Evolution vs WRX STi: The White King vs the Dark Knight

It is by sheer happenstance that we had with us the best of both worlds: the best Evo ever made versus the best STi ever made (in my book). Or is it really coincidence? You see, these cars have been provided by The Paji, a man I introduced on these pages some weeks ago.

If there is a connoisseur of savage sports cars from the land of sushi and sake, it is him. And much as the Lancer Evolution and the Impreza STi are built specifically to try and embarrass the hell out of each other, our pair here could not have been more different.

In the white corner stands the CP9A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Extreme Edition, and from its registration plates you can tell that it is not what we could call “new”.

The car is bone stock, with a transversely mounted DOHC 1997cc, turbocharged and intercooled 4G63 in-line four block and packing a fancy 4WD powertrain with electronic diffs.

In the other corner, resplendent in black, stands the Subaru Impreza WRX STi in GD8 guise, a much later example (as the plates again tell us): 1998cc EJ20 flat-four block, turbocharged and intercooled and having 4WD too, though it uses mechanical diffs rather than electronic units, like the Evo.

The difference (besides the age and colour) is that while the Evo is largely untouched (new shocks and an aftermarket dump valve for the turbo are the only non-factory parts), the GD8 has undergone Stage 2 tuning and is developing what I would guess to be 400bhp against the Evo’s 276 horses. This will be interesting.

Subaru start

I have a go in the STi first. A very dark interior is festooned with gauges giving various pressures and temperatures in various systems: oil, turbo, water etc.

I also notice a short-throw shift kit and the DCCD (Driver Controlled Centre Differential), the pride and joy of all Subaru-nauts (they keep singing about it as though it is the best thing ever installed in a car).

The DCCD allows the driver to manually control the distribution of torque between the front and the rear axles. This particular DCCD has been set to channel more power to the rear rather than 50:50 back and front.

This setting is to have a big influence in later events.

Fire the GD8 up, clutch in, select first, and away we go, with the Evo leading. The clutch in WRX STis is usually a bit heavy, and there is no surprise here.

The surprise is the short throw shift kit: it needs a bit of forearm deftness to get the cogs into place, but what is even more amazing is the accuracy with which gears are selected.

Mis-shifts are almost impossible. Trail the Evo slowly, carefully, as I acclimatise to the driving experience in a Stage 2 modified car until we reach our secret test venue, at which point all hell breaks loose.

Without warning, the Evo breaks formation, hunting the horizon like a starving cheetah hunting down a baby gazelle. The fight is on, and I am not about to lose face. Shift down into third and slam the accelerator pedal to the floor. That is when I realise the beauty of Stage 2 tuning.

The car takes off as if it has been launched from a catapult, and the tach sails towards the red line (8,000 rpm). The roar coming from both ends of the car is deafening and the rate at which the engine gains and loses revs is shocking.

I am forced to short-shift into fourth at 6,000 rpm: stomp the clutch, blow-off valve sounding like an angry snake, yank the lever into fourth, dump the clutch, power on, get my nape forced into the head-rest as a relentless surge of torque is released, keep one eye on the road and the other on the tach; oh dear, 7,000 rpm, and I am almost on the limiter, if there even is one, clutch in, BOV goes pfft, slam the lever into fifth, listen to the ever-increasing roar emanating from under the bonnet and… oh shucks, here comes a corner. And the Evo is in it. I am catching up.

I have driven an STi before, but two things were different this time round. This one was Stage 2 tuned and had been set up with a rear-drive bias. Combine those two and what you have is a perfect drifting machine, as I learned the hard way.

Pile the car into a corner at full tilt and you get several feet of understeer (I could actually hear the tyres howling in protest). In a normal STi, to kill the understeer, you need to dial in more power. In a Stage 2 pseudo-rear drive STi, if you add on more power, the back breaks out. Oh my God!

