Evo X Mr Touring & Audi B8 S4 — Comparison

A few days back I caught up with a good friend of mine who’s owned a Mitsubishi Evo MR Touring since he bought it new two years ago.  While catching up and running some errands, we simultaneously gave the car a pretty thorough wringing out on the tumbleweed-swept B-roads on the outskirts of Las Cruces, NM.

Coincidentally, I was just a few days ago discussing respectable-looking, respectable-performing sedans with another friend.  His daily driver is on its last legs, and he’s looking for something not too expensive, not too boring, and not too impractical—he’s got a Boxster for the weekends.  Our discussion brought us to a 2010 Winding Road magazine comparison test pitting the Evo MR Touring against the B8 Audi S4.

I once drove the S4 as well, back in late 2010 after the loss of my beloved RS6 tossed me unhappily into the “without a performance car” pool.  I found the car barely used at a very small racing shop-slash-dealership in Anaheim, CA, where the owner himself was kind enough to offer me a test drive.  The experience was indelible, and I still recall vividly the sensations of driving what was at the time Audi’s newest, hottest sporting sedan.  There are only two reasons I do not own that S4 now—it was too new/hot for my budget, and honestly, I really wanted a 911 anyway.

But if you’re looking to spend more or less $40k and want front engine, four seats, and a trunk, plus daily-drivability, long-haul capability, and admirable all-weather on- and off-track performance, the S4 and MR Touring should be atop your list.  Let’s break ‘em down.

Disclaimers: the Evo I drove sits on Eibach Pro-Kit springs which drop it a little more than two inches, and is sporting Conti ExtremeContact DWS tires on the gorgeous BBS wheels instead of the stock Nittos.  Even after two years of ownership, it still showed less than 20k on the odometer (and everywhere else).   The S4 was bone stock with mileage in the low teens.

First, the Mitsubishi.  I always thought the interior feel of the Evo would turn me off to it.  But from the driver’s seat, the MR Touring looks far better than any photo had told me I could expect.  Sure, there’s an economy-car bit here and there if you look closely—the interior door handles are one example—but the overall fit and finish, inside and out, are easily on par for a $40k-new ride.  The look of the TC-SST transmission lever is especially stunning—one can tell that the Mitsu engineers were particularly proud of their work there and wanted the driver interface to match the competence of the invisible bits under the hood.  The paddles on the steering wheel are well-sculpted and properly weighted, as well.  The driver information graphics are very cool, presenting just the right data in just the right places with just the right amount of emphasis.  While there’s plenty of plastic visible, it’s all pebbled and textured in a way that keeps it looking inviting.  The Recaro seats are leather-wrapped, heated, grippy, comfortable…but they also limit blind-spot checking a bit with their wide-top one-piece design.

On the outside, the menacing stance brought on by the Eibach Pro-Kit helps the car out in a big way, working in concert with the classy, subtle trunk-lip spoiler to bring down the visual height of the car a bit (the Evo X always seemed very tall to me, especially compared to its predecessors) and minimize the fender-well gaps.  But even without the Pro-Kit, the MR Touring would still look great—the narrowed-eyes look of the front fascia planes smoothly into the side profile creases, which flow perfectly with the angular nature of the menacing BBS rolling stock.

Speaking of the BBS wheels, they wrap themselves nicely around red-painted Brembo calipers.  The brakes are vented discs and slow the car with serious authority, and the way I’ve seen Evos shredding tracks, I can’t imagine fade is a problem.

On the aural side, the Evo’s four-banger disappoints a bit.  If you were buying a car only for the pure joy of sitting in your driveway and revving it, the Evo would not be a good purchase.  On the positive side, the subtle sound of the spooling turbo never fails to send a thrilling crackle across your cerebral cortex, especially as you reapply the power on corner exit.

The MR Touring’s TC-SST twin-clutch auto is excellent, always shifting quickly and in the right place.  In fact—and this perhaps had something to do with being unfamiliar with how exactly the car works—I found myself clicking a paddle a split second before or after the transmission had already decided to do so itself, resulting in double upshifts.  It’s better to just let the car do its own thing.  I will say that with one additional ratio available in the transmission, the Evo would be even more usable as a tourer—the interior is a bit noisy at 80-mph cruise in top gear, with the engine making 3500 rpm.

