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Subaru Impreza WRX STI vs Volkswagen Golf R vs Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X


Models tested overview

  • 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI – $59,990.00 – $65,990
  • 2011 Volkswagen Golf R – $49,990 – $52,490
  • 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X – $61,390.00 – $74,390

Anyone who has ever dreamt about owning a supercar like a Porsche, Ferrari or Lamborghini, but finds themselves several hundred-thousand dollars short, is probably driving around in one of the three cars above.

These three kings of the affordable ultra-performance car market mark the point where, for everyday people, affordability meets the kinds of cars that can lap race tracks at near-supercar speeds – for just a fraction of the cost.

The Subaru Impreza WRX STI can arguably be credited with making Subaru the household name that it is in Australia. With years of rally pedigree in the past, the STI has at one stage or another been a dream car for every teenage boy. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is no different. Like the STI, it’s based on a common car but worked to its limit and capable of (almost) bending the laws of physics to go around corners. Then you have the Volkswagen Golf R, the All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) version of the popular Volkswagen with a new engine and some seriously menacing looks that brings a sense of luxury to the segment – for a cheaper price.

To choose between these three requires some serious thinking as they are all excellent cars for different people. Over the last few months I’ve had the pleasure of driving all three of these cars in their current iteration. Instead of writing three separate reviews, here is a comparison.

Engines and performance

Volkswagen Golf R Subaru WRX STI Mitsubishi Evolution X
Engine Type TURBO Direct Injection TURBO MPFI TURBO MPFI
Engine Size 2.0L 2.5L 2.0L
Cylinders TURBO 4 TURBO 4 TURBO 4
Max. Torque 330Nm @ 2400rpm 407Nm @ 4000rpm 366Nm @ 3500rpm
Max. Power 188kW @ 6000rpm 221kW @ 6000rpm 217kW @ 6500rpm
Bore & Stroke 82.5×92.8mm 99.5x79mm 86x86mm
Compression Ratio 9.8 8.2 9.0
Valve Gear VARIABLE DOC VARIABLE DOC VARIABLE DOC

On paper alone the Subaru is the market leader, it uses a 2.5-litre engine which gives it a 0.5-litre advantage over the other two and hence produces the most power (221kW) and torque (407Nm). This results in an official 0-100km/h time of 4.9 seconds, which is pretty darn quick. Although it’s fair to point out that its clutch wouldn’t appreciate you trying to prove this figure right too many times. The Spec-R variant weighs more than its WRX sibling, coming in at 1535kg (kerb weight).

The Evo X is on a similar playing field when it comes to acceleration. If you opt out for the dual-clutch transmission (SST) there is even a launch control system (which you can only use once for every time the car is turned on). Mitsubishi hasn’t released official 0-100km/h figures but by all accounts it’s in the low fives normally, and under good conditions it’s about a 4.9. Although the Evo X feels the most nimble (more on this later), it’s the heaviest of the three (MR – 1625kg kerb weight).

In a straight-out drag the Golf R is the slowest of the group. The European specifications have it with 199kW/350Nm and 0-100km/h time of 5.7 (manual). For Australian conditions the engine has been detuned to 188kW/330Nm of torque. That gives it an official acceleration time of 5.9 for manual and 5.7 for DSG. The old 3.2-litre six-cylinder engine of the R32 has been replaced by a lighter and more efficient 2.0-litre turbo that although doesn’t produce the same sound, gives the R a lot more in the mid-range.

As for transmissions, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen have it all over Subaru. For many years the WRX STI was available only as a manual, but as of the Model Year 11 it’s now available with a traditional five-speed automatic transmission. Compare this to the high-tech dual-clutch transmission in the Golf R (DSG) and the Getrag gearbox in the Evolution X (SST) and you’ll quickly notice that Subaru has some catching up to do here.

If you must buy an automatic, the STI is definitely not the pick of the bunch given its 0-100km/h time increases by a good second with an automatic transmission, making it the slowest of the bunch.

Ride & Handling

This is the category that is the most relevant to buyers of these cars. So let’s get something straight here, all three of these vehicles are formidable sportcars and all go around bends and corners at speeds most of us would never consider. But alas, there are subtle differences in their approach. Before we get into the technical details it’s worth noting how the cars feel behind the wheel.

Starting the with Subaru, the MY11 STI has taken a few steps backwards, which in this case is great. No longer does it feel soft and underdone, nor is it trying to cater to an audience which would never pick it in the first place. The new model is an exceptional handler, it sits firm and goes around corners without complaints. There is still the traditional Subaru AWD understeer if you approach a corner at the wrong angle and speed, but once you learn to master the beast its drivability will amaze you. The good thing about the STI is that it’s actually rather comfortable around town for a car designed to destroy corners.

