Tim O'Brien | Oct 7, 2008 | 14 Comments

A no-holds-barred TMR ‘drive-off’. Which is king of the heap? And if you’re in the market for a four-paw hammer, which should you put in the garage – Mitsubishi’s raw-boned EVO X, or Volkswagen’s scintillating Golf R32?

At 160km/h, Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution X begins to make sense. At 180, flicking down, then powering through a tightening sweeper, it begins to look more than simply sensible. Push on past 200km/h, ignore the pitching, the roar of the tyres and jarring of the suspension; and revel in the penetrating howl of the engine and the responsiveness at the wheel – because here, its genius emerges.

At these speeds, even on these roads – secondary by-ways with broken shoulders and a pitted, undulating coarse metal black-top – the sure-footedness and arrow-true tracking of the EVO X is little short of brilliant. What, you are forced to ask, would it take to seriously un-stick this thing?

evo-x_r32_01

In these conditions, the ‘harder’ IX would have launched you through the roof. But the EVO X is a step forward, and sideways, from the EVO IX it replaces: new body, new chassis, porkier, bigger brain and a more compliant, less ‘track-focused’, suspension. It is a road-racer’s dream, and, under the cane, the consummate sporting drive.

The EVO X ‘wires you in’ – it’s a feeling carried over from the IX – in a way that few cars can: there is a taut ‘connectedness’ though the wheel and the all-wheel drive that even at low speeds is ever-present, always tapping at your shoulder. At speed, it forces you to be busy, to feel every nuance of the road, to ‘be’ the car.

But at 60, 80, or even at 100km/h, the EVO X makes far less sense. It is like putting a barracuda in a goldfish bowl – you know it is made for other things; it has a grander destiny.

evo-x_r32_02

And that’s the conundrum: it always reminds you that it wants to be released. Its power is like a stick of gelignite. Stamp on it, and you’re launched straight into licence-shredding territory in the blink of an eye (“Git yourself down on the ground there boy… spread ‘em…”).

With the EVO X, even though vastly more civilized than its earlier more-riotous iterations, you just can’t escape the nagging thought, “Could I live with it? Would those track-bred compromises begin to wear thin? Could I live with forever hobbling all those straining horses?”

Ok. So, what then of the Golf R32?

Like the EVO X, it’s all-wheel-drive, it begs for the whip, and it’s impossible to belt around a winding pass without finding yourself grinning like a complete idiot. Perfect, on the face of it, for a drag-out, knock-down, no-holds-barred TMR ‘drive-off’. Which is king of the heap? And if you’re in the market for a four-paw hammer, which should you put in the garage?

evo-x_r32_03

On paper, the similarities between the two are immediately apparent. They’re priced in the same ballpark with just a $3000 price difference between the $59,490 base four-door, five-speed EVO X and the $56,490 four-door six-speed R32. Both have prodigious grip thanks to state of the art four-wheel drive systems and electronic traction management.

Under the EVO is Mitsubishi’s rally-proven Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC) with active centre diff and yaw control. The R32 utilizes Volkswagen’s brilliant 4-Motion slip-sensing drive system with oil-bath (wet plate) clutch and advanced traction control.

Also, like the EVO X - which in this test came with Mitsubishi’s new six-speed Twin Clutch Sport Shift Transmission (TC-SST) - our R32 review car came with Volkswagen’s benchmark DSG. The TC-SST is standard on the (much) more expensive Evolution MR and a $5000 option on the ‘base’ EVO X. The DSG is a $2300 option on the R32.


evo-x_r32_04

And fast? The R32, like the EVO X, is a rocket-ship. But where the EVO is blistering, the R32 is less so. At 184kW it gives away 33kW to the 217kW EVO, and lags by nearly a second in the 0-100km/h dash. TMR’s timing technology lacks a little in the accuracy department - “How many cat-dogs was it again?” – but claimed figures put the R32 at 6.2 seconds compared to the EVO’s low ‘fives’ for the standing-start sprint.

Over TMR’s private (ahem) test track, the EVO X clearly had the wood on the R32.

