2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

Ride is nice and comfortable, especially on dirt trails; can feel the extra weight of the battery in the back, going over bumps mid-turn will bump the rear out a tiny bit, which you can feel especially on wet roads; engine restart is rough, first time it did it I though I was hit from behind; not worth it over the regular, non-hybrid version, doesn’t get much better fuel mileage, I averaged around 30mpg, which isn’t great for a hybrid; overall it’s a good first effort by Subaru for a hybrid, they just need to work out some kinks, get some better MPG’s and keep the capabilities, and they’ll surely have a winner on their hands; could be a perfect fit for those outdoorsy Subaru fans who want to help save the Earth.

                                2015 Subaru WRX STI vs.                                 2014 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR

One of the greatest debates out there among car enthusiasts resides with which car gives you the most bang for your buck. You’ll have your fanboi’s for every category, and those that are loyal, just because that’s all they know. For me, I have always been a Subaru fan, so it was hard not to have a biased opinion when it came down to this comparison, but I did my best to keep my heart at bay and test each of these cars with a clear and open mind. Keep in mind also, the 2014 Mitsubishi Evo, is technically the same car that came out as a 2008 model, so the STI already has some clear advantages right out of the gate.

Let’s start off with speed and power. The Evo comes packed with a 2.0L turbo-charged engine producing 291hp and 300lb-ft of torque and has a curb weight of almost 3700lbs. The STI is equipped with a larger displaced 2.5L turbo-charged Boxer engine churning out 305hp and 290lb-ft of torque, a carry over from the previous generation, and weighs in at about 3400lbs. The Evo carries a little bit more weight due to its dual-clutch transmission. If you opt for the 5-speed manual, it brings the weight down to around 3500lbs. Both reach their peak HP and torque around the same time. Most magazines have been achieving similar 0-60 times in the mid 4′s for both the EVO MR and the new STI. While I don’t have the necessary equipment, or legal means to test this repeatedly, I can say that they both felt equally as fast, and equally as powerful.

When you think of these kinds of cars, you dont expect to have luxury style interiors, which by no means do you get with either of them, but the interior of the Subaru is a million times nicer than that of the EVO. Subaru has done a great job in increasing the overall quality of materials that they are using in this all new STI. Soft touch dash material, higher quality plastics, comfortable, yet supportive seats. But there is one thing that really stands out in my mind, that steering wheel! The steering wheel may be my favorite thing about the interior. It’s a very nice flat-bottomed wheel, with a thickness that will rival ones you find on BMW’s M cars, and it feels wonderful in your hands. Everything else in the Subaru is all no nonsense. Gauges, instrument panel, center info display are all functional, and easy to use, something you want in a car that is all about the driving experience. Overall, the general feel of the STI’s cabin is a pleasant one, and not a bad place to be, whether you’re a driver or a passenger. The EVO on the other hand is full of hard, ugly plastics, that’s including the entire dash. Like the Subaru, all necessities are within reach, and easily accessible. The saving grace of the EVO’s interior are the Recaro seats. It’s the one thing Mitsubishi has over the Subaru interior wise. They were obviously very supportive, for both enthusiast driving, as well as normal day to day driving. Perhaps that’s where all the money went for the rest of the interior……

So which one is the best car for the pure driving enthusiast you ask? Well, that will depend on what you’re looking for. While these two cars have been competing head to head for a little over 2 decades, and in the U.S. for a little over a decade, I feel they are in two different realms now.

Here are my opinions on both:

2014 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X:
Right off the bat the first thing I noticed about the Evo was how cheap the interior was. The next thing I noticed once I started driving was how stiff the suspension was, and of course the very next thing I noticed was all the rattling going on due to the cheap interior and stiff suspension. Driving further down the road, I quickly realized how good this car felt in my hands. Sure, it may seem that you can feel every little bump, and that’s not how you would expect a $40,000 car to feel, but in this case its a very good thing. Everything down to the steering made me feel 100% connected to this car and the street. I could feel the suspension working, the tires rolling over the ground, every bump and rock in the road. The steering was so precise and immediately responsive, I felt that I could put this car wherever I wanted to and it it would just comply. The combination of the quick shifting dual-clutch transmission, coupled with the quick turn-in made this car very, very fun on twisty roads and hard turns. This car is made to be driven hard and when driven hard, it rewards it’s driver. I did wish it had a little bit more of a throaty exhaust note though, it would have been nice if it had been a little deeper sounding, rather than sounding like a small 4-cylinder engine with an exhaust. It makes me wonder though, as to how Mitsubishi can create something like this, a car with soul and feeling, and also create something like the new Mirage…..but more on that another time.

