In the chassis department, the Evo lacks the STi's composure. Its front end bobs up and down on California freeways, and its ride will batter your kidneys like a prizefighter. But what sweet, sweet pain! Thanks to its flinty steering, hair-trigger differential, and progressive-breakaway tires, the Evo feels about three feet narrower than the STi on a tight, spiraling road. Moreover, the Evo is the most throttle-adjustable street car we have ever driven, and sometimes you get the feeling that it would rather be guided with the throttle pedal than the actual steering wheel. Go into a turn too hot, and simply lift off the throttle for a benign, instant tightening of the car's line. Go into a turn waaaay too hot, and you'll begin to understand why they left that wiper on the rear window. For all you weekend Mkinens out there, this is as close to Monte Carlo as you can get in a production car. That the Evo allows you to steer with all four wheels--not just the front two--adds the extra dimension of control that rally stars use when they're staring out the side window while careening toward a rally spectator immobilized by drunkenness.
The STi tries harder, and succeeds better, at being an everyday street car. Its ride is firm, but its damping and body control are far better than the Evo's. The seating position is good in both cars but superior in the STi, thanks to a height-adjustable seat. Although its braking system needs more space to stop the car, the Subaru's pedal feels more responsive and better tuned.
But buffing the car of its many rough edges has robbed it of the lunatic twitchiness promised by its bodywork. Steering that's slower and duller than the Evo's (but still faster than the WRX's) gives the impression that the car is bigger and heavier, even though the Mitsubishi is five inches longer and only twenty pounds lighter. And whereas the Evo will dart into a corner, shake its moneymaker until you throw a dollar at it, and then gently understeer out, the STi rides into a corner on its front tires. Only after some patience with the throttle can the STi be balanced and made to drift neutrally through the corner's exit. Los Angeles bureau chief Michael Jordan says, "The car claws its way forward, which is part of the reason the Impreza WRC car is best on gravel and loose dirt . . . but for all that, the STi feels like a well-constructed front-wheel-drive car with big tires. A lot of rubber bushings between you and the contact patch, which distorts the message." And if you're using these cars as intended, at the track or on a rally stage, then you need to hear that message without interference.
This is not to suggest that the STi is anything less than a downright amazing car. It's arguably more complete than any race-bred road car in history, and its owner needs to make very few sacrifices to enjoy it. But if the point of these cars is to serve the most committed and crazed of wheelmen, then the Evo has the edge. It's raw. It's punishing. It has all the civility and social grace of an incontinent mongoose--infuriating at times but very amusing nonetheless.
Perhaps an instructive way to think about these cars is to imagine them as two pieces of cutlery. One, the STi, is a paring knife. The other, the Evo, is a scalpel. Both are sharp precision tools that should be wielded with caution. Both are shiny and alluring. The paring knife is more useful; you probably pick it up every day. The scalpel is single-purpose, flimsy, and disposable. But only the scalpel has the power to heal, to cut out illness, to separate man from the dead parts of himself and thrust him back among the walking, thankful to be alive.