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COVER STORY
(Photos by Bill Delaney)

Double Take: 2004 Mitsubishi Evolution RS vs. 2004 Volkswagen Golf R32

The More Things Change... Japan vs. Germany succeeds Dearborn vs. Detroit
Published Date: 9/20/04

For decades—indeed for a generation— car magazines featured the same cover words at least once a year:Mustang vs. Camaro! One Must Die!" There were subtle differences. Sometimes it was Mustang that lost, sometimes Camaro. Occasionally, even Camaro’s F-body sibling, the Pontiac Firebird, fizzled. Monthly car magazine scribes lived whole careers knowing at least one-twelfth of the year’s issues was in the bag.

The names have changed but the story’s the same. The latest twist on the performance grudge match lies with sport compacts. And the beauty is that now three contenders exist as strong and competitive in the way of the Mustang/Camaro wars: the Mitsubishi Evolution RS, Subaru WRX STi and Volkswagen Golf R32.

Of those, Evo is the most brutal, R32 the most civilized, and the STi is sandwiched between. Each boasts awd, costs around $30,000, and is great fun to drive. For this DoubleTake we chose the two extremes of that sandwich, the Evo RS and the Golf R32.

Mitsubishi Evolution RS >>> Not much beats an Evo for sheer driving joy, and this one takes that go-kart feeling to a whole new level. Besides, it's better to be uncomfortable going slow in an RS than to be uncomfortable trying to keep up in an R32.

The Evo is the answer to the sustained prayers of America’s sport compact faithful. They watched their Japanese counterparts having a blast (or blasts) in seven generations of Lancer Evos before getting one here. This version, the eighth iteration, is called Evo VIII in Japan but Evolution here because of a copyright on the name Evo.

Mitsubishi’s catalog shows five Lancer models. The Evolution, at the top, is broken down into three models: RS, VIII and MR. Any of the three will make your socks roll up and down faster than ever before.

RS has a 2.0-liter turbo four making 271 hp and 273 lb-ft routed through a five-speed short-throw manual. It is the best-handling car in its class on a racetrack, and the best-handling in many other environments, too. But it is so stiffly sprung that it beats the stuffing out of you all day long. Owners don’t mind this though; they smile and describe apexes with hands circling in the air.

The RS is a Lancer less 146 pounds of a/c, ABS, radio, most of its sound-deadening material and wing. It gets a new front helical limited-slip diff and stiffening material that weighs 101 pounds, so the net savings are just 45 pounds for a curb weight of 3218 pounds. Still, it’s the most race-ready and performance-prepped Evolution made.

MR, which was not available for our test, is all of the above with more power, plus new Bilstein shocks with 30 percent less damping, so it won’t beat you up as much. Some of the faithful might suggest it’s a step back.

The R32 has its own story. It is the last—and best—version of the fourth-generation Golf. The fifth generation is on sale in Europe; we won’t see it here for another year or so. This spectacular performance Golf IV is an interim model, R as in race and 32 as in 3.2-liter narrow-angle V6. It makes 240 hp and 236 lb-ft routed through a six-speed manual and Haldex differential.

R32 is distinguished from the stiffly sprung competition by its ride and interior—it will not have your spleen begging for mercy after the first six blocks of driving. The only problem: The Evo will be seven blocks ahead by then.

We took both cars to California Speedway, and wailed on them all day long. Both took it willingly and never once whimpered. In the first round of tests, at the drag strip, the RS came out on top. Not only did the R32’s 3409-pound curb weight exceed the RS’s by 191 pounds, its output was 31 hp less than the RS’s 271 hp.

All runs were conducted with the Mitsu’s intercooler sprayer—a device that sprays water on the intercooler via little jets to make the air heavier, and therefore more efficient—in auto position. We determined the sprayer makes no difference whatsoever except in selling the car to gadget lovers.

The RS’s redline is 7000 rpm, but we could feel the turbo wastegate open as early as 5500. Shifting at 6000 rpm instead of 7000 did not decrease our quarter-mile speed and time, suggesting the engine uses everything by 6000 revs, and you might as well upshift.

Our times to 10, 20 and 30 mph were quicker this year vs. lastyear’s base Evo. We credit this to the RS’s lighter curb weight and, perhaps more importantly, its helical differential. Diffs do make a difference. Our 0-to-60-mph and quarter-mile times were slightly slower in the RS than in the base Evo last year. That could be attributed to higher track temperatures this year and higher density altitude, meaning the air sucked into the engine wasn’t as much help in blowing up the gas in the cylinders. But both Evos were quicker than the Golf.

The RS hit 60 mph in 5.81 seconds and did the quarter-mile in 14.50 seconds at 91.6 mph. That’s good.

