Production-based racing has unleashed some of the world's most ferocious cars onto the road--the Porsche 911 Turbo, the Audi Coupe Quattro--but none has been as accessible as the two cars gathered for this test. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and the Subaru Impreza WRX STi are every bit as authentic as the aforesaid duo, but the nature of their underlying World Rally Championship formula makes them far more practical. They are, at their core, economy cars, albeit ones that have been given every advantage a works-racing program can confer. From humble family sedans come these Manson Family sedans, which are subsequently, perhaps foolishly, re-released into normal society.
Their path back to street legality is a familiar one. Just as the Porsche 911 formed the basis for the first Group 5 turbocharged Carrera, which then led to the roadgoing 911 Turbo, so have the Subaru and the Mitsubishi navigated the homologation Mbius strip, where production cars beget competition cars that beget production cars, and so on. Bouncing from the rally stage to (other countries') streets and back again for a decade, as these two have, has forged two sedans that are not only armed with the latest in amortized racing technology but also suited ideally to our times: They are roomy enough for a small family, cheap enough to register as true performance bargains, fast enough to shame many an '80s supercar, and frugal enough to keep you on the right side of the petroleo-moral debate.
Because they have gone knee-to-groin for so long in rally sport, their roadgoing personae are aimed more directly at each other than almost anything else on the road. Like any cars built to a formula, they achieve their similar ends by similar means: four-cylinder turbocharged engines, low curb weights, four-wheel-drive systems, monstrous rear wings, manual transmissions, and similarities in look and comportment too obvious to mention. This is the enthusiast's version of Accord versus Camry, except, instead of trying to be all things to all people, the STi and the Evo hope to alienate as wide a swath of humanity as possible. These cars aren't for the general citizenry, which is convenient, since they will come in limited batches of just 3600 (STi) and 6500 (Evo).
If their only mission were to scare people, the Subaru might have the edge. It has ten-spoke forged alloy wheels that, set face-up, look like venomous spiders. This super-WRX also has a new, Peter Stevens-designed (McLaren F1) front fascia, side spoilers, and rear bumper; a tall hood scoop; a dual-element rear wing; and more body blisters than a burn victim. The STi's interior begins to resemble a racing car's, too, with blue perforated faux-suede buckets, a small-diameter steering wheel, and a blank plate where the radio should go. There are no floormats, no armrests, and thin glass, all in the interest of lower weight.