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Motoring: Asian sensations offer everything in a sports car

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | October 5th, 2009

If you are in the market for a sub-$50,000 performance car, you are spoilt for choices.

You can get muscle-cars like the Chevy Camaro or the Ford Mustang, or grand touring coupes like the Mitsubishi Eclipse and the Honda Accord coupe.

This sort of money can also buy you some proper sports cars, and guess what, they are all Japanese.

I'm talking about the face-lifted Mazda RX8, the improved Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X MR, and the fresh out of the oven Nissan 370Z.

All three cars have something different to offer, but have the same goal in mind for its driver, a satisfying drive.

The Mazda RX8 is the most unique. It is a coupe, but with small suicide doors to allow access to its rear passengers, so its also practical.

The RX8 also has the most unique engine, which has no pistons. It has a 1.3-litre, rotary engine, and is currently the only car in North America that can be had with such an engine.

However, the RX8 is the least powerful, only producing 232 hp. That power is fed to the rear wheels via a wonderful six-speed manual gearbox (automatic also available).

This powertrain is smooth and the car feels much faster than it actually is, which is very entertaining. It handles well too, however some of its newer competition has gone a step ahead.

Competition like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. This car might look like a sedan with some spoilers glued to it, but everything on this car serves a purpose. This car in reality is an all-weather, all-road, all-wheel-drive, road-legal rally car. It has one of the most advanced all-wheel drive systems fitted to any car of any price, and the end result is astonishing. You can throw this car into corners at ridiculous speeds and it can sort it all out for you. The Evo is truly a stunning car to drive.

Thanks to some revised dampers for 2009, it now actually rides better than before too. So it is comfortable for daily use, while still stiff enough for days when you want to be a pretend rally driver.

It has the engine to match its handling too, a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder unit that is fitted with a giant turbo-charger. The max power result is 291 hp, and that power can be fed to the road by either a five-speed manual gearbox, or the six-speed, dual-clutch, paddle-shift gearbox, as fitted to the Evo MR test car I had.

This gearbox is simply amazing. Under normal use, it acts like a very smooth automatic, but in sport mode, the shifts are hard and fast. This is a very satisfying gearbox to use.

To have this much fun in a four-door family car with a big trunk, its like getting the best of both worlds, performance and utility in perfect harmony.

However, if you want a fast, good-looking, impractical sports coupe, than look no further than the new Nissan 370Z.

This has replaced the very popular 350Z model, and has improved on its predecessor in every way. I like the way it looks, I like the interior design, and I love the way it goes. This car has the biggest engine out of this trio, a 3.7-litre, V6, and punches out the most power too, 332 hp to be exact. So it is the quickest. For instance, the RX8 will take 5.9 seconds to sprint from zero-100km/h. The Evo MR will do the same sprint in 5.4 seconds. The 370Z however will blast through in just 4.8 seconds, so this car is super car quick.

It also has a slick gearbox, a six-speed manual with the World's first rev-matching gearbox, so when you downshift from lets say third to second gear, it matches the revs for you to allow for a smooth gear change, very clever. An auto-box is also available.

The 370Z also handles like a super car, very well balanced through the corners and very predictable. However, all is not well with this car. The seats are not very comfortable, and the ride is bumpy, so easily the least comfortable car of this trio.

It is the most frugal though, I averaged 10.7-litres/100km with the 370Z, while both the RX8 and the Evo MR could only best manage 12.9-litres/100km.

Choosing between these three is not easy. Surely the decision is not going to be made on price since they are all between $40,000 to $50,000.

So whichever car you choose, you'd be making a decision based on which car suits your lifestyle the best. The Nissan is the fastest but also the most impractical. However if you have another car, than the 370Z's impracticality won't matter to you.

The RX8 is a great compromise, a good looking coupe that also offers comfort and practicality. However it is beginning to show its age.

So, if you want an all-season performance machine that can easily be used everyday, the winner for me is easy, it has to be the Mitsubishi Evo MR.
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