1999-2004 Porsche Carrera 4 vs. 2002-2005 Subaru Impreza WRX

Eddie Alterman
Greg Jarem
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Even with its merely ample power, this car is as close to the old Porsche 944 Turbo as you'll find today. It's a nimble, front-engined handling machine, a tad immature, maybe, but utterly thrilling when driven properly.

Funnily enough, the 911 used to be like this. It was a car you had to learn to control, a car that rewarded good execution. It gave its owners an almost irrational confidence in their driving ability, the unfortunate byproduct of which was the popularity of those horrible Porsche satin jackets in the '80s. Now, the Porsche 911 is too harried by insurance companies to leave its raffishness exposed, but it, like the WRX, retains the short wheelbase that, to the trained eye, means power oversteer.

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There are numerous explanations for all these similarities, but none as substantial as the one offered by Mike Shields of noted Subaru tuner SPD Tuning Service. He says: "It is not an accident that only two car companies in the world have maintained long-standing engineering companies separate from their production and marketing organization. One is Porsche/Audi, and the other is Subaru. [There's also Lotus--Ed.] During the 1960s, the Japanese government made plans with the major keiretsu to understand the world's manufacturing leaders. At that time, Nissan engineers studied Germany, while Toyota sent engineers to England and Italy. Both generally dismissed American design aesthetics but paid very careful attention to American engines. If you put a 1968 Datsun 510 on a hoist, it looks exactly like a BMW 2002 but is about 300 pounds lighter. If you take apart its engine, it looks just like a period Mercedes-Benz powerplant, except for the kidney-shaped 327 fuelly Chevrolet combustion chamber and the optional close-ratio five-speed with Porsche synchros in it. This was around the time that Subaru was founded. These Nissan and Toyota engineers trained the Subaru engineers. This was also the time of Porsche's ascendancy to greatness, and, while the great Ferrari-Mercedes-Maserati, Mercedes-Jaguar, Lotus-Ferrari, and Ford-Ferrari battles captured the imagination of this first generation of Japanese engineers, it was the sheer technical mastery and dominance of Porsche that impressed the core Subaru engineering staff. They understood Porsche's message quite clearly. An Otto-cycle engine is a convenient hot-gas generator for a turbine-powered car. Invent the computer-controlled engine-management system, and the rest is history. The Subaru WRX engine is best thought of as two-thirds of a Porsche 956/962 engine."

There is still another, less demonstrable explanation for these cars' spiritual bond. In the cosmic sense, both the 911 and the WRX are icons, and icons--not just cars but people and places, too--tend to exist in a vacuum. Each one has a little bubble of protective space around it, making it impervious to comparison, immune to marketplace competition. Take James Dean, for instance: Who can approach his mythic aura? Or Garfield the Cat: Who could better encapsulate the angst of America's youth than that irascible, pot-bellied tabby? And yet, despite their peerlessness, icons often share certain fundamental similarities. Just as James Dean and Garfield both hail from Fairmount, Indiana, so were these two cars born in the same place. The WRX and the 911 are not competitors, really, but they're very definitely in the same league.

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