that the Evolution possesses. It can also handle the most amount of power without a built engine, which is the route most owners will be taking. If you want the potential for outright speed and performance, the Evo is your friend. If it is driving experience you are chasing, that needs another argument of its own. It just goes to show how similar yet different both these rally bred machines are.
The culture we grew up in has a lot in influencing the type of cars we grow up loving. That includes games like need for speed and Gran Tourismo, Rally heritage like the WRC competition and movies and animes such as Fast and Furious and Initial D. In a lot of the early movies and animes, the Evolution played a big part as that is something people living in the US never got. Scenes such as Brian O’Conner entering the limelight with his pimped out lime green Evo 7 has been forever engrained into my mind, which just adds to the heritage and intrinsic value of these cars.
That is not to say the STi does not deserve praise, however. The Need for Speed franchise did justice to both platform by equally representing both. Games such as Richard Burns Rally and Colin McRae Rally did wonders to make the STi a poster car for every child who played the game, and Initial D had a big part to play with its popularity, with the GC8 STi being the only car that has never been defeated. As time progressed, both cars held its own and played their part with the ever evolving car scene from the “show” spec era of the early 2000s to the stance era of current times, as well as consistently maintaining a strong contender for people who seriously follow motorsports and track racing. At the end of the day, they both do their part incredibly well, which results in this round ending in a draw.
This debate is wholly unnecessary and highly debatable, for a world with 60 billion people also has 60 billion different opinions. It does not matter. Both cars are equally a part of motorsports and automotive history and are on their way to be modern classic cars and will soon be out of reach of us normal buyers. These cars are iconic in every way, and as all things have their own perks and quirks. Both are brilliant, have an amazing community for you to bond with that comes along with the ownership experience of one of these incredibly articulate and race-developed machines. Life is too short to drive boring cars, and no matter which of these you choose, know that you already made the right choice.
More pictures are in the google drive.