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2006 STI vs. S4
We've heard it 10,000 times: STI vs. Evo. And why not? They're both rally-bred menaces perverted from compact economy sedans. All-wheel drive, massively turbocharged 4-cylinder engines, and suspensions that'll rattle your teeth out, but at least keep the car glued to the road while you have your passenger look for your incisors. With a similar size and shape, pronounced hood scoops, and that huge wing, they even look about the same if you step back and take your glasses off.
Certainly the STI and Evo are as logical a comparison as can be made in the modern automotive marketplace. They are purpose-built, and really, the only two production cars designed to the same basic spec.
But we apparently get bored of this repetitive and hair-close matchup, because we start including other cars in the fray. STI vs. GTO. STI vs. Mustang SVT. Yet, there's another comparison that seems so obvious, it's amazing it's been overlooked: the STI/Evo vs. the Audi S4.
Well, maybe this isn't the most practical comparison. The S4 targets a demographic very different from the rally twins, as much for its quality of interior accommodations as for its price. Sports car or not, the S4 is also a luxury car, and the STI and Evo are -- at their heart -- the low-end sedans from two non-luxury brands.
But if you overlook the difference in luxury, refinement, and price, and focus on performance considerations, the lines begin to blur, and the three cars begin to look very similar:
- Based on compact sedan platforms (and hence, as sedans, have 4 doors and usable back seats, uncommon in sports cars)
- Intelligent full-time all-wheel drive
- Aggressively tuned sport suspensions
- Power in the range of 300 hp (even if they arrive at this output somewhat differently -- and the Audi's power advantage is largely offset by its greater weight)
So from a sheer performance credentials standpoint, these cars are pretty similar. Yes, ignore for a moment the fact that almost nobody contemplating buying an S4 would even consider the crude STI or Evo, and that nobody looking at the STI or Evo could probably afford the S4. Looking at it in terms of power, handling, and overall dynamics, this trio should make an interesting matchup. They follow the same basic performance formula.
And keep in mind some of the comparisons we've seen: in addition to the aforementioned STI/GTO and STI/SVT matchups, the S4 typically gets compared to the M3 or Mercedes's corresponding AMG beasts. None of these cars are all-wheel drive, and only the Mercedes is a sedan. The groupings are relevant more for their price ranges and interior accommodations.
I actually did find a video clip from the British TV show "Top Gear" that compared the S4 to the STI and Evo. The S4 was rated the best daily driver (obviously), the Evo was ranked the most fun, and the STI came out the slowest of the three. But I'm pretty sure the STI and Evo featured in that clip were not US-spec machines. For one thing, the STI had a 2-liter four, not 2.5. I'm fairly certain the US-spec STI would not lag behind the S4 in acceleration runs; according to some published times, it should beat the Audi, and at worst, roughly tie with it.
The STI and S4 have both been accused of understeer, so if anything, maybe they're more similar than either is to the Evo.
And this is to say nothing of the even more expensive RS4, which would probably wipe the pavement with the STI and Evo, at least in terms of power and acceleration.
Amusingly, in the garage at my place, you'll find an STI and an S4: the Audi is my roommate's, and the STI is mine. Both are formidable performance machines, and both have performance envelopes that lie far outside what can be safely (or legally) explored on regular roads. If anything, the S4 has more low-end grunt, and the turbo-typical STI really hits its stride at higher RPM's. But the end result, for the driver, is almost identical.