Browse through the 700-plus cars available on Gran Turismo 4, and you'll find only one Gran Turismo Omologato. That's GTO if you're under 30. Scroll down to GT4's Subaru WRX section, however, and you'll find 12 versions of the STi. That's Subaru Technica International if you're over 40.
Sony knows its audience, but come on, guys, let's give credit where credit is due. In 1964, the Pontiac GTO was the first production car to demonstrate that adding massive horsepower to a smaller, otherwise innocuous car can be a recipe for greatness.
Although drastically different in their design and execution, the 2005 Pontiac GTO and the 2005 Subaru WRX STi both employ this time-tested formula. Think about it. Subaru took its lowly Impreza, added a turbocharged engine, a stiffer suspension and a little extra bodywork and, suddenly, every male under the age of 25 is trading in his girlfriend for one. Sounds like a modern-day GTO to us.
The new GTO takes a more traditional route. Like its legendary ancestors, it's a coupe with classic muscle car credentials like a big V8, rear-wheel drive and a long hood/short deck design. Although it's built in Australia, it's so American it makes Tommy Franks look like a Communist.
Sure, conventional wisdom says if you like one, you wouldn't even consider the other, but we think otherwise. Our test cars stickered eight dollars apart and are, apart from Ford's bargain-priced Mustang GT, the most powerful rides on the market in their price range. If you want to go as fast as possible without taking out a second mortgage, one of these cars just might be the ticket. Deciding which one is a matter of how you like your speed delivered.
Let the showdown begin.
With four doors, standard all-wheel drive and peaky turbocharged power, the WRX STi turns the muscle car moniker on its head. It may have just a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, but with 300 horsepower, 300 pound-feet of torque and a six-speed manual transmission it's got specs that impress.
For 2005, Subaru has fortified the STi with a new helical limited-slip differential up front, a thicker sway bar in back and lightweight aluminum rear lateral links. The steering rack also received a stiffer mount, a tighter ratio and an auxiliary fluid cooler. The interior got a makeover, too, with improved climate controls and reskinned seats. Our test car also featured a short-throw shifter, titanium shift knob and auxiliary boost gauge.
The GTO also received upgrades for 2005, including 50 more horsepower from a new 400-hp, 6.0-liter LS2 V8, bigger brakes, dual exhaust and a much needed set of hood scoops. The only option is a six-speed manual transmission and thankfully our test car had it.
They're both comfortable enough to drive every day, but unless you drive the tires off them you won't fully appreciate their true capabilities. With that in mind we ripped them through our favorite back roads and pushed them to their limits at the test track. With their garish spoilers and gaping hood scoops, the reactions of onlookers, passengers and anyone else who heard us coming were also noted for good measure.
On paper, the GTO looked tough to beat. A 400-hp small-block V8, six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive — what more do you need? But the more we drove these cars on the edge, the more we realized that the STi was the real deal. It held its own on the drag strip and flat-out smoked the GTO through the slalom. Plus its backseats come with doors. On the street, more than one editor noted that when it comes to raw, unfiltered feel, it's the Subaru that delivers over the more refined GTO. Add in the STi's higher-quality interior and usable trunk and it's the Subaru that gets our $33K.
2005 Subaru Impreza WRX STi
Drive two blocks in the 2005 Subaru Impreza WRX STi and you'll realize why it rules both the real and digital worlds. It's as raw a performance car as you're going to find in a showroom. It tosses subtlety out the window in favor of maximum performance at all costs. It's as unrefined as it is fast, and that's the appeal.
Open the pillarless door and it feels so small and light you would think you're stepping into a Miata. The high-backed bucket seats aren't big on comfort, but new "higher friction" cloth trim for '05 helps make up for the minimal side bolstering. Compared to the GTO, the STi's seats feel like they were pulled from a Nextel Cup car.
The seating position isn't perfect, but the sightlines are good and the three-spoke Momo steering wheel feels right. The center stack was refreshed for 2005, adding automatic climate control and a premium 140-watt stereo with a six-disc CD changer. It looks better, works well and makes the Subaru look luxurious compared to the GTO's rubber-covered switchgear.
Firing up the STi doesn't provide much aural inspiration, but the gauge needles swing to their peaks before settling in, so there's at least some visual stimulation at start-up. The STi's 2.5-liter engine generates a deeper tone than the standard WRX's 2.0-liter four-cylinder, but it's still a raspy blat-blat-blat that begs for an aftermarket exhaust.
Slightly More Information Than You Needed to Know
Grab first gear, let out the surprisingly light clutch and the STi leaps to life like it's been waiting all day to run. The initial feeling is one of information overload as the quick steering, unforgiving suspension and barely legal street tires convey the ripples of the pavement to your brain like an asphalt IV. Turning down the drip requires smooth steering inputs and careful attention to shift timing and throttle application.
Once you're acclimated to the Subaru's hyperactive personality, its unique appeal begins to emerge. Between the minimal noise insulation, whining turbo and constant gear gnashing, the STi is the closest you can get to a street-legal racecar.