The steering is light and lively in the driver’s hands.  It draws attention to how quickly the car responds to inputs.  It doesn’t grant a sense of authority by being weighty, but inspires trust by allowing the driver to feel like he can be oh-so precise with minimal effort, even midcorner.

When driven hard, the Evo exhibits a twinge of understeer for the briefest of moments…and then the computers step in and send power rearward.  The resulting neutrality of the car as you tear through a corner at seemingly impossible speed makes it hugely confidence-inspiring and incredibly easy to drive fast.  Just leave your foot on the gas and let the car sort itself out.  You won’t be complaining about the Recaros’ visibility issues anymore—you’ll be happy to have them holding you in place.

A nationwide search on cars.com at time of writing nets only three 2010-2011 MR Touring-spec Evos with asking prices ranging from $30,595 to $36,000, so this is a somewhat unusual car that you’re not likely to see every day on your commute.  A point for exclusivity there.

The Audi, contrary to what the market position might have you believe, is not so exclusive.  Another nationwide search on cars.com with the price cap at $45k, and you get 48 2010-2011 Audi S4s.  Cut out the manual gearboxes for equivalency and you’re down to 31 (all of the MR Touring Evos are twin-clutch auto TC-SSTs).  Except for two low outliers, the Audis all fall in the $40-45k range, so a used S4 commands a $10k premium over a similarly used Evo.

Is it worth it?

The Audi exudes a straightforward German seriousness of design and purpose.  The colors are black over black leather with white alcantara inserts, so putting on the seatbelt is akin to buttoning up a Teutonic metal tuxedo.  There’s a weight to everything—the doors, the steering, the knobs—indicating that harnessing all of the performance this car has to offer is a task not to be taken lightly.

The engine is a distant thrum-hum.  The S4 abandoned its 4.2L V8 with the B7-to-B8 redesign, and the heavenly signature burble of that beastly powerplant is gone.  The 3.0L supercharged V6 that replaces it is a wonder of technological achievement and has been put to use across the spectrum of VW brands, but it’s no more aurally arresting than the Evo’s 4-cylinder, except that it sounds more distant and refined, and therefore more expensive.

The Audi’s interior is quieter overall and the dash and console are a class up from the Evo.  Again, this is not because the Evo is lacking per se.  But not a single piece of non-conformist cost-cutting trim meets the driver’s eye, and that no doubt explains another big chunk of the ten extra grand you’ll shell out for the Audi.

The twin-clutch automatic transmission dubbed “S-tronic” in the S4 is almost unfathomably fast.  Mash the go pedal and watch the tach needle wind up (remember, there isn’t much of an aural clue as to how hard the engine is working).  As the needle reaches its’ height, there’s a near-imperceptible “clik!” (it leaves out the last “c” for brevity) and before your brain can comprehend it, the car is in the next gear.  The sensation is completely addictive.  You’ll find yourself at extralegal speeds very quickly and very often as a result of the incurable and insatiable desire to experience it over and over.

It’s almost okay, though, because the brakes are just as ridiculous as the power.  I had never before personally felt a braking action literally pull the skin forward off of my face with negative-acceleration-G until the day I drove the S4.  It was such an exercise in ruthless decelerative economy, I can liken it to nothing but the Death Star’s tractor beam.  Basing my analysis purely on the tactile sensation, the brakes in the Audi seem to be far and away better than those in the Evo.

Regrettably I didn’t get to corner the S4 hard enough to determine how or how well it handles.  Again, this S4 was a dealer’s car, not a friend’s.  Maybe someday.  In April.  At Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, NV.  With the Audi Club of Southern California.  Maybe.  A guy can dream.

So again, is the Audi worth the extra dough?  Hate to straddle the fence here, but it’s hard to say.  You could crack open the magazine tests and point out that the Evo does this or that objectively better, or the S4 does that or this objectively better.  To my eye, the Audi looks a little more grown up, a little more mature, a little less boy-racer.  But the Evo is such a screaming deal for a no-kidding sporting sedan that it’s impossible to ignore, even if the old money at the country club might not smile at the sight of you cruising up to the valet stand.  Both of these cars command respect on the road and the track.  Both will happily do grocery runs with baby seats in the back.  Both will load up the lateral G, smoke their tires, and make their rotors glow with heat.  Both can be trusted in inclement weather.  So, really, I can’t tell you which of these is best for you.  All I can tell you is I’d be a little jealous of you if you owned either one.