2015 Subaru WRX STI:
Getting into the new STI for the first time, you realize how much of a step above the Evo the interior is, as well as the previous generation STI. It is leaps and bounds better. The steering wheel and the soft touch dash is the first thing you’ll notice that is much better. Now, Subaru spent all their R&D money on making sure that this car handled amazingly, so much so that they decided they wouldn’t be able to create a hatchback version, and that money spent shows. The difference compared to the last generation is like night and day. You can feel the heft in the steering wheel immediately, and the response of the new 13.0:1 steering ratio is wonderful. The suspension feels much stiffer, but surprisingly if felt more composed than that of the WRX. Handling of the new STI was great and the engine sounds wonderful when keeping the revs high and staying in the power zone. One thing though, as much as I love the current engine in the STI, the power, the sound, the way you need to keep the revs up to feel all that power, it needs a new engine. And I say that with all the respect for that EJ, but its dated, and the other engines out there have surpassed it long ago. With as much work that Subaru did with the chassis and suspension on this car, it deserves, scratch that, it NEEDS an engine just as capable and advanced to really make the new handling shine. If this car had a combination of the low-end torque of Subaru’s new 2.0L in the WRX and the top-end power of the current engine, this car would be perfect. Maybe Subaru will squeeze out 0.5L of the new engine and this dream will happen, but who knows.

So what’s my pick? There is no clean cut answer.
If you want a car that you can drive every day and take on the track on the weekends, I think the STI is perfect for that. Its amazing when you push it hard, but livable when just scooting around town. As much as I love the way the new handling of the STI is, I can’t help but feel that EVO is the car for you if you’re able to take it on a track all the time. It is by no means worthy of being a daily driver, unless you like your back to be punished, and don’t really need to use the trunk for anything too big, as its laughable considering how large it’s rear-end looks.

So the STI beats out the EVO 2 to 1… is that?
The STI is a complete car. You can take it on a track everyday if you wanted to, and then get in and drive it home to pick up the groceries or kids and not suffer too much. The EVO, on the other hand I would 100% recommend for the track. It handles a little better, and gives better feedback, but your back and your passengers will thank you for not hauling them around town in it. The only limiting factor that keeps the STI from being the ultimate fun daily driver, is that you need to be pushing this car pretty hard to really enjoy the full potential, which local law enforcement might not be too happy with. For this pick, I can’t help but think of the Ford Fiesta ST, and this is coming from a guy who was dead set on buying the new STI.

2015 Subaru WRX

Where’s the hatchback? That’s really the only question fans of the Subaru WRX will be asking. Short answer is there is no hatchback…..for now….

However, all that money that Subaru used to develop the WRX has been very well spent. Everything is better with this car, and when I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING. They’ve buttoned down pretty much all the problems I’ve ever had with the WRX. While I do wish they kept the hydraulic steering and the direct mechanically linked transmission, they have done a fantastic job with the electronically assisted steering giving it a quicker ratio than the outgoing model and the cable shifted transmission still feels pretty damn good with quick notchy and precise shifts.

Steering inputs are met with quick results, while not being overly sensitive. It goes where you want it to, and doesn’t have any real dead spots or play on center. The thick flat-bottomed steering wheel feels great in your hands, and really communicates well with the chassis. One new feature that the 2015 WRX has is something called Active Torque Vectoring. This basically will apply brake pressure under hard cornering to the inside front wheel to help the car rotate which helps keep the car feeling more neutral. This all helps give the WRX great balance and handling, keeping it very flat around corners. I wasn’t able to push it as hard as I would have liked due to the fact that this car was fitted with winter sport tires, so you could feel the limitations of the tires under hard cornering, but you could tell that the car had a lot more to show you.

With the previous generation WRX, Subaru had tamed the suspension down a little, making it a little more compliant, which sacrificed some of the handling characteristics that you expect from an AWD sports sedan. For this generation, they concentrated on making the WRX more on target with its rival, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the way the new WRX handles, but those looking for the older generation’s slightly more cushy ride will be disappointed. The ride is stiff. However, the faster you go, the more comfortable it gets. Around town, if you live in areas riddled with potholes and uneven surfaces, your back will hate you, as well as probably your passengers. If there are multiple undulations in the road, the ride does get a little bouncy, but never uncontrollable.

Now, onto the engine. An all-new 2.0l direct injected boxer four has been developed for this generation, which harkens back to Subaru’s WRC days, as well as the introduction of the WRX to the U.S. shores, but boy is it a much different engine. The new 2.0l engine doesn’t have much more horsepower than the outgoing 2.5l engine, but it gains 3 more horses putting it up to 268. Torque is also up to 258lb-ft. The direct injected engine gives much better mid-range torque giving all 258lb-ft starting at 2000RPM and continuing right up to 5200RPM, but what it gains in mid-range torque it loses up top in the upper range of the RPMs. Not many people will be racing around town higher than 5200RPMs, but it’s a noticeable drop in power once you pass that point, especially if you’re used to the extra oomph of the larger displaced 2.5l engine, but that’s nothing perhaps a little aftermarket tuning could cure. Throttle response is very good, perhaps a teensy bit touchy, but overall perfect for having some fun.

