Conceived on different continents and philosophically opposed, these three fun machines – Holden Commodore SSV Redline, Subaru WRX STI and Audi TTS – can’t be closer rivals when it comes to performance, and just performance.
They all crack 100km/h from rest in less than five seconds, have immensely addictive aural characteristic (though wildly distinctive) and never fail to etch silly grins on the driver’s face.
And that’s enough reasons (or excuses) for us to pile them together for a three-way shootout to see which has the biggest fang.
The home-grown SSV Redline has always dazzled us with affordable kilowatts and genuine rear-wheel-drive fun. Priced from $53,990 plus on-roads, the SSV represents great value. With the plant shutting down next year, this last gem of Aussie muscle has just been given a mid-life update. Much more than just a fresh makeover, the last hurrah sees the old LS2 V8 replaced with a new 6.2-litre LS3 engine previously reserved for more expensive HSV’s and the export-only Chevrolet SS models.
With an impressive 304kW of power and 570Nm of torque melting at its crank, the VFII Series SSV is the fastest Commodore Holden has ever produced, rocketing from zero to 100km/h in just 4.9 seconds with a manual ‘box. Keep the throttle pinned and the quarter mile or 400 metre sprint dispatches in as little as 13 seconds.
Elsewhere, the WRX STI has always been a performance icon, bringing highly energised turbocharged all-wheel-drive fire power to a segment it pioneered two decades ago together with the soon-to-be-axed Mitsubishi Evo. But for the last couple of years or so respect has dwindle for the Rex, as classier, more all-rounded and no-slower German alternatives made entry to have a slice of what was once exclusively Japan.
But, the latest fourth-generation STI strikes back with a salivating $49,790 sticker price and sharpened arsenal to prove that its unmistakably raw, high-octane driving experience is still highly relevant and desirable. Packing a 2.5-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder boxer engine channelling 221kW and 407Nm to all four wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox and Subaru’s renowned symmetrical all-wheel drive system, the STI knocks back the first 100km/h in 4.9 seconds, identical to the SSV’s time. On paper.
Sharper, tougher and meaner looks mean the third-generation TT can now rightly reject any sort of ‘hairdresser’ abuse. To stamp out the nonsense completely, the S version of the TT even has the figures to back up its ballsier attitude: 210kW and 380Nm from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder TFSI engine shuffled by a six-speed dual clutch transmission and a cracking 0 to 100km/h time of 4.7 seconds.
Priced at $99,900 plus on-roads, the TTS burns the biggest hole in the pocket among this lot, but gets you a suave of style, luxury and quality. Underneath the glitzy sheet metal is Audi’s acclaimed quattro all-paw drivetrain. While mostly front-biased, it features an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch that can direct up to 100% torque to the rear axle, allowing the driver to become a little more creative in sweeping bends.
When it comes to the noise these cars make, it’s as diverse as it gets. The STI’s boxer rumble is no doubt one of the most distinctive in the business. There’s that deep burble on idle, changing to a higher pitch gruff as you throw in the revs, and that bassy turbo whoosh from the exhaust only amplifies the effect.
The TTS’ soundtrack is just as meaty albeit a lot more refined and solid, with a tinge of metallic in its upper notes. Dynamic drive mode turns up the volume for an even more rorty, sporty sound.
But, the real surprise here is the SSV, which now pops and crackles through a new bi-modal exhaust system with a unique Holden designed “Baillie Tip”, where a hole is drilled into the side of the exhaust tip to direct some of the noise up towards the boot floor. Coupled with a mechanical sound enhancer, the SSV explodes with a majestic roar the moment the taps are opened. It’s no doubt the best and purest sounding among the three here.
And it’s not just the noise the Holden makes that resonate the strongest through any keen driver, the whole package is also properly good out of the box. While the SSV’s atmospheric bent eight pulls hard all the way to the limiter, the blown fours in the STI and TTS just run out of puff in the last few hundreds revs.