The rear swings out. Apply opposite lock. The front washes out again. Again counter steer. Then you end up in an (admittedly unintentional) four-wheel drift. If you do not get your senses of judgment, perspective, and geometry right, you could easily leave the road… in reverse.

Kill the power, dab on the brakes, the car lines up nicely within the corner. Feed the power in again, this time more gently. Realise that all that floundering means the Evo has gained some yards on you. Try to catch up on the straights.

The problem with the STi is that it is a bit inaccurate, and violent with it. You cannot drive it with finesse, the way you can the Evo (I do not care what die-hard Subaru-holics will say to this).

The power may have been a bit too much. The steering may have been a touch on the heavy side, as was the brake feel. And speaking of brakes, they did not inspire much confidence.

They worked, yes, but feel was largely absent and one got the sensation that they were not working. The end result was that you lose too much speed on corner entry due to over-application of the anchors, so you get left by the Evo.

Enter The Evolution

Swap cars. In the Evo, it feels totally different. To start with, it is more comfortable… a lot more… until one wonders how Subaru-heads manage to drive any distance at all in their cars. The driving position is lower, and the car feels more intimate. The STi feels like a bus in comparison (oops, did I say that?)

Clutch in. Mmm, nice, smooth, oily clutch action, and lightly weighted. It is like dipping your foot in ultra-refined yoghurt. Shift into first. Since the shift kit is a factory affair, it feels a touch more vague than the aftermarket equipment in the STi, and is longer in the throw, but the gears slide in easily and surely. Take off in pursuit of the Subaru I have just exited.

The difference is immense. The steering is lighter, with a lot more feel. The engine revs more smoothly and more freely, and is quieter in the process. Also, though the red line is set at 7,000 rpm, one can rev the Evo’s power unit to 8,000 before hitting the limiter.

No need to, though; the car is quick enough without redlining it, but mostly because this is not my car and a blown engine is not something I want to think about early on a Sunday morning.

The intimate feeling; that feeling that one is at one with the car, means you can charge harder in the Evo than you can in the WRX. And the Lancer charges hard.

It has endless grip, it feels lighter, smaller, and more solid, and the reaction to input is instantaneous, so much so that the driver now in the STi, who had earlier humiliated me with the Evo, cannot pull away as easily as before in spite of being in the more powerful car.

The Subaru gains on the Evo on the straights, but driving behind, I can tell my rival is having to work much harder to get his racing line right through the corners, and he seems to be standing on the brakes a lot more often than he did in the Evo.

Behind him, I am having a picnic. In fourth gear, I do not need to brake to corner; if anything, I barely lift the throttle as the Evo’s sharper handling characteristics allow me to get the perfect line through the bends while still on part throttle.

The frequent brake lights and the popping of the anti-lag system in the STi tell me someone is trying his best to stay on the road through the power of restraint.

The battle ends with a unanimous verdict. Take a guess what it is.

Sum Up

First is the Subaru. It is a brash, violent, brutish, loud sledgehammer of a car. It is awesome. But more awesome is the laser beam, the precision instrument, the Evo VI.

This is why, despite four subsequent development stages (we are now at Evo X), the VI is still considered the best Lancer Evolution ever in its entire production history.

The Impreza requires a master’s touch to fully harness its, let us be honest, almost unlimited potential (all that power!) and corral its wilful and wayward nature. The Evo, on the other hand, flatters anyone who drives it, even the slightly inept.

Where the STi required wrestling to get any semblance of graceful motion out of it, the Evo was effortless. Cornering in the STi required bigger arm movements (so much so that my shoulders started aching at the end of the exercise), a constant sawing at the wheel to keep it in check as, first, understeer then oversteer reared their ugly heads.

The brakes were also not very comforting; especially given the acceleration abilities of the Stage 2 car, one needs the reassurance that one can stop on time if one runs out of talent (or sliding space) mid-corner.

