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Factory Face-Off (cont.)

Jun 27, 2003 SHARE

The Track
No test exposes the best or worst characteristics of a car's performance like a racetrack. It's here, as we push the cars to their limits, that we find nasty traits like obscene, at-the-limit oversteer, terminal understeer and poor tuning. This time, however, there were remarkably few issues.

All three tuner cars blasted around the track with remarkable levels of refinement. All posted respectable numbers and none had any terminal problems. In fact, most showed several levels of adjustability beyond stock that made them easier (and faster) to drive as lapping sessions continued throughout the day.

The question on everyone's mind was simple: Would the STi dominate the track? After all, it's not out of its element on a racetrack--huge brakes, power anytime in any gear and wearing very sticky OE rubber, it was a worthy opponent to all the tuners.

As the day unwound and the lap times began to sort themeselves out, it became apparent the STi wouldn't leave the track on top. In fact, it was second quickest--2.24 seconds behind the Vishnu Tuning WRX.

In fairness, we should point out Vishnu's car arrived at our test wearing tires that gave it a significant advantage in every handling test. When it comes to managing the thermal loads produced by such powerful and heavy all-wheel-drive hardware, any R-compound rubber offers a huge advantage over even the best street tire, and the Toyo RA1s worn by the Vishnu car are perhaps the most streetable R-compound tire available. We estimate that on the Streets of Willow these tires are worth between 2 and 3 seconds per lap--almost the exact difference in lap time between the STi and the Vishnu WRX. Even so, the STi had been topped.

Back 1.14 seconds to the STi was the SPI-tuned WRX on its more conventional Toyo T1S rubber. Outward appearances told us this over-the-top piece would be more at home on the carpet of a car show than on the tarmac of a racetrack, but this simply wasn't the case. Any car that laps this closely to an STi is serious. It earned our respect in the handling department, thanks to cockpit adjustable dampers courtesy of TEIN, which really helped its track manners. Too much rear damping?

Nothing a few simple clicks from the driver's seat won't fix.

Power delivery was its only challenge on the track (more on this later) as it was easy to get sucked into the slow arrival of its huge gush of acceleration and miss a critical braking point. That's where Stoptech's brakes delivered, consistently slowing the car time after time.

The Rally Performance WRX lapped only slightly slower than the SPI car (.95 seconds)--an impressive performance, considering the relatively benign mods this car carries.

It performed well beyond the sum of its aftermarket parts, combining consistent lap times with an easy-to-drive character that made it very likable. It wasn't radical on any front, retaining much of the stock WRX's handling balance (a tendency toward understeer) with far higher dynamic limits and superb braking--a mix that was as predictable as it was enjoyable.

Acceleration
Lap times be damned, bragging rights on the street come from one simple knuckle-dragging, dick-swinging, ego-bolstering test of power and grip. Since WRXs are as good at accelerating as they are at any other single test, we anticipated an epic showdown.

And that's exactly what we got.

How does a 12.8-second quarter mile at 110 mph sound? Last time we checked, that's not quite Porsche Turbo territory, but at this price, who's complaining? Any street car that breaks the 12-second barrier in the quarter mile is a monster. And doing it for this kind of cash outlay verges on ridiculous. Equally silly is the machine's 4.7-second 0-to-60 time. Vishnu's WRX won this testosterone match with a simple combination of usable power (lots of it) and the reliability and driveability of Subaru's stock drivetrain, including the factory clutch.

The STi was not far off, hauling through the traps only .3-seconds behind. Its trap speed, however, was 5-mph slower--a testament to the sheer power of the Vishnu WRX. More striking was the demonstration of torque and the gross strength of the STi's drivetrain as it left the line with the all four tires smoking, putting rubber to tarmac all the way through first gear. Verdict: The quarter mile vanished in 13.1 seconds at 105 mph. Sixty miles per hour arrived in 4.9 seconds.

Here's where things got interesting. The Rally Performance WRX ran the 1320 in 13.6 seconds at 101 mph and the all-powerful SPI WRX ran it in 13.8 seconds at 102 mph. Those of you who already inspected the dyno chart are screaming in disbelief. How is it possible that the SPI car could be beaten by the least powerful car in the test? The answer is twofold. First, all you dyno disciples need to look carefully at the SPI car's torque curve. See that huge lag until 4000 rpm? That matters. In fact, the lag is severe enough that it doesn't match the Rally Performance WRX's torque until 4500 rpm. Simple, you say; just launch it above 4000 rpm. Clearly, our test driver sucks. Not so fast there, bench racers, there's another factor.

The SPI car was fitted with an Exedy twin-plate clutch, which made any sort of clutch slip impossible. Launching on boost wasn't an option, so the quarter-mile times aren't representative of the car's power. The problem is further evidenced in 0-to-60 data as the STi Hunter hit the magic mark 0.5-seconds quicker than the SPI WRX (5.2 vs. 5.7 seconds). Sometimes change for the sake of change isn't a good thing. We suspect a stock clutch would shave as much as a half second from the SPI car's quarter-mile time. And since we've seen stock WRX clutches prove their durability time and again, we don't see it as too risky--even at this power level.

Quarter-Mile Acceleration
Vishnu WRX12.8 sec. @ 110.4 mph
WRX STi13.1 sec. @105.2 mph
STi Hunter13.6 sec. @ 101.2 mph
SPI WRX13.8 sec @ 102.7 mph
Zero-to-60 Acceleration
Vishnu WRX4.7 sec
WRX STi4.9 sec.
STI Hunter5.2 sec.
SPI WRX5.7 sec

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