By BJ Killeen.
Performance vehicles are designed for the young and the old. For those who fall in between, we care more about seating capacity, cargo volume, and how much protection it can offer our babies and first-time teen drivers. For the young who are all about having fun before settling down, or those who have sent the kids out into the world to fly on their own and now can go back to spending the money on themselves, driving something quick and fun is what makes life worth living. The two we’re looking at today fall into the “still young and carefree” category, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GSR and the Volkswagen Golf R.
Boy Racer or Subtle Superiority
Both the Evo GSR and the Golf R are performance versions of more mainstream rides. The Mitsu Lancer is an affordable, mild-mannered sedan that is perfectly happy doing daytime errands. But dress it up in Evo GSR clothing, and you now have a brute that is perfectly suited for protecting the weak and innocent from evil. The 2013 Volkswagen Golf R also admirably toots around town in the sunshine, but put an R on its cape and it goes out at night looking for trouble.
The morph of the Golf from normal to R mode is subtler than the Mitsu’s transition. On the R, the biggest difference is the nose clip, where the R demands more breathing ability through its exaggerated lower air intake, along with blackout trim to the Xenon headlamps. Subtle side skirts and large wheels and tires on the side, and a new rear bumper to accommodate the dual exhaust also set the R apart from the regular Golf. It’s certainly not as in your face as the GSR, but sometimes the hottest peppers are the ones that look the most innocent. If you think a four-door isn’t really performance, there’s also a two-door Golf R body style available.
On the other end of the scale, the Lancer EVO GSR thinks subtly is for amateurs. While you may not exactly notice the R moving down the road, you can’t miss the GSR. It features a large air intake surrounding an integrated grille, aluminum front fenders with vents, an aluminum hood with vents for engine cooling, and deep-set fog lamps. Around back is a rear diffuser with dual exhaust and a giant rear wing that splits the plane of the window. Big flared fenders and 18-inch alloy wheels with sticky tires say anything but dull. If you’re under 25, you’ll prefer the GSR; over 25 and you’ll appreciate the understatedness of the Golf R.
While we appreciate the exterior beefiness of the Mitsubishi Lancer, inside is also set up for performance fun. The cloth Recaro racing seats are supportive yet surprisingly comfortable. The GSR’s manual-only shifter is well placed for quick movement. The dash and instruments are definitely little dated (only minimal interior changes to this vehicle for too many years), but it does offer Bluetooth and a USB dock with steering wheel audio controls and a decent audio system to help your sound volume match your driving attitude. Lest you think it’s all about the racing, the GSR also offers civilized creature comforts such as cupholders, visor vanity mirrors, remote keyless entry, and floormats.
On the Golf R, more upscale features are part of the trim line. For example, there are R-labeled kickplates on the door sills and embroidered into the seats and head restraints, the instruments have blue needles, the shifter knob also sports an “R,” and the dash, doors and pedals have aluminum trim. Once again, the R goes for fairly subtle design, but the Golf is nicely equipped and dressed before the RS go on, which means a flat-bottom steering wheel with available integrated audio controls and automatic dual temperature controls, folding second-row seat, and a wide-opening liftgate. Although the GSR is more purpose-built for fun, the Golf R is more livable on a daily basis. Again, it’s the under/over 25 age limit that will make the choice here.
The normal Volkswagen Golf comes with a 2.5-liter 170-horsepower I5 engine or a 2.0-liter turbo diesel that produces 140 horses. The steroid-laced R version takes a gas-powered 20-liter four cylinder and turbocharges it to produce 243 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. Pair that with a six-speed manual transmission, a sport-tuned suspension, large disc brakes and 18-inch wheels and tires, and you will be pleasantly surprised when you step on the throttle. Although not as fast off the line as the GSR, the Golf R handles well in the curves thanks to its tight steering and grippy tires.
If you’re deadly serious about a performance machine, however, you have to choose the GSR over the Golf R, because the EVO GSR knows that performance is the real reason people are buying this ride. It starts with a 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged/intercooled I4 that produces 291 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. The turbocharged engine is mated to a 5-speed transmission, but shifts were quick and well spaced. Other standard performance features on the GSR include big Brembo vented disc brakes, a strut tower bar for rigidity, and Mitsu’s excellent Super All-Wheel Control system that uses yaw control and all-wheel control in conjunction with an active center differential. The result is you can put the GSR onto any road surface at any speed and drive however you want. The best surprise is we truly expected to be buying a kidney belt for the ride, but were thrilled that the GSR easily could work as an everyday commuter, as long as you didn’t mind shifting with a clutch instead of a manu-mode automatic.
When dealing with performance cars, you have to wonder if anyone really cares about fuel economy. If so, just to appease our readers, the Golf R is rated 19/27 city/highway, while the Mitsubishi gets 17/23. When it comes to pure performance, the clear winner here is the 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo.
Horsepower, torque, and sportiness don’t come cheaply, dear friends. While your brain screams performance, your checkbook might have a different idea. For example, the Lancer starts at an impressively reasonable $15,995. The GSR, however, more than doubles that with a base of $34,695. Add the options and you are looking at over $45,000. Ouch. On the Golf, it’s the same story. A regular Golf starts at $18,095, but tart up a 4-door Golf in R clothing, and the starting price is $34,795 and comes with everything but a few dealer accessories. When it comes to price, the Golf R is more affordable.
If you’re not ready yet to settle down, the Mitsubishi Lancer is the car that’s going to keep you smiling until the real world starts closing in. When you start to take life a bit more seriously, but haven’t quite let go of the reins of youth, then the Golf R is the winner. But if we are judging on pure performance, it’s the Mitsubishi all the way.