While the R32 has strong mid-speed acceleration, and, by any measure, is damned quick, the EVO is simply a belter. Quicker away from the line, faster through the gears, and quicker to any speed you care to nominate (before good sense cuts in), the EVO X will simply draw away to show its heels to the R32.

evo-x_r32_05

That said, in ‘real-world’ driving there’s not a hill of beans in it. (Ok, maybe one hill of beans.)

So, both all-wheel drive, both with twin-clutch state of the art transmissions, both capable of running to around two-and-half times the legal speed limit, and each able to propel you to the horizon in the space of a few heartbeats… they’re kinda the same then, right? Wrong.

It is not only their parent companies that are at opposite points of the compass, the design philosophies under-pinning each are at perfectly opposite poles. All that they share is four wheels, four doors, all-wheel drive and a willingness to go very, very fast.

So, what is the essential R32? Why is it so different in the way it has been realised?

It’s different because the R32 is about balance. It’s less of a single-focus track weapon than the EVO X despite Mitsubishi’s efforts to civilise its wildest child. With the R32, Volkswagen has set about creating a car capable of baring its teeth and running at the head of the hounds on the weekend, but with the suppleness, subtleties and creature comforts demanded of an involving everyday driver.

evo-x_r32_06

It’s a tricky balancing act, the danger is failing on both scores, but Volkswagen would seem to have managed it with the R32.

You can thus drive it to the track without bruising the kidneys. You settle ‘in’ to the R32, it wraps around you like a baseball glove. It is more tactile than the EVO: the leathers are softer; it feels less raw-boned; it isolates the cabin better from road-roar and wind noise. And, best of all, it sounds like heaven. The R32 emits a glorious basso-profundo at lower revs, rising to a race-car wail at the limiter. It is one of the best V6 sounds you’ll hear, and has the EVO’s metallic rasp beaten hands down.

The R32 also feels more settled at the wheel in high-speed touring. From the driver’s seat, the EVO X feels more ‘live’: more twitchy, and, perhaps, quicker to punish you for your sins if you should over-cook things.

The R32’s short, ‘square’ wheelbase, front-biased with V6 nestled over the front wheels, has its advantages in press on driving. Power in hard to a corner, a dab on the brakes, then hard again on the juice, and you can slide the R32 in, square up the exit and power out. It’s nice, a lot of fun, and will knock seconds off the R32’s point-to-point times.


evo-x_r32_07

Braking performance of both is eye-popping. Throw the anchors out in the EVO – Brembos with massive 350mm ventilated discs up front, and 330mm rear – and you’ll feel like you’ve lassoed a stump. The R32, running fractionally smaller 345mm front discs and 310mm discs at the rear may struggle with prolonged hard-braking at the track, but in real-world driving is a match for the EVO.

Of the two twin-clutch transmissions – the R32’s DSG and the EVO X’s TC-SST – in ‘normal’ sports mode, there is little to separate the operation of either. Each works flawlessly. Even drivers with an avowed ‘manual’ preference cannot fail to enjoy the solid ‘blink of an eye’ changes – up and down - of a twin-clutch box.

Each has steering-mounted paddles (or you can flick the shifter) for manual gear changing. Though the EVO X’s paddles are fixed to the column (and you can find your hands away from them in hard cornering), they are larger and easier to use than the smaller ones on the R32 – though the latter’s are fixed to the wheel. (We found them a tad too small - when things get frantic you can miss a change.)

In keeping with its track leanings, the EVO’s selectable super-sport setting is off-the-scale mayhem. It holds changes to near the redline and is impossible to use except at the track or on a very open road (unless you want to do a bit of granny-scarin’).

Everywhere you look the EVO is more hard-core. The R32 is fast, but a more agreeable citizen.

On style, highly subjective we know, you would have to give it to the R32. It sits squat, nestled low over fat rubber and 18-inch ‘Omanyt’ alloys, in-board twin pipes, deep front spoiler and purposeful nose. The current Golf has always been easy on the eye. In R32 guise, it just looks better.

evo-x_r32_08

The EVO X has not been so fortunate with its genes. The standard Lancer has a tippy-toes look courtesy of a high belt-line, slab sides and narrow track.

