10th April 2024

Evo vs Impreza

Comparing the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo with the Subaru Impreza Turbo is a bit like choosing between sushi and Wagyu beef. There will always be die-hard fans of each, but what if you just want a slice of Japanese modern classic fun and aren’t fussed about the badge: which one makes the most sense?

It’s still a tough question to answer, so let’s weigh up the merits of this pair of four-wheel drive, rally-bred superstars. We’ll keep our focus on the cars of the 1990s, which means the original Impreza that first officially hit the UK in Turbo 2000 form. It then developed into a number of limited-edition models, including the ultimate two-door 22B STi, a 276bhp machine that was as close as you’d get to a roadgoing World Rally Championship machine.


Over at the Mitsubishi factory, the team had been churning out Lancer Evolutions since late 1992, the same year Japanese customers could get their hands on the first high performance Impreza WRX. Like the Subaru, Mitsubishi’s effort used a turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine, though the Evo arrived with 244bhp to the original WRX’s 240bhp. Also like its Subaru rival, the ‘Evo 1’ was an innocuous looking four-door saloon that was barely separated from its humdrum siblings by a deeper front spoiler, rear wing and alloy wheel design.

The fundamental difference between this pair laid under the bonnet. While the Evo used a transversely mounted inline four as you’d find in almost every contemporary small and mid-sized car, Subaru stuck to its guns with a flat-four ‘boxer’ engine. It argued the flat-four design gave its car a lower centre of gravity for improved handling, also bestowing the WRX with a unique exhaust note that could soon be heard reverberating through forest rally stages.

On the road, the Evo had the slight edge in straight line speed. The Evo 1 could knock off 0-60mph in 5.1 seconds, while the seminal Evo 6 that ran from 1999 to 2001 dealt with this sprint in 4.8 seconds, or 4.6 seconds if you were lucky enough to get your hands on a Tommi Mäkinen Edition. At the beginning of its life, the Impreza Turbo in the UK was good for 0-60mph in 5.8 seconds. Matching the ferocity of the Evo’s acceleration meant buying one of the limited edition P1 models built by Prodrive.

Blue Car

However, these cars were never about drag-style acceleration. Their four-wheel drive might have given them otherworldly traction off the line, but it was how it helped them in the corners that left jaws scraping along the ground. On World Rally Championship stages, the Impreza and Evo traded times with barely a pace note to separate them, but the road versions had very distinct characters.

Silver Mitsubishi

The Mitsubishi was all about the front end and how it turned into corners, hunting out the apex and exit like a missile. From the Evo IV onwards, Mitsubishi equipped its car with Active Yaw Control for even more physics-defying ability. This system used steering, throttle, and g-force sensors to work out how best to divide the power between the rear wheels. It was sensationally effective and offered its driver huge confidence on even the greasiest roads.

By contrast, the Subaru felt a bit softer and more like most road cars that tend towards gentle understeer. To get the Impreza to behave like the Evo, the Subaru’s driver had to be aggressive with steering and throttle inputs. It just wasn’t the way to get the best out of the WRX, which preferred smooth, thoughtful touches on the controls that let it serve up the maximum grip from its tyres. Driven in this way, the Impreza was every bit as rapid across country as the Evo and would look after you just as well should the road throw up something unexpected.

Rear Lancer

In any such extreme situation, the Evo’s sharper, more direct steering gave it the impression of being the quicker to react. The Impreza’s helm did need more turns from lock-to-lock, but it could get itself out of harm’s way every bit as swiftly, and the Impreza was less tiring on a long journey. Incidentally, the Impreza also had a bigger fuel tank, so you could go further in it without stopping.

Such practical considerations are not likely to sway today’s buyers. You get reasonable seating space for four and boots that will carry decent amounts, so heading off on holiday or to a weekend event is no problem.

What might be more of an issue is finding one of these cars in sound, original condition. A large number of Evos and Imprezas fell prey to owners who modified them in the hope of greater performance. The end result was often lots of noise but little more pace. Thankfully, most of these cars have now fallen out of the market, leaving clean, cared for examples to choose from. So, which to buy?

White Mitsubishi

It would be easy to say it comes down to whether you’re a Colin McRae or Tommi Mäkinen fan, but that would be a cop out. What we will say is these two cars have followed different trajectories in value, with the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 6 is now much more expensive than its Subaru rival. Where a clean Evo 6 can push £40,000, an equally smart Impreza WRX STI is half the price. This means the Impreza probably has further to rise in value than the Evo, though you should only ever buy because you want the car to drive and enjoy rather than for any investment potential.

Couple that with the Subaru’s slightly softer nature and it just edges it as the rally-bred classic to buy right now. That said, ask us tomorrow and we might prefer sushi to wagyu…

Which side of the camp are you on? Tell us in the comments below...