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. You almost need to say no more than just its name. Or perhaps just quote this formula: P = M x w = 2 x ? x M x n. Apparently, that’s Mitsubishi’s algorithm used to create the perfect balance of power and grip. The EVOs have been renowned worldwide for offering the best ride & handling for a car in their price range. In fact, it can even shame supercars worth more than 10 times its price. It can also cost you a lot in visits to a chiropractor.

Whilst many will argue that the Evo IX was the better car, if buying a used car isn’t an option than the EVO X still maintains its status as class leader. The  main difference between the STI and the EVO is how they behave. Despite both being AWD and essentially following the same idea, the EVO tends to feel much smaller, nimbler and easier to get in and out of tight situations. When pushed to its extremes it tends to have a tendency to oversteer rather than understeer, which makes it a little more fun to drive. Although it’s heavier, it almost encourages you to throw it into corners at unrealistic speeds and watch it do its thing. If you crash an EVO, you have done something extraordinarily wrong.

The Golf R is an interesting machine when it comes to handling. It’s ever so predictable (a good thing), it behaves more like the EVO than the STI and it goes around corners like its stuck to the ground. Its firm ride makes it a little bit of a pain as a daily driver if you commute on rough roads. Pushed back to back with the other two it can easily keep up through the bends but its lower power and torque means it can’t push out of corners as hard.

Technically speaking all three manufacturers have an array of systems with fancy names that keep these cars doing what they do. All three handle brilliantly, but suit different drivers. The EVO is the best all -rounder (as in, the easiest to learn how to drive fast) and it makes use of the Mitsubishi’s Super All Wheel Control System (S-AWC). This includes four independent systems working together (via the car’s computer system).

First, there is the Active Centre Differential (ACD) which works out the perfect balance of torque between front and rear, then the Active Stability Control (ASC) which fixes under/oversteer. Super Active Yaw Control (SAYC) is the most technical as it uses data from lateral and longitudinal acceleration, steering angle and wheel speed to determine the best torque distribution for the rear wheels. And then, there is the Sports ABS with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) which will bring the vehicle to a stop in the best possible way.

The reason it’s not recommended to learn all that much about these systems is because it makes you realise that despite what your ego tells you, it’s not you working out the best way to conquer the next corner. The car does most of the work. You just point the steering wheel in the right direction and do your best Lewis Hamilton impression. In this case, ignorane is bliss.

Fuel consumption and emissions

Volkswagen Golf R Subaru WRX STI Mitsubishi Evolution X
Fuel Type PULP PULP PULP
Fuel Tank Capacity 55L 60L 55L
Fuel Consumption 8.7L / 100km 10.5L / 100km 10.6L / 100km
CO2 Emission 201grams/km 243grams/km 252grams/km

If you’re reading this part of the comparison then you must really be keen. Sportcars and fuel economy are not generally two concepts that go well together. All these fuel economy figures are meaningless if you’re driving any of these three models enthusiastically at all times.

For example, during the one week that I spent with an EVO X, it went through almost three tanks of fuel and I drove it only about 650km. Impressive! That doesn’t mean the EVO X is not economical, it just means that when it’s doing what it was designed to do, it puts fuel economy at the bottom of its priorities. Even below saving the fairy penguins. Officially it’s suppose to use 10.3L/100km (manual) or 10.6L/100km (SST) for a combined city/highway cycle – which in it self isn’t all that crash hot, but then again, we are not talking about an A-to-B car here.

The WRX STI is about the same at 10.5L/100km (man) and suffers the same fate if driven hard. Although its bigger fuel tank (60L) allows for a little more range before having to stop.

The Golf R is the elephant in the room here. It uses about 8.7L/100km (DSG) and it actually gets pretty close to that figure when driven normally. By far the most fuel efficient in its class.

Interior and equipment

Interior and equipement? You’re expecting an interior and equipement in cars that go around race tracks at supercar pace for a fraction of their cost? Well, you’re in luck because it’s illegal to sell a car without some form of an interior. Cars in this segment have for far too long failed to provide a decent interior to match their exterior presence and performance figures.

In the case of the Evolution X, not all that much has changed. You get Recaro full bucket front seats, a nice leather wrapped steering wheel, gearshift knob plus a few other little things and that’s about it. The rest of the interior is almost exactly the same as a base model Lancer. Upgrade to the MR variant and you’ll get the Mitsubishi Multi Communication System (MMCS) which comes with satnav, bluetooth and iPod connectivity.  If you’re lucky they will even throw in leather combination seat trim with heated front seats and pretty Evolution scuff plates.

The people that take the Lancer and turn it from a basic two-wheel drive commuter car into a an AWD supercar killer don’t really bother with the interior. They spend all their budget on the engine and exterior. If that bothers you, the EVO X is not for you.

