End of a rally era
Motorsport veteran Neal Bates runs the final showdown between his longterm rivals from Mitsubishi and Subaru
ONE of the greatest rivalries in the car industry is coming to an end.
After more than two decades battling the Subaru WRX STI through the forests and on the showroom floor, Mitsubishi’s legendary Lancer Evolution is being retired.
The rally car, affectionately called the Evo, is being farewelled with a limited run of 150, known as the Final Edition.
So we thought it fitting to send the Evo out with one more crack at the Rex.
It’s hard to find an impartial judge for such a battle, so we a man who has spent most of his career competing against both.
Four-time Australian rally champion Neal Bates has battled the Evo and Rex for more than two decades, first in a Toyota Celica then a Corolla.
Immensely skilled on the gravel, Bates was particularly renowned for prowess on the tarmac, so we took the trio to Sydney Motorsport Park for a final showdown. Both cars were stock-standard, not set up for track driving, and we used the tighter southern circuit.
The Evo has the slightest advantage on paper with outputs of 226kW/414Nm to the Subaru’s 221kW/407Nm. The latter counters with a slight weight advantage, tipping the scales at 1537kg versus the Evo’s 1565kg for the Evo.
Fresh from the circuit, Bates shares his thoughts:
I prefer the look of the Evo, even though it’s about 10 years old. On the track it has plenty of go higher up in the rev range and the five-speed manual is better suited to track driving because you make fewer gear changes, which saves seconds.
The engine has a bit of turbo lag but you can drive around it.
When you’re cornering hard it starts out understeering a bit (pushing the nose out) but you can get the tail out as you round the corner. It’s pretty easy to drive.
The brakes are good, to a point. The gearshift is quick, the chassis feels pretty taut and the suspension is OK — a bit more adjustability would be better.
It’s not pretty to look at but Subaru has never been good on style.The STI feels better all-sought round. It feels more like a racecar and the chassis feels stiffer.
It feels like it has more grip everywhere and there’s less lag from the turbo, with more usable power down low. At higher engine revs, the power doesn’t feel as good as the Evo.
The STI has a smooth, short- throw six-speed gearbox but at this track the gearing isn’t ideal and you lose time going up and down through the ratios.
The STI feels like a newer car and there’s more adjustment available for the drive and the dynamics. It has neutral handling and good drive out of the corners.
AGAINST THE CLOCK
Armed with a stopwatch, we time Bates in each car over about five laps and neither is demonstrably quicker than the other. He reckons the WRX feels quicker by the seat of the pants but the extra gear changes cost it time.
From pit lane, each looks quick in Bates’s experienced hands, sitting flat and not flinching under full power or hard braking. Both sound quiet with slightly more rumble from the STi’s quad-tip exhausts.