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.

Attractive Opposites 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.

Conclusion

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.

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