It was also very loud (could be intentionally so, given the size of the tail-pipe), and it was uncomfortable; the ride was hard and the driver’s seat was not a good fit. The grip (before the loss thereof) meant that one was squeezed hard into the side-bolsters when turning hard.

This is a car for hard-core enthusiasts and only those with skills a cut above the rest can enjoy it. It is also the best Subaru I have ever driven, despite shaking my skeleton almost to bits. It is for this reason (and the colour also) that the Stage 2 GD8 Subaru Impreza WRX STi gets the title of The Dark Knight.

The Evolution was a different kettle of fish. Much quieter and with an engine that revs more smoothly, the fact that it was mostly standard did not mean it was a weaker entry.

Its relative shortness of breath on the straights was compensated by the sensation that the tyres have been glued to the road through the corners. This car will NOT slide, unless the driver does something stupid.

It was also more comfortable, a lot more, again a paradox given that it is built as a race-ready rally car and other car reviewers claim the STi is softer (maybe it is, in stock, non-Stage 2 format).

That an older, bone-stock Evo could almost kill a much newer Stage 2 rival earns it the title of The King. The White King.

Do you agree? Send your comments to dn2@ke.nationmedia.com

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What is a Stage 2 Modified Car?

THE DEGREE of tuning done on a car can be wide. So, to specify the level of modification a car has undergone without necessarily listing the actual changes (this list can be long), a quick way of expressing it would be to classify the amount of tuning by stages. There are typically three stages of tuning:

Stage 1: Typically a single mod, more often than not a bolt-on part or small change of settings. It requires no more work for the car to still function as a daily driver. General reliability and ease of use is maintained. Examples are an ECU remap, sports exhaust, cold air intakes, or a brake upgrade.

Stage 2: A bigger power jump over Stage 1, Stage 2 tuning calls for the upgrading or replacement of several other parts, otherwise certain systems will fail or the car will behave unpredictably.

Typified by shortened service intervals. An example is a hybrid turbocharger that demands a remap and/or change of manifold, new dump valve, sports exhaust with different headers and mounts and internal components that call for a higher grade of fuel. Ideal for track use.

Stage 3: Applicable to motorsport. Also known as competition tune. Inappropriate for road use due to harshness: erratic idling, poor economy, and uncontrolled emissions are some of the characteristics.

High performance brakes that require heat before they work compound this problem. High timing causes the bad idling and heavy competition clutches make balancing a bitch. Not for the weak.

I wonder what a Stage 2 Evo would be like….

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Vroom your way to the concours this Sunday

FOR THE last 42 years, the annual Concours d’ Elegance, organised by the Alfa Romeo Owners Club, has become an elegant, stylish, and fun-filled family day and is now a major event on both the social and motoring calendars of Kenya. This year’s edition, which will be held at the Nairobi Racecourse this Sunday, promises a lot of fun.

The core activity of the event remains the judging of the highly prepared vintage and classic cars and motorcycles, and officials must comply with regulations approved by the Kenya Motor Sports Federation.

The event is also recognised and sanctioned by the FIM-AFRICA (the Africa edition of The Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme, an international organisation acting in all matters connected with motorcycling).

For many of the spectators who will be thronging the Nairobi Racecourse grounds, dressing up for the day is a priority. To reward them, the organisers have put various prizes up for grabs.

Throughout the day a team of brand ambassadors will be roving around to pick out the best dressed ladies, gentlemen and children.

Spectators are offered the choice of going for style and elegance, African patriotic dress, classical hats and the best representation of CBA colours (green and dark brown). Wearers of outfits that impress the brand ambassadors will be photographed and rewarded with instant prizes.

For spectators who would like to take a break and socialise between following the judging of the classic and vintage cars and motorcycles and walking through the motor trade stands, an Elegance Garden has been added to the menu.

Throughout the day, Concours competitors, officials and spectators will turn their attention to the sky from time to time to watch a series of fly pasts, a model aircraft display, and a spectacular free-fall parachute drop. See you there!

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