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  • Writer's pictureRoger Witherspoon

The Zoom Zoom Road Rally: Subaru Impreza and the Mitsubishi Lancer

By Roger Witherspoon


Sometimes, looks can be deceiving.

For the most part, $20,000 compact cars with four cylinder engines are considered

basic transport, and provide varying amounts of comfort and amenities and styling that is

more attractive than functional. Spoilers on the rear and aggressive looking fronts tend to

be playful appeals to those who wish they had sports sedans rather than indications of

real speed and performance.

So I wasn’t expecting all that much from the Subaru Impreza WRX, the $30,000,

turbocharged sport model of the more sedate Impreza sedan which usually competes with

the Toyota Corolla and Mitsubishi Lancer. But the WRX was intended to bump up

against the Audi A-4 and grab the Zoom-Zoom from both Mazda and Mitsubishi.

That was a tall order. The guys with Subaru’s crayons got into the spirit of sport

competition, crafting a short, stubby, sharp-sloping front with a working turbo scoop

which looks as aggressive as the average crouching tiger. The WRX sedan has a short,

stubby rear with a hint of a cat’s powerful haunches topped by a sloping spoiler that looks

as if it might actually be functional. The 18-inch, 10-spoke aluminum alloy wheels

complete the aesthetic transformation from a car intended to haul groceries to one

designed to run with the big dogs.

The WRX does not look like the everyday compact on the inside, either. The dash

has the double curve cockpit look associated with more upscale sports models, and the

two-tone, adjustable, heated bucket seats lend more panache than one would have

expected. A CD and MP3 player were expected, but the touch-screen navigation system

was a surprise and the 10-speaker audio system provided the envelope of sound one

associated with high speed rides.

A touch of the accelerator made it clear that the WRX was not a run of the mill

anything. The turbos kicked in immediately and the car fairly leapt from the curb. In

fact, the WRX rushes from 0 to 60 miles per hour in just under six seconds, a respectable

speed for a sport sedan, and a surprise on a compact.

What was more of a surprise was tooling at 125 through New England and

realizing that the spoiler was actually a working piece of equipment as the WRX, with its

all wheel drive, hugged the highway as tightly as an NFL draftee hugs his first bonus

signing check. The turbo-charged engine cranks out 224 horsepower –giving a kick to the

light weight compact sedan which carries a top speed of 140 miles per hour. The big dogs

will eventually leave the WRX behind, but they will have to work up a serious sweat to

do so.

In crafting the Impreza WRX, Subaru has blended its upscale, road racing

technology into a small package which doubles as an everyday commuting and grocery-

hauling vehicle and competes very well with the zoom-zoom crowd.

And then, there is Mitsubishi’s Lancer GTS. The standard Lancer is a

comfortable, attractive, sedate car with a sticker just above $20,000 which is aimed at the

Corolla and Honda Civic crowd. But the Mitsubishi was not about to let the zoom-zoom

crowd go unchallenged, and crafted a GTS version of the compact sedan to run with the

pint-sized pack.

The guys with the Lancer’s crayons shied away from Subaru’s pugnacious look

when they designed the GTS, and opted for a long, sleek, slim, slowly sloping front,

narrow grill and unbroken, slim line to the trunk reminiscent of the style of Mercedes’

sport sedans.

They also shied away from the bulk power of the WRX, and opted for a more

standard, 152-horsepower engine. But Mitsubishi focused on the quality of the ride and

driving experience, and added a manual mode to their automatic transmission with tightly

wound, instantly responsive paddle shifts behind the leather steering wheel. The result is

a compact sedan which takes a bit longer to get up to speed, but is still tuned to provide

enjoyment for those looking for sports car performance.

The Lancer GTS, riding on 18-inch wheels, takes 7.7 seconds for the speedometer

to hit 60, and it tops out at only 120 miles per hour – around the top speed of the much

costlier Lincoln Zephyr. That is 20 miles an hour slower than the top speed of the WRX,

but then the Lancer GTS costs about $7,000 less than its turbo charged competitor. In

addition, there is rarely an opportunity or need for most folks to drive at those speeds on

the open road. The low riding, quiet, ground-hugging Lancer GTS, though it cannot keep

up with the WRX or the really big dogs, easily provides the adrenaline antidote to the

standard daily commute.

Inside, Mitsubishi’s creators put a lot into a $22,000 package. Like the Subaru

WRX, the Lancer GTS also offers AM/FM and Sirius satellite radio, but boosts the audio

with a 650-watt, 10-speaker Rockford-Fosgate surround system which would be at home

in a car costing three times as much. The GTS is also loaded with a powered sun roof,

Bluetooth cell phone connection, and a satellite-driven navigation system with a seven-

inch touch screen.

Whether one opts to make an aggressive statement with the Subaru WRX, or a

more sublime one with the Lancer GTS, the two sports sedans prove to be fast paced

options to the compact commuting blahs.

2008 Subaru Impreza WRX

MSRP: $29,833

EPA Mileage: 19 MPG City 24 MPG Highway

Performance/ Safety:

0 – 60 MPH 5.9 Seconds

1⁄4 Mile 14.5 Seconds at 94 MPH

Top Speed: 140 MPH

2.5-Liter DOHC 4-cylinder turbocharged engine with functional full hood scoop

producing 224 horsepower and 226 pound-feet of torque; symmetrical all-wheel drive; 5-

speed manual transmission; 4-wheel disc brakes; vehicle dynamics control; double

wishbone rear suspension; sport tuned independent suspension; 17-inch aluminum alloy

wheels; dual front air bags; front seat side impact air bags; side curtain air bags.

Interior/ Comfort:

AM/FM Sirius satellite radio; CD and MP3 player with 10 speaker sound system; touch-

screen GPS navigation system; tilt & telescope, leather wrapped steering wheel with

fingertip audio and cruise controls; heated front seats;

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS

MSRP: $22,615

EPA Mileage: 22 MPG City 29 MPG Highway

Performance/ Safety:

0 – 60 MPH 7.7 Seconds

1⁄4 Mile 15.85 Seconds at 96 MPH

Top Speed: 120 MPH

2.0-Liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine producing 152 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of

torque; automatic transmission with paddle-shift manual mode; rack & pinion steering;

sport tuned suspension; 4-wheel disc brakes; front and rear stabilizer bars; dual front air

bags; front seat mounted side air bags; side curtain airbags; driver’s knee airbag; daytime

running lights; 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels; fog lights; halogen headlights.

Comfort/ Interior:

AM/FM Sirius satellite radio; CD & MP3 player; 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate sound

system with 9 speakers and subwoofer; satellite-based navigation system; power sunroof;

tilt steering wheel with fingertip cruise and audio controls; Bluetooth cell phone



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