The R32 was slower. Its 0-to-60 time of 6.18 seconds was partly due to the gearing of the six-speed transmission. Despite having all six gears, it took three of them to get to 60 mph. The 2-3 shift came at 55 mph, an unfortunate point. This is more ammo in the six-speed-is-just-a-marketing-gimmick argument, though six-speeds also help get those EPA mileage figures manufacturers like.

The R32’s quarter-mile times were much closer to those of the RS, with the VW’s best run of 14.59 seconds at 93.8 mph. The R32 felt better on the second half of the drag strip than did the RS. How? The Golf reached 100 mph in little more than 1600 feet, while the RS took more than 1900, suggesting the normally aspirated VR6—with new intake and exhaust, larger displacement and 11.3:1 compression ratio—is more comfortable at higher speeds (like the autobahn) than the smaller, harder-working four in the Mitsubishi. That’s our guess.

While it lost in most acceleration measurements, the Golf R32 was three feet better in braking from 60 mph than the Evo RS, 112 feet vs. 115 feet. Credit the Golf’s ABS, which we figured everything in the world has by now; the Mitsubishi does without. Not having ABS is unforgivable from a performance—let alone safety—standpoint, and Mitsubishi should be whacked with a floor mat for leaving it out.

In handling tests, as expected, the Mitsubishi ruled. Steering is the Evo RS’s strongest suit, and it performs splendidly. Feel through the wheel is darn near unbeatable, and this shows in the slalom and on the skidpad. The Evo RS achieved a slalom speed of 46.5 mph compared to the Golf R32’s 44.5; it was similarly faster around the skidpad, recording 0.89 gs to the R32’s 0.86 gs. The VW leaned around corners as all VWs have since the first Golf rolled onto these shores decades ago.

Around an autocross course, the RS is a superb handling vehicle with limited body roll. Steering is so precise you feel as if you have the tie rods in your hands. The Golf also attacked the cones, though differently: Simply toss it into a corner, hit the apex, stomp the gas and let the VW’s 4Motion figure things out. Two distinct approaches to the same problem.

If this were the sum total of our test, we’d engrave the letters R and S onto the trophy now. But there is more. If all you do all day long is autocross or road race or drag race, then youd opt for the Evolution. Sadly, we must tend to other things in this life. Assuming you’d use the same performance car to take care of less exciting things like commuting or going to the store for more Cheetos, the balance swings in the other direction.

The Evo RS was decontented with performance in mind, meaning they took out its few remaining comfort items to save weight. Does anyone really give up air conditioning, a radio, power windows and sound insulation to save what could be done by driving around on a quarter tank? You don’t even get the big stupid wing. At this point only 169 people have bought Evo RSs. Sales are so slow Mitsubishi is bringing out the MR right about now just to offer the softer Bilstein shocks and a few amenities. In the real world, no one is that much of a purist.

Volkswagen Golf R32 >>> The R32 looks like a factory hot rod with just the right body mods. It provides all the thrills without most of the rough-ride and loud-sound sacrifices. The R32 is the one we love, the winner of this modern-day shootout.

The R32, meanwhile, is a more marketable proposition. Not only does it have air conditioning, ABS, sound insulation and a radio, it is much, much more comfortable and livable. The RS is like that wild-child girlfriend you ran with, the R32 is the sensible but fun-to-be-with person you married. (You did marry that one, didn’t you?) People are scooping up the R32. Of the only 5000 allocated for the States, 3800 have been sold and the remaining 1200 are on dealer lots now.

Who is buying them? Just maybe the guys who had Golfs, GTIs and Rabbit GTIs when they were younger, that’s who. Not all of them can afford an Audi RS6 or an S8. Many want a fun car that is practical and relatively inexpensive. In that sense the R32 is a better car.

So who wins this modern-day shootout? The car we’d want to live with and that we still love, the Volkswagen Golf R32. But once we get our hands on that Mitsubishi Evo MR, just maybe we’ll have to take another look. Get a sense there’s another coveropportunity here?