The EVO X, hunkered low over pumped guards, a wider track, and fat, fat rubber on 18-inch BBS forged aluminium wheels, vastly improves the Lancer’s lines. It is not as ‘out there’ as the EVO IX, but with vented bonnet, massive intercooler sitting low in the deep front dam, rear diffuser and big twin pipes, there’s no mistaking its bruising sporting intent.

Inside, for style and comfort, the R32 also takes the cigar. The Volks cockpit is a very nice place to be. Big clear dials, styled sports wheel, brushed metal highlights, embossed leather Recaros – there is an understated class to the R32. It’s as black as a mortician’s eyebrow but pleasing to the eye nonetheless and comfortable and quiet.

This is not to say that the EVO is underdone or short of the mark. It’s not. Many will no doubt prefer its uncluttered, no-nonsense style. Its Recaros grip like a vice, the trim highlights are real carbon fibre and the fit and finish of the broad dash and surrounds as good as you’ll find. It also offers (with the MR) heated front seats and a suburb-thumping Rockford Fosgate sound system.

There is a sense that the EVO X is hewn from stone. Everything about it feels immensely strong and heavily over-engineered. Inside and out, it feels like it could be dropped from a very great height without breaking anything.


evo-x_r32_09

So that’s our take on things. Two fabulous cars - road rockets both – that could almost have emerged from the same blue-print but arrived at two wholly different interpretations.

Which would we choose? Now there’s a ‘Sophie’s Choice’… each is masterful, each offers astonishing performance and huge, huge fun at the wheel. Perhaps, on balance, we’d lean to the R32. But we’d not be completely certain about it.

You could certainly live with the Volkswagen a little more easily. Sure, the EVO X is quicker and is simply a fabulous car, but the R32 is more elastic, more tactile and less frantic.

The R32 is a craftsman’s hammer; the EVO a sledge-hammer. If you’re in the market and tossing up between the two, all you have to ask yourself is how hard you want to drive the nail.

If you want to slam it, take the EVO X; if you want to work it in: the R32. Both are sensational drives.

The Insider’s Big Statement

“Take a look across the Volkswagen range – there is not a dud there anywhere. While the R32 and R36 are genuine GT drives – fast, satisfying, supremely balanced - the only gap in the VW range is the absence of a ‘feral pig’ open road stormer. Like the EVO X. There is a market there that Wolfsburg command will have noticed. Sooner or later, expect to see a fully mongrelised R32 – perhaps with the 220kW donk of the R36… then let the games begin.”

Lancer EVO X

insider-likes

  • Astonishing turbo power and grip
  • Blistering acceleration
  • ‘Rock-solid’, unbreakable feel
  • Speed of light operation of twin-clutch ‘box
  • Completely mad ‘super-sport’ mode

insider-dislikes

  • Dull, raspy engine note at lower revs
  • The Evo IX looks better
  • Tyre roar can be a bit tiresome
  • (I’ll hand in the licence now and be done with it)

Volkswagen Golf R32

insider-likes

  • Fabulous V6 sound (rising to race-car wail)
  • Brilliant DSG (especially down-shift ‘blips’)
  • Strong mid-speed acceleration
  • Overall compliance and cornering balance
  • Comfortable (luxurious) interior

insider-dislikes

  • Could take a few more ergs (kilowatts)
  • DSG paddles a tad small
  • Brilliant Golf GTI a lot cheaper

Gallery


A MINUTE WITH MIKE ON THE R32

r32_01

When I stopped by Klosey's place to grab the R32 after he’d picked it up for me earlier in the day, he'd already ducked out down the road for a pint. He left the keys for me though, so I headed downstairs to meet the monster.

Bloody hell, that'd be right; four doors. Still a good looking unit, of course, but who wouldn't prefer it minus a pair?

Being something of a traditionalist, I was also looking forward to the six-speed manual transmission. No such luck here; the wave of the future had reared its head again and dumped me in a DSG-fitted model. If Steano was aiming to get one up on TMR's notorious Captain Fussy, he was off to a ripper of a start.

Well, not quite.

r32_02

Once I'd reminded myself that an R32 is an R32, I slid into the firm but comfortable sports seats and turned the key over in the ignition. Did I say bloody hell already? Well, bleedin' heck. At that moment, you couldn't have dragged me out of this car if Beyoncé were draped over the bonnet and lamenting the lack of a tubby white guy in her life. I tell you folks, the R32's got some serious pipes on it.

