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Mitsubishi Evo Final Edition and Subaru WRX STI 2015 | Neal Bates track test

Motorsport veteran Neal Bates runs the final showdown between his long-term rivals from Mitsubishi and Subaru.

One of the greatest rivalries in the car industry is coming to an end.

After more than two decades battling the Subaru WRX STI through the forests and on the showroom floor, Mitsubishi's legendary Lancer Evolution is being retired.

The rally car, affectionately called the Evo, is being farewelled with a limited run of 150, known as the Final Edition.

So we thought it fitting to send the Evo out with one more crack at the Rex.

It's hard to find an impartial judge for such a battle, so we sought a man who has spent most of his career competing against both.

Four-time Australian rally champion Neal Bates has battled the Evo and Rex for more than two decades, first in a Toyota Celica then a Corolla.

Immensely skilled on the gravel, Bates was particularly renowned for prowess on the tarmac, so we took the trio to Sydney Motorsport Park for a final showdown. Both cars were stock-standard, not set up for track driving, and we used the tighter southern circuit.

The Evo has the slightest advantage on paper with outputs of 226kW/414Nm to the Subaru's 221kW/407Nm. The latter counters with a slight weight advantage, tipping the scales at 1537kg versus the Evo's 1565kg for the Evo.

Fresh from the circuit, Bates shares his thoughts:

Mitsubishi Evo Final Edition

  • 2015 Mitsubishi Evo Final Edition 2015 Mitsubishi Evo Final Edition
  • 2015 Mitsubishi Evo Final Edition 2015 Mitsubishi Evo Final Edition
  • 2015 Mitsubishi Evo Final Edition 2015 Mitsubishi Evo Final Edition

I prefer the look of the Evo, even though it's about 10 years old. On the track it has plenty of go higher up in the rev range and the five-speed manual is better suited to track driving because you make fewer gear changes, which saves seconds.

The engine has a bit of turbo lag but you can drive around it.

When you're cornering hard it starts out understeering a bit (pushing the nose out) but you can get the tail out as you round the corner. It's pretty easy to drive.

The brakes are good, to a point. The gearshift is quick, the chassis feels pretty taut and the suspension is OK — a bit more adjustability would be better.

Subaru WRX STI

  • 2015 Subaru Impreza STI 2015 Subaru Impreza STI
  • 2015 Subaru Impreza STI 2015 Subaru Impreza STI
  • 2015 Subaru Impreza STI 2015 Subaru Impreza STI

It's not pretty to look at but Subaru has never been good on style.The STI feels better all-round. It feels more like a race-car and the chassis feels stiffer.

It feels like it has more grip everywhere and there's less lag from the turbo, with more usable power down low. At higher engine revs, the power doesn't feel as good as the Evo.

The STI has a smooth, short-throw six-speed gearbox but at this track the gearing isn't ideal and you lose time going up and down through the ratios.

The STI feels like a newer car and there's more adjustment available for the drive and the dynamics. It has neutral handling and good drive out of the corners.

Against the clock

Armed with a stopwatch, we time Bates in each car over about five laps and neither is demonstrably quicker than the other. He reckons the WRX feels quicker by the seat of the pants but the extra gear changes cost it time.

From pit lane, each looks quick in Bates's experienced hands, sitting flat and not flinching under full power or hard braking. Both sound quiet with slightly more rumble from the STi's quad-tip exhausts.

On the road

Despite their hardcore focus, both cars are reasonably well equipped with creature comforts, including satnav, decent audio, dual-zone climate control, power driver's seat and reversing cameras.

The STI wins the battle for interior ambience, though, with leather upholstery, push-button start and a more modern cabin with higher quality finishes.

For the enthusiasts, the Recaro seats in the Mitsubishi look racier, especially with the red embroidered badging on the headrests, while both have 18-inch forged alloy wheels, aluminium suspension components and four-piston Brembo brakes.

Once they're in the sweet spot, they're seriously quick

Both are all-wheel-drive and feature a form of torque vectoring through electronics, limited-slip differentials and other mechanisms. Each claiming a 0-100km/h sprint time of less than 5.0 seconds, they show initial lag off the mark. Once they're in the sweet spot, they're seriously quick.

And agile. The STI has a bit of kickback through the steering over rough surfaces but overall it has more grip and more low-down punch than the Evo. It's also more refined around town with a slightly softer ride (neither are plush) and less transfer of noise into the cabin. The Subaru is also easier to live with on the freeway. It lopes along quietly while the five-speed Evo sits above 3000rpm at 110km/h.

Barnwell's verdict

As a long-time owner of a modified Evo 6, I'm not a real fan of the Evo 10. I think it needs more torque and less weight. But I jump behind the wheel of the Final Edition with high expectations. To me it feels nothing like my car, which is quicker, brakes better and has a much more raw feel to it. To drive, it is fully engaging, unlike the Evo 10 which feels three-quarters of the way there.

In the end, these two are very similar prospects

I agree with Bates about the STI. It feels sharper and punchier down low and comes with more electronic adjustments to get you back to where my Evo 6 is.

It won't win any beauty contests, the leather isn't really necessary on this type of car but it sounds pretty good.

In the end, these two are very similar prospects. They are within a whisker of each other on the track and have a similar feel on the road. But while the Evo looks better from the outside, the STI feels newer from behind the wheel.

In short, the Evo feels like a car at the end of the road and the STI still feels like a going concern.

Neal Bates's next project

  • Neal Bates Neal Bates
  • Neal Bates Neal Bates

Some say he was the original Stig on the Australian version of Top Gear. Neal Bates (pictured) is one of the enduring figures in Australian motorsport, as a driver, team owner and ambassador.

He's spent most of his career on dirt, winning three back-to-back Australian rally championships in the 1990s and capping it off with a final crown in 2008. He would have won more, had it not been for the late and legendary Possum Bourne

But now he is working with long-time partner Toyota on a new affordable grassroots tarmac race series featuring the Toyota 86. The series will run as a support category at selected V8 Supercar events (including Bathurst) next year.

Bates developed the cars, with the focus on keeping them as affordable as possible. For Bates it's a natural fit — he got his first break in a similar one-make series run by Toyota in 1989.

Which is your favourite: the WRX or the Evo? Tell us in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Final Edition pricing and spec info.

Click here to see more 2015 Subaru WRX STi pricing and spec info.