Subaru has never been known for their luxurious interiors, and the new WRX still won’t be known for that, but one thing Subaru does get right is functionality. Compared to the last generation WRX the interior is a huge step up. There are nice soft touches all around, and the plastic bits don’t feel overly cheap. The layout of all the controls are easy to use, and all within reach. The faux carbon fiber on the dash isn’t terrible, but it would have been nice if it was either real, or perhaps be given the option to have it as a brushed aluminum look as well. The seats were very comfortable, while still offering good support and side bolstering for sporty driving.

I hope you enjoy the sounds of the engine, because the stock stereo is terrible, one thing that Subaru has never really been great at. Although they do offer a Harmon Kardon option, which I would certainly recommend if you want to have a somewhat decent stereo. The only other gripes I had was the lack of some of the more convenient features like automatic door locks, as well as an auto up/down function on all the windows, and not just the driver’s. These are two things that I feel should really be standard equipment on cars in this price range.

The exterior is going to leave you loving it, or hating it. I personally think it looks great. The lines are nice, the front end looks aggressive, and while the wide-body looks subtle, it gives it a nice hulking look to it. Sure, many people will say the front looks like the current EVO, but is that a bad thing? I think the front end of the EVO looks fantastically mean, but the Subaru pulls it off a little softer, and a little more elegantly. But those stock wheels! Not sure what Subaru was thinking with that one, but it’s easily curable now that the WRX and STI share the same bolt pattern, so wheel swaps are easily doable now.

Is the new WRX the best WRX ever? The short answer is yes. The long answer, is also yes, yes it is. The new WRX picks up where the old WRX left off, and makes it nearly the perfect car for fun that money can buy, the only thing that could make it better would be to add a fifth door.

2014 Subaru Forester XT

I remember my first time being in a Subaru Forester. My cousin’s mom had bought a first generation Forester back in 1997 as a 1998 model, and it was now handed down to him to use when he first got his license, and all I could think of was it’s like a wagon, but so much cooler. It was gray with gray interior, and so much fun, even though it was only the NA version with 165hp it was still a hoot to toss it around.

While the days of the wagonesque Forester are long gone, the spirit that it had is still very present. The Forester XT lost its manual transmission back in 2008 which was a sad loss, and it also became more of an SUV instead of a wagon. To the enthusiast, this was a sad day, but to Subaru and other non-enthusiats it was the day that the Forester became a true SUV.

The 2014 Subaru Forester XT fixes pretty much everything that was wrong with the 2008-2013 model. Gone is the ancient 4-speed automatic, and instead it comes with a brand new CVT as well as a new 2.0l turbo engine. The new engine now employs direct injection and comes with 250hp and 258ft-lbs of torque, up 24hp and 22ft-lbs. Not bad for an engine with smaller displacement. Thanks to the smaller displacement as well as direct injection the new turbo engine achieves a very respectable 28mpg highway/23mpg city. I averaged about 26mpg’s with mixed city/highway driving, which was very good for an AWD SUV with this much power.

While it didn’t feel as sporty as that first generation Forester XT with a manual transmission, it was still plenty quick. Steering is controlled electronically, which usually suffers from numb feedback, but steering felt more direct and less numb than other electronic steering racks that I’ve been in. Ride comfort was pretty good for an SUV. It was pretty quiet on most roads and highways and was able to absorb thuds and thumps pretty well, while still retaining the sporty feel. Thanks to the slightly stiffer suspension available on the XT, body roll was fairly minimal, but you could still feel its height when taking turns at an increased speed. I’d say if you really wanted it to handle a little better, slap on some high performance summer tires, and you should have a little bit more control in the corners, but for the most part it’s more of a family SUV that can have a bit more fun than most SUV’s(CVT limited).

About that CVT, I’m not a fan of any CVT, but I would have to say Subaru has done a fine job of making this not feel as much of a CVT as possible. Acceleration is smooth and linear and has some “shift” points so it doesn’t seem as whiney as others, and if you put it into sport# mode and play with the paddle shifters it gives you the feel that you’re shifting an 8-speed dual-clutch. Not bad considering its still just a CVT.

Interior quality is good. I mean it’s still a Subaru, so its more functional than it is luxurious, but the materials that are used were nice to touch, aside from a few plastic pieces here and there. Seats were supportive and very comfortable, but I wish they had a little better side bolstering, as well as a little longer seat bottoms. You can tell that these seats were designed more for the American market, rather than the smaller bodied Japanese market. While this is not a huge SUV, it felt plenty big inside. All passengers had ample room, and did not feel cramped, even with the seat all the way back you could fit a rear-facing carseat. Seating position was phenomenal and gave you great views all around the car. It felt like you were in a giant greenhouse as there were minimal blind spots.

The Forester has been Motor Trends SUV of the year twice, one being the 2014 winner, and Car & Driver’s Best Small SUV winner 3 times, and it’s clear why that is. It’s a great package which can suit the many needs of someone looking to buy an SUV. It’s fun, quirky, quick and sporty if you want it to be and affordable. To add to that great list, it’s also one of the safest vehicles on the road by earning the IIHS Top Saftey Pick+ rating. So if you’re considering an SUV and don’t need a third row, I suggest starting with the Forester at the top of the list, and compare to your other options to make your decision. Mine would still land on the Forester.