Ripping through the gates, the short-throw shifter is rock solid despite an annoying tendency to float while in gear. You've got to keep the engine revving to avoid nasty low-end lag, but the six closely spaced gears make it easy. The clutch can withstand full throttle dumps without a whimper and doing so will drop-kick you from zero to 60 in just 5.8 seconds.
If It's Too Hard, You're Too Old
As tight as last year's STi was right out of the gate, Subaru spec'd the 2005 model with half-inch-wider rear wheels, reduced strut travel, a reprogrammed center differential controller and a three-piece rear crossmember mount. The overall rear track is up four-tenths of an inch but the tires are still 225/45-17s at each corner.
The nearly slick Bridgestone Potenza RE070 tires give tons of stick, but the ride quality is positively punishing. Body roll is not part of this car's vocabulary, although understeer emerges when you're pushing hard. Nosediving or not, the STi maintained an impressive 66.7 mph speed through the slalom — nearly 2 miles per hour faster than the last Corvette we tested.
The only advanced electronic safety system is the four-channel ABS that watches over the four-piston Brembo brakes. The feel through the pedal isn't nearly as inspiring as the 115-foot 60-to-0 stop we measured, but at least it's well positioned for heel-and-toe shifting.
The STi is an all-or-nothing proposition. Either you like the way it looks, feels and sounds, or you shake your head in disgust at its crudeness. Not everyone agreed on its appeal, but few could argue with its capabilities. It's a modern-day GTO and then some.
2005 Pontiac GTO
Compared to the Subaru, the Pontiac GTO is a little soft. From the seats to the suspension to the shifter, everything in the Pontiac feels like it has another layer of insulation. It makes for a livable daily driver, but dilutes some of its muscle car character. Undeniably quick in a straight line, the GTO can't match the STi when it comes to delivering a complete package of performance, especially one that makes shelling out 33 big ones seem worth it.
Power to Spare
We wouldn't have said it a year ago, but if a 2005 Pontiac GTO pulls up next to you at a local stoplight we suggest paying it respect. The massive amount of wheel hop that dogged last year's model is gone, replaced by a GTO that will let you light up its BFGoodrichs for as long as you care to hold the throttle down.
Its new 6.0-liter V8 is a torque monster that can make your sister look like John Force. Regardless of what gear you're in, the slightest nudge of the accelerator adds 20 mph. Compared to the frantic power delivery of the Subaru, the Pontiac's V8 feels like a Lexus. Wind it up to the 6,500-rpm redline and the dual exhaust belts out a wail that WRX owners could only dream about.
The long throws of the six-speed shifter take some of the fun out of banging through the gears, but it will still grab rubber in second and third. The action is smooth, but compared to the Subaru's industrial-strength unit the Pontiac's stick feels delicate. A light clutch makes perfect throttle/shift coordination easier than in the more demanding STi, an element that adds to the GTO's everyday drivability.
As easy as it is to launch, our '05 car didn't run any quicker than the 350-horse version we tested a year ago. At 14 seconds flat, it bested the Subaru by a tenth, but under better conditions the GTO could probably shave another half second.
Handling in Short Supply
Big tires, rear-wheel drive and a fully independent suspension can only do so much when they're trying to herd in 3,725 pounds of sheet metal. At moderate speeds the big Goat is stable enough, but push harder and its limitations aren't hard to find.
Driven back-to-back with the Subaru, the GTO feels massive, with slow turn-in and excessive body roll. With no stability control to rein you in, the GTO will happily progress to easily controllable oversteer which can be fun provided you have the room to play. Wide pedal spacing makes heel-and-toe downshifting nearly impossible, and the brakes never feel strong enough despite a switch to larger rotors, calipers and pads for 2005.
Slalom testing confirmed the GTO's clumsiness as it rumbled through the cones at a leisurely 60 mph. The STi knifed through it at 66.7 mph, a Toyota Camry Solara can do it at 60.9 mph.
More Comfort Than You Expect
Big heavy doors, a low roof and a high seating position make for an awkward entry into the GTO, but once situated, it's a spacious and comfortable cabin. We're guessing that the seats weren't specified until the suspension was finished as the buckets provide only enough support for moderate cornering.
We wish more GM interiors looked as sharp as the GTO's. A clean gauge cluster, tactful brightwork and good use of soft-touch materials give the cabin a more upscale look than most Pontiac designs. Ditch the chintzy climate controls and cheap plastics on the bottom of the dashboard and the only thing left to complain about would be the impossibly small trunk.
A Softer Side of Performance
Big horsepower numbers might have been enough for the original GTO, but we expected more from the 2005 version. Dial out the body roll, install a better shifter and swap in a beefier set of tires and this Pontiac could hold its own. As it is now, it's a great motor in need of a better supporting cast.