Despite not having selectable drive modes like the STI and TTS, the SSV’s throttle is right in the sweet spot, sharp but not overdone. The same can be said for its steering, which is precise and brim full of communication.
But, if the stuff in the SSV is good, then those in the STI are just great. Still retaining a hydraulic setup, the STI’s tiller is one of the best we have come across – sharp, consistent and never short of feedback. The pedals offer just as much engagement and are much better spaced than the SSV. They are perfect for heel and toe, which is a delight to execute, thanks to the lively throttle.
Precision is what the TTS is all about. Everything from the steering and transmission to the pedals and brakes is tuned close to perfection. However, the feel is somewhat synthetic, lacking the kind of engagement and connectedness real enthusiasts look for.
Fortunately, those slight short falls diminish the moment you throw some corners at the Audi. The latest refinement of the quattro all-wheel drive is quite simply one of the best AWD systems out there, endowing the coupe with impressive traction. The front end ties down exceptionally well. Even when power is applied out of corner, the front end clings on for dear life, allowing you to get on the power much earlier without worrying about the nose pushing wide.
While it prefers a neat and tidy approach to tackling the bends, the TTS also impresses a with new found level of playfulness at the rear, allowing for some degree of throttle adjustability not found in previous generation models.
But if living life sideways is the order of the day, it’s still best to leave this task to the SSV. The 275-wide Bridgestone rubbers at the rear grips amazingly hard when the SSV is driven in full civility, but unleash the full 570Nm on the rear without the electronic guard, the rear Bridgies are all for you to burn.
The SSV’s dual personality is mighty impressive. Take the lunacy out of the driver seat, the Redline rewards with confidence inspiring dynamics and excellent body control from one of the best rear-wheel-drive chassis in the segment. Despite its heft, the Redline is completely manageable with sharp turn in and swift direction changes.
Even more stellar is the way the SSV rides. Despite not having any form of adaptive damping setup, the Redline is just as comfortable as any other Commodore. Unlike most cars with a sporty bloodline, the ‘supposedly’ track-oriented Redline is able to maintain a ride quality plush enough for everyday use. It’s also the most comfortable car here.
In sharp contrast, the STI’s stiff ride doesn’t settle down until closer to three-digit speeds. Its preference for the smoother stuff suggests that the track is where it really belongs. But if that’s a compromise, then it’s one that we’d happily accept, as the STI sits the flattest around the bends and grips the hardest on the black top through those brilliant Dunlop SP Sport MAXX RT tyres. Its sure-footedness and cohesion stem from the only full-time AWD in the segment. Three differentials and a default 41/59 front to rear torque split under normal driving condition ensure the STI is glued to the road.
Such is its terrific composure that when you thought you’re about to carry too much speed into a corner, the STI just despatches what have been told, then begs for more.
While the TTS races up to speed with next to no effort thanks to the rapid-firing six-speed twin clutch DSG box and chubby low end torque, the STI doesn’t start breathing performance until the boxer four is spinning over 3,000 rpm. From here, it’s a mad rush to the limiter, accompanied by that trademark shove-in-the-back effect.
The STI’s six-speed manual gearbox is properly short-throw and slick. Shuffling cogs in the Subie is an absolute joy. On the other hand, the SSV’s DIY six-speeder feels less sporty than the Rex and tends to be a little rubbery during on-limit shifting.
But there’s no better way to put it. They are all fast, and they are all fun, except that they can’t be more distinctive in the way they deliver the experience.
If you absolutely want to tackle the twisty back roads in the fastest time possible, then the physics-bending and thoroughly engaging STI is without doubt the best car for the job here.
For the best sound this side of a V8 Supercar, the SSV Redline delivers in spades together with a hammer of an engine and pure rear-wheel drive entertainment. You also get the most kilowatts for the money.
The TTS, on the other hand, offers ballistic performance and tidy dynamics with pin-point accuracy and unrivalled nimbleness. It may be expensive but it does a darn good job of feeling it. Not to mention it looks absolutely superb.
Pricing and Specifications