The Subaru’s interior is a few steps ahead of the EVO and provides a nice balance of sportscar like interior and plenty of creature comforts. It still makes use of hard plastics (which is interesting, given if you went back to the previous generation it was soft-touch plastics) but it’s a cosy cabin and everything is pretty much where it’s supposed to be.

The Recaro seats are optional even on the Spec-R and not available on the standard version. The Spec R’s interior gains black leather seats and a multi-information in-dash satellite navigation system and single CD/DVD player hooked up to a 10-speaker stereo  and seven-inch touchscreen.

Then you’ve got the Golf R. Not only is it the cheapest car in its class (starting from $49,990) but it’s also sporting the best interior. A mixture of gorgeous bucket sports seats that look like they belong in a fighter jet and a rather elegant cabin that puts its Japanese rivals to shame. The only real complaint is that it looks pretty similar to the other Golfs (bar a few things) so it doesn’t have that special ‘unique’ feel to it. But if you jump out of the other two and into a Golf R you’d feel pretty darn special. In fact, you’d feel pretty darn special even if you jumped into a Golf GTI.

Exterior & Street Cred

If you’ve watched Fast & Furious a few times you’re more likely to go with the Jap cars, but don’t be so quick to judge. Looks are entirely subjective, so make up your own mind. In saying that, the STI with its quad-exhausts and super-beefy stance looks like it means some serious business.

The EVO looks mean as well, but it looks mean in the sort of way a little dog would if it was growling at you. The Golf R is the sleeper of the bunch. It has very few badges to give it away (although its daytime running lights help) but its two large rear exhaust let the people you just screamed past know that this isn’t an ordinary Golf.

On the road the STI and EVO will get the ‘boy-racers’ excited and the Golf R will raise eyebrows of true car enthusiast who can pick it apart in the crowd.

Modification Potential

All three cars have massive modification potential. Any modification work will generally void your warranty but if that doesn’t bother you, all three can be tampered with relatively easily by a professional. The STI would be the pick here as its six-speed manual gearbox is very strong and capable of taking a lot more power. In saying that, its engine internals have changed since the old days and can do with some more reinforcement before too much power is pushed through.

The EVO Xs can be  bought straight from dealers with more power. Check out the Bathurst Edition review for more info. Of course they can also be modified by a local tuner. The SST box is capable of taking more power but if you’re serious about modifying your Lancer, buy a five-speed manual for peace of mind.

You wouldn’t think many would modify their Golfs? Some time ago in Germany I drove a ABT tuned Golf R32 that had a supercharger, on the highway it was pulling away from our BMW M5 chase car at 200km/h. That’s impressive.

Modifying a Volkswagen might be more expensive in Australia than it is in Europe but nonetheless it’s still doable and the Golf R has some serious potential to unleash. Again, watch out for the DSG, if you’re keen to get a lot more power, best to get a manual.

Safety

All three vehicles offer five-star safety ratings and come with a comprehensive suite of advanced safety features. More importantly, they all handle so damn well that they offer such high levels of active safety performance that many crashes will be avoided in the first place.

Warranty & Servicing

Volkswagen Golf R Subaru WRX STI Mitsubishi Evolution X
Service Interval 12 months / 15,000 kms 6 months / 10,000 kms 12 months / 15,000 kms
Warranty 36 months / Unlimited kms 36 months / Unlimited kms 60 months / 130,000 kms

Mitsubishi offers the best warranty, with 5-years, 130,000km new car warranty and a 10 year, 160,000km powertrain warranty. The other two offer only a three year warranty but it’s unlimited. Also the Subaru requires servicing every 10,000km or six months, as oppose to yearly or 15,000km. In saying that, if you ever track your car, an oil change is a must!

Conclusion

The 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI is the car for you if:

  • You want your car to look and sound mean
  • You want a perfect balance between a car that can go on track and also drive to the shops
  • You don’t mind a semi-spartan interior and are happy to make do only with the essentials
  • Your are keen on modifying
  • You are looking at buying a manual

The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X is the car for you if:

  • You need to go around corners at the absolute fastest possible speed
  • You don’t have to pay for fuel
  • You are keen on attending track days
  • You don’t mind sitting in a Jetstar inspired cabin
  • Want the best gearbox in its class
  • You don’t mind spending more $$$

The 2011 Volkswagen Golf R is the car for you if:

  • You care about your car’s interior
  • You want value for money
  • You love creature comforts
  • You prefer a car that is quick and handles well but not all that keen on track days
  • You love that you have a fast car, but don’t necessarily care if others know it (e.g. the cops)
  • You don’t mind being beaten by the other two in a straight line drag
  • You have to pay for your own fuel

Further reading:

*Note: Photos of 2011 Volkswagen Golf R, 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI Spec-R, 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X MR

 






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