As a rule, performance cars seem to become more sophisticated and less threatening as each new generation develops. But it's reassuring to know that scary monsters do still exist. Very occasionally, they even get a bit more scary with age.

Holden Commodore SS-V and Subaru WRX: technically, they couldn't be more different. One's a V8-powered rear-drive muscle car that lives large. The other's a compact turbo-four with all-wheel drive and rallying in its genes. Yet in many ways they're also natural rivals: old-school performance machines that have cult appeal and rabid fan bases.

They're both pretty traditional in their own ways, but there's life in these two yet. This Commodore SS-V is the enthusiast-oriented Redline edition. The $74,490 model has the standard SS 6.0-litre V8 with 260kW/517Nm and a six-speed automatic transmission.

The Redline package adds FE3 "super sports" suspension, Brembo front brakes and forged/polished 19-inch alloy wheels. It's not a limited edition, but the Redline package does make the SS-V feel a lot more special.


Our WRX, on the other hand, is limited in the extreme. As you might know, the previous WRX continues alongside the all-new Impreza range until 2013, when we're likely to see a very different model to replace it: it will be a standalone model line, rather than a pumped-up version of the standard Impreza.

The $49,990 Ace of Spades, as it's called, is intended to inject some extra interest into a familiar car. I'm tempted to call it a "last hurrah" for the WRX, but it certainly won't be the final word in limited editions for this model.

Seven Ace of Spades models are available: Subaru says it bridges the gap between the WRX and STi, with 8 per cent more power (212kW), STI front suspension components, 17-inch alloys in black and blacked-out badging.

But back to the Commodore. The Redline addresses the criticisms most often levelled at the Commodore SS: the stiffer suspension ties this large, heavy car down nicely on bumpy backroads and the uprated brakes give the SS-V stopping power that matches its ferocious acceleration. It's an exciting car and certainly one for the enthusiast, but it's also a large sedan with an automatic gearbox: it takes a while to get into the groove with this car, and it's more suited to swift-but-smooth motoring where you can enjoy that V8 soundtrack and balanced chassis.

The WRX Ace of Spades is manual-only and makes you feel like you're out of control as soon as you hit the go-pedal. You're not, of course, because this is a very capable car. But it's excitement-plus even at low speed.

What's most surprising is how the Subaru slaps you in the face with motorsport-inspired madness, but still manages to ride beautifully over the worst Kiwi backroads.

The Holden is well-sorted in this respect too, but the Redline suspension and larger wheels result in a sometimes-fidgety character.

Both are practical family cars. Both are also showing their age in terms of fit and finish. The Commodore's cabin still has more than its share of hard plastics and crooked shut lines.

The Impreza has never been known for its smart interior styling and build. The new version is at least class-competitive, which makes the regression back to the old model in the WRX all the more disappointing. It's pretty nasty in places. But you don't buy either of these cars for their cosseting interiors.

Bottom line
Both give fans of old-school performance something to cheer about. But the WRX wins with its combination of performance, handling and surprisingly compliant ride.