Discussion Starter · #1 ·
What Would Jason Do?
Have Japan’s rally rockets grown up enough to battle BMW’s turbo all-wheel-drive 3-series?
You’ve no doubt heart endless praise for both Subaru’s wicket Impreza WRX STI and Mitsubishi’s wild Lancer Evolution. It’s well-deserved. With an intoxicating mixture of monster horsepower and magical four-wheel drive systems, these little rockets have hexed a generation of boy racers into spending more than thirty grand on what are, in essence, tarted-up, entry-level economy cars.
But what happens when the boy racer grows up? Subaru says he turns into Jason, a fictional character its marketing department has developed and affectionately refers to as the “affluent man-child.” Jason shares more than just his name with your humble author—at thirty-two, he’s the same age, also has no kids, watches little or no television, and works in a creative field. Jason must be newly interested in cushy refinement because, t ensure that their new 2008 STI and Evo models continue to appeal to him, Subaru and Mitsubishi have kept the same blistering performance recipe—about 300 turbocharged horsepower and four-wheel drive—but added lots more everyday livability and convenience features.
They’ve added a lot more price, too. In fact, both cars, when fully loaded, come perilously close to the base price of a certain BMW, the 335xi—the car that Jason will surely want in another few years, when he grows from affluent man-child into affluent man. Although you might not realize it, the BMW is similar in size to the Japanese cars, and its powertrain cauldron is cooking up the same ingredients: a turbocharged, 300-hp engine and four-wheel drive.
You now understand the meaning of that WWJD bumper sticker you keep seeing. It symbolizes the painful emotional dilemma that faces every boy racer as he begins the long, introspective journey into adulthood. Evo, STI, or 3-series? What Would Jason Do?
To answer that question, Jason (your author) rounded up all three cars and a few leadfooted staffers and flogged them mercilessly (the cars, not his coworkers) around Southern California.
Visually, the 335xi is the grown-up of the group, devoid of deep spoilers, fender flares, clear taillights, and wings. Under its bulgeless, scoopless hood lies BMW’s powerhouse 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged in-line six. On the way to its 7000-rpm redline, the screaming six produces the thrust of 300 horses and a tenor crescendo that echoes off mountains a half mile away. By using one tiny and one small turbocharger, BMW eliminated a great deal of potential lag—major oomph is available instantaneously, regardless of where the tachometer needle is pointed.
Our test car’s $47,100 sticker price was considerably higher than that of a $41,575 base 335xi because it included various options that don’t affect performance—and that the other two cars don’t have. So, for the purposes of this comparison, we will ignore the metallic paint, the leather seats, the keyless starting system, the Bluetooth, and the cold-weather package. Equipped with only the sport package and the eighteen-inch wheel-and-tire upgrade, our 335xi would cost $43,075. Yes, that’s a lot of dough, although the top-spec STI isn’t much cheaper: our 2008 WRX STI test vehicle shocked us with its $39,440 price tag. Subtract the optional BBS wheels and navigation, though, and the STI drops to $35,640. The two cars’ equipment levels are similar (for example, both cars have high-intensity-discharge headlights and six-speed manual transmissions) but the Subaru’s lower price is partially offset by missing standard 335xi features such as a sunroof and dual-zone climate control.
The Subaru’s 2.5-liter flat-four engine belts out 305 hp in one huge explosion, pulling so frantically toward its 6700-rpm redline that its engineers wisely installed a beeper to notify the driver that it’s time to shift. Still, we hit the rev limiter constantly. While the flat four never creates a symphony like the BMW in-line six, it’s smooth and pleasing to the ears, no matter how fast it’s turning.
The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X’s raucous in-line four, on the other hand, could wake the dead. Inside the car, it sounds like a blender. Outside, a jet helicopter. It builds power more progressively than the STI—to a peak of 291 hp—and pulls frantically all the way to its rev limiter. You’ll never be surprised by the rev limiter, though—the engine is so vocal that you don’t even need to look at the tach. You will be checking the gauges, however, to see if the engine is still running when you’re trying to take off gently up a steep hill: the Evo’s 2.0-liter engine—the smallest in the group—is powerless off idle. To complicate things, the Evo’s clutch fills the air with the scent of burnt lining after even moderate slippage, so slow starts on steep grades are a tricky proposition involving lots of throttle, a modicum of revs, and a measured dose of patience.
There would have been no such eau de clutch issue had we tested a Lancer Evo MR, whose dual-clutch automatic uses wet clutches. The MR—which we expect will start at about $38,000—includes gorgeous, forged BBS wheels, two-piece brake rotors, Alcantara seats, Bilstein dampers, and additional sound deadening. Its higher price and equipment level would have made it an idea choice for this test if it were available with a manual transmission.
We chose the basic Evo GSR, however, because, like the BMW and the Subaru, it has three pedals and a stick shift. With a sticker price of only $33,615, it arrived sans all of the MR features and without many items that the other two cars had—the HID headlights, a satellite radio, and a sixth cog in its transmission, to name a few. On the positive side, its back seat is roomier than those in the STI and the 3-series. That’s important to note, because not much will fit in the tiny trunk.
Once you’re behind the wheel of a Lancer Evolution, though, practical concerns like trunk space are secondary. We declared the previous Evo to be one of the most throttle-adjustable street cars we’ve drive, but the new one is even better. Ironically, the lack of cargo space is the price you pay for that increased maneuverability—various rear suspension and Active Yaw Control differential components live where cases of beer would normally fit in the trunk. The Evo’s driveline computers shuffle power effectively through the three differentials to diminish understeer, and as a result, the Evo pirouettes like a ballerina any time you twist the steering wheel.
Perfect accurate, although not particularly communicative, the Evo’s steering is geared so quickly that it makes the 3580-pound sedan feel like a go-kart. Maintaining a quick pace on mountain roads requires lots of concentration—it’s so eager to drift that we tended to leave the stability control turned on during very fast sections. Mitsubishi’s engineers kept the first four gears very short and closely spaced to help ensure the availability of thrust on the way out of slow corners, but with only five gears to work with and the need for a high-speed top gear, the ratio drop from fourth to fifth is enormous. Nevertheless, the Evo’s engine is in wailing range at highway speeds, making long interstate trips less enjoyable.