2004 MITSUBISHI EVOLUTION RS - SPECS AND ROAD-TEST DATA

ENGINE
Front-transverse 2.0-liter/121-cid dohc turbocharged I4
Output: 271 hp @ 6500 rpm, 273 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
Compression ratio: 8.8:1
Fuel requirement: 91 octane

DRIVETRAIN
All-wheel drive
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Final drive ratio: 4.529:1

CHASSIS
Unibody four-door sedan

DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase (in): 103.3
Track (in): 59.6 front, 59.6 rear
Length/width/height (in): 178.5/69.7/57.1
Curb weight/GVWR (lbs): 3218/4222

SUSPENSION
Front: MacPherson struts with coil springs,
inverted gas-charged shock absorbers, antiroll bar
Rear: Multilink wishbone with coil springs,
gas-charged shock absorbers, antiroll bar

BRAKES/WHEELS/TIRES
Discs front and rear, aluminum
235/45R-17 93W Yokohama Advan A-046

CAPACITIES
Fuel (gal): 14.0
Cargo (cu ft): 10.2

PRICING
Base (includes $595 delivery): $26,799
As tested: $26,799
Options as tested
None

STANDING START ACCELERATION
0-60 mph: 5.81 sec
0-100 km/h (62.1 mph): 6.30 sec
0-quarter-mile: 14.50 sec @ 91.6 mph

ROLLING ACCELERATION
20-40 mph (first gear): 2.6 sec
40-60 mph (second gear): 2.8 sec
60-80 mph (third gear): 4.0 sec

BRAKING
60 mph-0: 115 ft

HANDLING
490-foot slalom: 46.5 mph
Lateral acceleration (200-foot skidpad): 0.89 g

FUEL MILEAGE
EPA combined: 21.28 mpg
AW overall: 22.16 mpg

INTERIOR NOISE (dBA)
Idle: 56
Full throttle: 83
Steady 60 mph: 72


2004 VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R32 - SPECS AND ROAD-TEST DATA

ENGINE
Front-transverse 3.2-liter/194.6-cid dohc V6
Output: 240 hp @ 6250 rpm, 236 lb-ft @ 2800-3200 rpm
Compression ratio: 11.3:1
Fuel requirement: 91 octane

DRIVETRAIN
All-wheel drive
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Final drive ratio: 4.24:1

CHASSIS
Unibody two-door hatchback

DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase (in): 99.1
Track (in): 59.5 front, 58.7 rear
Length/width/height (in): 164.4/68.3/56.1
Curb weight/GVWR (lbs): 3409/4421

SUSPENSION
Front: MacPherson struts with coil springs,
gas-charged shock absorbers, antiroll bar
Rear: Multilink with dual-link trailing arms,
coil springs, antiroll bar

BRAKES/WHEELS/TIRES
Discs front and rear, ABS, aluminum
225/40ZR-18 Goodyear Eagle F1

CAPACITIES
Fuel (gal): 16.4
Cargo (cu ft): 14.0

PRICING
Base (includes $575 delivery): $29,675
As tested: $30,625
Options as tested
Leather package ($950)

STANDING START ACCELERATION
0-60 mph: 6.18 sec
0-100 km/h (62.1 mph): 6.55 sec
0-quarter-mile: 14.59 sec @ 93.8 mph

ROLLING ACCELERATION
20-40 mph (second gear): 2.5 sec
40-60 mph (third gear): 3.5 sec
60-80 mph (fourth gear): 5.2 sec

BRAKING
60 mph-0: 112 ft

HANDLING
490-foot slalom: 44.5 mph
Lateral acceleration (200-foot skidpad): 0.86 g

FUEL MILEAGE
EPA combined: 21.74 mpg
AW overall: 18.61 mpg

INTERIOR NOISE (dBA)
Idle: 44
Full throttle: 80
Steady 60 mph: 68

MORE VIEWS

> At the risk of administering a kiss of death, I find the VW appeals to this not-quite-50-year-old for its more refined behavior and less boy-racerish, yet still distinctive, looks. I can see where the raw performance of the Mitsu and its stronger WRC ties would be preferred by the young or racing purists, but the R32, though it might put a slightly greater hurt on the bank balance, is worth it. —KEVIN A. WILSON

> How many Evos does that make with the RS? Three? Guess you can’t blame Mitsu. It’s probably the only car it can sell right now without gigantic discounts. Not that we mind multiple zippy rally-racer options, but I don’t know why you’d even bother unless you’re going to throw an effects package on it and a monster stereo system in it. Probably would want to add the a/c back in if you went that route. Or if you wanted to turn it into a track car right off the dealer lot, the RS might be your machine. Otherwise, spend a little more and get the creature comforts the regular Evo and top-dog MR provide. —MIKE FLOYD

> I like both cars, but the RS provides more of that jolt of adrenaline when you floor the pedal and rev high. You anticipate a blast of acceleration, but it gives you more than you expect, like the beast is taking over. —JOE KOVACH

> I love the way the R32 looks—not too outlandish, not too subtle. Its interior is more livable than the Evo’s, with typically excellent materials, a great driving position and some of the best seats in the land. The R32 ride is easier to take, and the six’s 240 hp feels like plenty. For my money, it’s the R32: This is a great way to send out the Golf until the new one gets here. —WES RAYNAL

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