At the scales, the STi is within 50 pounds of the standard WRX, but the STi is heavy with rally technology. Perhaps the only element not taken over wholesale from the WRC program is the STi's 2.5-liter engine. WRC rules specify displacements no higher than 2.0 liters, but Subaru wanted the STi brand to make a bigger U.S.-market entrance than its 2.0-liter could provide, hence the familiar 2.5-liter, tuned to within an inch of its life. It makes a satisfyingly round 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque via 14.5 psi of boost. Lag from this large-capacity turbocharger is offset by a variable valve timing system, hollow camshafts, and a drive-by-wire throttle, all of which enhance engine response. An intercooler, 30 percent larger than the one in the WRX, has a manual, in-car water spritz to lower the intake charge temperature. The engine's block is stiffer than stock, and its thermal stamina is higher, thanks to sodium-filled exhaust valves and thicker piston crowns.
Before delivering power to all four wheels, the engine runs through a six-speed manual and something Subaru calls its Driver Controlled Center Differential. While it's true that this system can be adjusted by the driver, you'd have to be Richard Burns to think you could apportion torque more effectively than the algorithm can. In the automatic mode, a computer-controlled clutch overrides the center differential's action, which is geared for a 35/65 percent front/rear split. For traction discrepancies within the same axle, the STi has limited-slip differentials front and rear, each of a different design (see sidebar).
Suspending all this are four struts that fit into the WRX's wheelside holes, with one crucial difference: They are upside-down. Inverting the struts in accordance with the laws of black-wizard rally craft is a means of increasing their bending stiffness and internal volume. The larger size boosts both damping capacity and fade resistance. There are also cross-member braces front and rear for an exceptionally stiff ride bed.
Brembo makes the brakes, 12.7-inch discs front and 12.3-inch discs rear. Unlike the WRX, with its front twin-piston calipers, the STi uses four pistons at the front and two at the rear. An electronic brake distribution system is standard.
The Mitsubishi Evo also has disc brakes large enough for family-style dining, but the overall sophistication of the car relative to the STi is slightly lower. The Evolution may be farther away mechanically from the stock Lancer than the STi is from the WRX, but bear in mind that the gulf in performance, excitement, and refinement between the base Lancer and the WRX is almost Mexican in width.
That said, there is plenty of impressive equipment behind the Evo's anime-cartoon face. Thanks to the abundant use of aluminum, its body is lighter than the Lancer's. Its track is wider, its aerodynamics are better, and its engine output is in another league. The most obvious post-Lancer mod, though, is the hand-formed carbon-fiber-composite rear wing, which not only stabilizes the back end but also makes drying dish towels or getting arrested baselessly a breeze.
The Evo is more somber inside than out, its black and gray plastics living together in misery. But the three-spoke Momo wheel and well-bolstered Recaros manage to liven things up a bit, and at least the Evo has a radio.