If Klosey's goal was to upset me, he really shouldn't have left such a bellowing brute in a big enclosed concrete room. Nice try old boy.

After I'd completed a couple of hoon laps of the car park and set off a few alarms (deny deny deny), the monster and I rumbled out into the crisp Melbourne night air and off to the surrounding hills for the real trial.

r32_03

There's nothing Insiderama has said that I can't get right behind. While the Evo X is ultimately the king of the hills out of these two, the R32's got nothing to sulk about. Quick off the mark, a delicious programmed blip of the accelerator on downshifts, and a real go-getter through the turns.

I have to confess I don't have the Insider's Infinite Skill, handed down to him when he became the fourth Monkey King twelve centuries ago, and so I initially found the front-heavy hatch to be a real trial in the tighter corners. I quickly gathered myself though and discovered the same trick of tumbling in hard, feathering the brakes, and powering through. And lo, the fun was on.

This car is a massive thrill packed neatly under the seats of a genuinely livable daily driver. As Klosey confided in me later - after looking around to make sure no real men were listening in - the R32's secretly been his favourite car for a while. I reckon I'd just about agree, if it had a proper transmission.

r32_04

Don't get me wrong, the DSG's a good unit. In point of fact, it is great. It's exceptionally responsive - more so once you learn how best to treat it - and a solid partner when you're hard into a series of tight corners where you really want both hands on the wheel. But damn it all, I'm the captain of this ship and I won't have some fancy pants computer telling me when I can and can't shift down to second. I'll blow up the engine if I drop down right now? Well bugger ya, that's the Captain's prerogative innit.

Would I take the R32 over the Evo X? In a heartbeat. I'm no track junkie, and I don't divide my time 40/60 between the missus and the mountain. What this writer wants is a smokin' hot daily with the ability to out-corner a good whack of the heroes out there, and an exhaust that would make any SS driver look around - straight past the glorified Golf next to him - and ask "Jeez, where'd that unreal sounding car go?" The R32's got that nailed.

Gallery


Lancer Evolution X Specs

Engine: 1998cc in-line four DOHC
Type: Petrol
Fuel system: ECI multipoint / Turbo
Output: 217kW @ 6500rpm, 366Nm @ 3500rpm
Performance: 0-100km/h: low ‘fives’ (TC-SST)
Bore/Stroke, mm: 86.0 / 86.0
Compression: 9.0:1
Transmission/Drive: 6 Speed TC-SST twin-clutch / AWD (S-AWC)
Consumption: 10.5 l/100km (TC-SST) claimed combined average (m: 10.2 l/100km)
Brakes: Front: 350mm Ventilated Discs four piston calipers
Brakes: Rear: 330mm Ventilated Discs two piston calipers
Wheels: 18 x 8.5-inch Enkei (BBS MR model), 245/40 R18
Suspension: Front: Independent, MacPherson struts, A-arms and coil springs.
Suspension: Rear: multi-link with coil springs. Anti-roll bar.
Price: $59,490 5-speed manual ($64,490 TC-SST)

MR (TC-SST standard) $71,690

Golf R32 Specs

Engine: 3189cc V6
Type: Petrol
Fuel system: Bosch ME7.1.1 electronic multipoint injection
Output: 184kW @ 6300rpm, 320Nm @ 2500 – 5300rpm
Performance: 0-100km/h: 6.2 seconds (DSG) 6.5 seconds (manual)
Bore/Stroke, mm: 84.0 / 95.9
Compression: 10.85:1
Transmission/Drive: 6 Speed DSG, 4Motion AWD
Consumption: 9.8 l/100km (DSG claimed combined average – manual 10.8 l/100km)
Brakes: Front: 345mm Ventilated Discs
Brakes: Rear: 310mm Ventilated Discs
Suspension: Front: Independent, MacPherson struts with lower wishbones and coil springs. Anti-roll bar. Lowered 20mm.
Suspension: Rear: Independent, four-link with coil springs. Anti-roll bar. Lowered 20mm.
Price: R32 5-door 6-speed DSG $58,790+ORC

R32 5-door 6-speed (manual) $56,490+ORC

(For 3-door models – subtract $1500)

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