The world's two hottest rally cars, the Subaru Impreza WRX and the Mitsubishi Lancer, return to the streets tuned for 2009, fast enough to outrun the blues.
Subaru torqued up the beauty of all-wheel-drive with a 265-horsepower turbocharged intercooled Boxer engine, retuned suspension and wider, lower-profile summer performance tires on the WRX. The high-performance street-legal boy racer flashes its intentions with an STI-type grille and standard Aero Package.
Mitsubishi branches out from the Lancer Evolution with the Lancer Ralliart, a 237-horsepower torch that is a step down from the Evo but still powered by a turbo-charged four-cylinder engine, all-wheel drive and Twin Clutch transmission.
These cars are relatively rare because they appeal to a narrow niche of enthusiasts and they are considerably more expensive than the models they're derived from.
While a Subaru Impreza with a five-speed manual transmission and a normally aspirated base engine will cost you $18,190, the WRX version starts at $26,190 and climbs to a lofty $39,490 with the STI trim and six-speed stick.
Lancer Ralliart starts at $26,490, which looks like a bargain compared with the Lancer Evolution GSR's $32,990 price tag. Mitsubishi last summer unleashed the Lancer Evolution MR with a six-speed Twin Clutch Sequential Shift for $38,290.
Like the WRX, the Lancer Evo is an all-wheel-drive sedan able to drift through hairpin turns on tarmac and dust the competition on dirt tracks. Both cars broadcast their potential as ready-made rice burners with a voracious air scoop on the hood and a bodacious spoiler on the deck.
Operating under the theme of "Kyo-Ka" (Japanese for "strengthening") Subaru engineers endowed the WRX with a larger turbocharger that boosts pressure to 13.3 psi from 11.4 psi in the 2008 model, and a larger-diameter exhaust that uses a low-density catalyst for reduced backpressure.
Thus, the 2009 WRX engine produces 265 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 244 foot-pounds of peak torque at 4,000 rpm. That's up from the 224 horsepower and 226 foot-pounds in the 2008 version. The STI turns up the power to 305 horses and 290 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm.
Mitsubishi responds with Lancer Ralliart's All-Wheel Control system based on a competition-derived, computer-controlled Active Center Differential unit that distributes torque between the front and rear wheels in response to driving conditions.
The driver can set system response parameters using a "Tarmac, Gravel, Snow" selector. A limited-slip front differential and a mechanical limited-slip rear differential help optimize side-to-side torque distribution.
Ralliart-tuned suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels gain extra layers of safety with the electronic systems known as standard active stability control with traction control.