2008 Subaru Impreza and 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer

Sam Smith
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STYLING

Impreza: You can be forgiven for thinking that it looks a lot like a Toyota Corolla. It does. The 2008 Subaru Impreza may be the least expensive all-wheel-drive sedan on the U.S. market today, but it's also the most obnoxiously styled. The corporate front grille, the high beltline, the narrow shoulders, and the gaudy trim-all of it combines into a look that screams "anonymous," rather than "cut-rate rally star." Subarus of the past used to wear their hearts on their sleeves, with chunky fenders, thin pillars, and frameless door glass. Now they're the perfect embodiment of a wholly anodyne goal: Subaru wants to emulate Toyota in both sales and national appeal, which means being a little bit of everything to everyone. It also means producing cars that have no distinguishing visual characteristics and no real emotion or soul to their lines.

(Note: The Impreza five-door/hatchback is a little more attractive than the sedan, but then, it looks exactly like another car that sells incredibly well-the Mazda 3.)

Lancer: The Mitsubishi wins this one. The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer was designed from the ground-up to be evolved (if you'll excuse the pun) into the Lancer Evolution, and Mitsubishi's stylists also wanted to reflect some of the Evo's glory back onto the base car. It worked. From a distance, the Lancer Evo is virtually indistinguishable from the base Lancer, and up close, only bumper and trim differences, flared fenders, and a larger rear wing give the game away. The non-Evolution Lancer looks aggressive, modern, and fun all at the same time. You may miss the low beltline and fantastic visibility of the previous-generation Lancer/Lancer Evo, but it doesn't matter, because the car still looks great.

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