2005 Pontiac GTO
"Great fun to drive. If you don't need all the cushy stuff and just want the muscle, you can't go wrong with the GTO. Be ready to pay lots more for comparable performance from other makes. Plenty of power and handles superbly. I traded an '04 for an '05. Hood scoops and rear-end redesign is a great style improvement over the '04. More powerful engine and much improved brakes make this one better live up to the GTO name. Minor problems with shifter sticking or not catching (in reverse). Idle pulley seized within the first 30 miles. Accelerator sensor malfunction at 300 miles. Electronic throttle takes some getting used to. Parts still not readily available for repairs." — Paul, April 2, 2005
"2005 GTO automatic in Cyclone Gray. A very nice car, nice cool interior and very comfortable. Holden did such a wonderful job on the interior, and it is quite obvious this is no ordinary GM car. Though I love the Mustang's outer skin, it's the Goat's interior and performance that have me hooked. For all those who cry 'import.' So what! Last-generation F bodies were built in Canada and they kicked the Mustang's rear all over the place for approx 10 yrs. The GTO automatic will stomp a Mustang GT big time. Anyway, the exterior could have used better styling or freshening. Ram Air would have been nice, but this car has so much power it doesn't really need it." — Arch April 1, 2005
"Since I purchased the car I look forward to driving the GTO on a daily basis. The vehicle has awesome torque on takeoff, and great passing ability. I have the six-speed manual, the gears shift smooth and compact. Handling is above average, holds very tight on curves, yet comfortable on long trips. Stability could be a little better." — GTO05, Jan. 25 2005
2005 Subaru WRX STi
"Visceral. It's the best way to describe this car. If you are looking for a practical and reliable car with super car performance on a budget this is it. Handling is top-notch (more than you'll ever need on the street). Acceleration comes in boatloads from 2,000 rpm to redline. Braking is excellent thanks to the big Brembos. All of that performance combined with excellent Subaru reliability, and a nicely done interior thanks to Saab and this car is the complete package." — MJA, March 13 2005
"This car is simply amazing. I looked at getting an '03 E46 M3, a '99 C2 Carrera or this beast. Because of my height the Porsche was too uncomfortable and the M3 although amazing, was too uninvolving and everyone has one. So on came the STi. The power delivery, handling and braking are amazing. I love the way it looks, and the rear wing is there for a reason, at 100 mph it adds 50 pounds of downforce to the rear — the car was built with one thing in mind — performance in all areas. If you like performance cars that handle like they're on rails, can show up $100,000+ cars and have around $30,000 to spend, look no further, u will not be disappointed. I am so happy with my purchase." — USA STi, November 8, 2004
"I haven't stopped smiling since the day I picked it up. I ordered White w/ silver wheels so I could be innocuous, yea right, with a 'superbird spoiler' and a hood scoop the size of the Holland Tunnel. VERY fast, stops as good as it goes, too. Excellent handling with tons of 'gawking factor'. I get comments everywhere. You'd have to spend two or three times as much $ to achieve this level of automotive panache (Mitsu Evo excepted), and even then the STi would cause serious embarrassment for the 'high rollers.' This is the very serious car with extremely high limits that can get you out of trouble as easily as it got you into it." — Kypho, August 29, 2004
Senior Editor Scott Oldham says:
GTO or STi? If you had asked me this question 12 months ago I would have bust a gut laughing. The 2004 GTO was a joke, a non-hood-scooped, exhaust-on-one-side, wheel-hopping joke. I would have picked the STi without question.
Now, a year later, the GTO has two hood scoops, proper exhaust pipes and absolutely no wheel hop. Fifty more horsepower, too. Suddenly the Goat isn't such a joke, plus I'm a year older, which must be why the STi's rock-hard ride suddenly hurts my back and its Taipei 101 rear spoiler pains my eyes.
No, the GTO isn't perfect. If I bought one, I'd have to chuck its silly spoiler, too, invest in a proper set of wheels with several inches of dish, and do something about all that body roll. And when I ordered those thicker sway bars from the very eager aftermarket, I'd buy a short-throw shifter while I was at it.
Maybe if I still lived in New Yawk, where it rains and snows and hails and stuff, I'd still go for the all-wheel-drive Subaru, but I don't. I live in Los Angeles. And in Los Angeles the sun shines. And there's nothing more beautiful than a rear-driver doing a monster smoky burnout as that sun sets over the Pacific.
Make mine black with the optional dealer-installed Sport Appearance Package front end that I see in all the ads. Grrrr.
Senior Associate Editor John DiPietro says:
Geminis tend to be all over the map in their interests, simultaneously embracing polar opposites within a given category. I'm a Gemini. Maybe that's why I have both the Carpenters and Guns N' Roses in my CD case. And maybe that's why I like these two disparate automobiles almost equally.
I love the hyper personality of the STi. The speed and agility this car demonstrated on my favorite twisty road was almost scary. It's a lot of fun and its go-kartlike reflexes and rapid acceleration deliver big time on the promise its flared and spoilered body makes. But I can't get past that boy-racer styling — it's just a little too over-the-top for me — and the seriously limited amount of time I could use and appreciate its handling edge isn't enough.
The GTO appeals to the part of me that recently drove me to buy a 1989 Trans Am GTA with a 5.7-liter V8. I'm a sucker for the muscular sound and effortless power delivery of a big American V8. And compared to the STi, the GTO's comfortable seats and supple ride (albeit at the expense of ultimate handling) are more soothing after a long day and better for a road trip.
I know that the STi is a better all-around performer but the GTO best matches my personality and preferences. Well, at least for today it does