Untrained eyes could easily overlook the Mitsubishi Evolution sports sedan. Its front-mounted intercooler for the turbocharged engine, large wing on GSR models, and wide fenders are the type of cool features performance nerds appreciate. The turbocharged, all-wheel-drive Evo was in its prime at one point, but now in its seventh model year—relatively unchanged—it is slowly losing pizazz as the capable sedan goes untouched by Mitsubishi.
Now, there’s a new import turning heads on the streets among sub-$40,000 performance cars: the 2013 Subaru BRZ (and its twin-like Scion FR-S, developed jointly by Subaru and Scion parent, Toyota). The rear-wheel-drive, lightweight BRZ and FR-S are no match for the Evo on the track, but the rear-wheel-drive duo exude an unheard of dry-ice cool factor. The Evolution GSR and Subaru BRZ we recently tested provided a good opportunity to drive these affordable performance cars back-to-back.
Fun seeps through the driver’s seat in both cars, sparking thoughts of heading to the track instead of driving to the grocery store.
Mitsubishi’s turbocharged Lancer Evolution is a rally-bred, high-tech, high-performance car with 100 percent of its emphasis on outperforming competitors on the track. Its dedication to performance is admirable and that’s why it’s been such a hot commodity with speed freaks.
The BRZ may be light on its feet and perfectly controllable with precise throttle, brake, and steering input, but it’s the equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight on the track or autocross course.
The Evo digs all four tires into the pavement and rips through corners and cones. The 200-horsepower BRZ is anemic compared to the 291-hp Evo, but the lightweight coupe is no slouch and entertains with a 7,000-plus redline and flawless-shifting six-speed manual transmission that’s easy to drive—unlike the hard-to-shift five-speed manual Evo GSR with a heavy clutch pedal and shifter stuck in molasses.
Not only less expensive by nearly $10,000, the difference in gas mileage costs alone is significant with the BRZ’s manual transmission returning 22/30/25 mpg city/highway/combined and the Evo getting a much lower 17/23/19 mpg. The EPA estimates a $700 a year savings in fuel between the two premium-guzzling performance cars driving 15,000 miles a year.
Cars.com’s 5-Year Cost of Ownership estimates lower insurance, fuel, and maintenance costs for the BRZ. The BRZ’s total estimated cost of ownership is $19,164, including depreciation, while the Evo rings up a $23,527 cost after five years.
Looking at those numbers and testing it on our various commutes, it’s difficult to appreciate the Evolution as a daily driver. The Evo’s greatest strengths are discovered while wearing a helmet on a track.
The BRZ, on the other hand, is feather-light, playful, and ultra-responsive no matter where it’s driven—without being rough and tough like the Evo. The BRZ’s ride quality is more forgiving, and the inside has admirable amounts of room for long-legged drivers, plus a decently modern interior.
The Evo gets points for having four doors even if its rear seats are tiny. The BRZ earns those points back with a sizable trunk and folding rear seats that fit four much-needed stickier tires for track days. The Evo’s trunk is tiny with no folding rear seat.
We know calling the Evolution and BRZ competitors is a bit of a stretch. There’s nearly a $10,000 price gap between base models ($26,390 for the BRZ Premium and $35,790 for the Evo GSR, both prices include destination charges), and their driving experience is worlds different.
Sales for the BRZ/FR-S combo have also been hot. Through September, the two have accounted for 21,113 units sold this year. That beats all of the Lancers sold in the same time frame, 15,420, of which the Evo is a fraction.
But people still want Evos. The 2014 version—again with relatively no changes to the previous version—is selling in just 30 days from the day it hits dealerships; the days-to-sell average for all new cars is 69 days. The 2013 BRZ sells in 25 days and the FR-S in 46.
The Evo impresses on the track and garners attention from those in the know, like the teen who gave me a thumbs-up at a local car show—the only recognition I received while driving the Evo. The BRZ elicits a different reaction. Strangers with differing levels of familiarity with the car come up and compliment the coupe or ask, “What is that?’’ Random conversations at the gas station are normal when refilling the sleek BRZ. We’ve established that numbers lie sometimes. Comparing the BRZ and Evo establishes that sometimes slow can be cool.