So, I took out a mint 2000 S4 earlier this week, and was left severely underwhelmed by the experience. Refinement-wise, the Audi was very nice, except for horrible squeaking sounds from the cheapo rear shelf beneath the rear window. Drive-wise, the transmission is a little easier than the WRX, but the shifting was long and I didn't get enough feeback from it for my liking. Also, I wasn't too impressed by the speed of it all. From 0, it was difficult to get off the line, and really didn't give the sweet punch like my WRX (stock) does. It did feel a little stronger for sure in 4th/5th gear though. What I did notice is the accelerator pedal doesn't go down very much in an S4, which psychologically was lame. :P
You gotta be able to slame your foot REALLY down
Handling-wise, the WRX wins for me. The driver-feedback in a WRX makes the S4 feel barge-like.
Then, just today, I took out a nice new silver RX-8, since my friend is buying a Mazda 3 (sweet sweet car) and so I took advantage of the situation to test-drive a car .
The RX-8 is definitely an interesting little car. Very odd/interesting styling. The trunk is FAR too small, with an opening that could barely fit small children (if that should be your thing). Definitely not one for the big suitcases.
Comfort-wise, the RX-8 is relatively comfortable, even for my 6'6" frame. I did however feel a little cramped, with MUCH less open space around the driver compared to the WRX. Considering how wide the car is, I expected more room, and there just wasn't much. Also, the side mirrors are practically worthless - they're tiny! The rear window is also absolutely weeney, reminding me a lot of my brother's VW Corrado VR6. The seats are really nice though, - I'll give it that. However, the rear-seats, especially with me driving, are absolutely useless. My seat needed to go back the whole way, and there's absolutely no room in the back. I can't understand why Mazda tout the RX-8 as a true 4 door performance car, when clearly it's not. Very cramped.
The RX-8 is...well....slow. I was VERY disappointed in its power. It feels like a car with 170hp. The 1.3 Litre Wankel engine has a very curious, and not all that pleasant note about it, and it just doesn't seem to want to move anywhere too fast. That's not to say it's slow, because it's not, but myself and my friend agreed that it just didn't feel fast enough by a long shot.
Now, this is where things picked up. The RX-8 as 18" wheels, and boy are they sweet. Interestingly, even though the Mazda 3 my friend got has 17" wheels, the roughness of the ride in the 3 is MORE than the harshness of the ride in the RX-8, even though the wheel size is smaller! The RX-8 is not a particularly harsh ride, but it corners really really well. I did take the RX-8 to roughly its limit on a corner, and got the wheels to squeal a bit, but it was very reserved and really was a joy to corner with. However, it's all useless in the winter, when we get a foot of snow in Minnesota. However, for the spring/summer, the RX-8 is a great handler...
RX-8 1 (as long as you don't do winter driving)
Overally, I came away unimpressed, but I respect the RX-8 for what it is. I just don't think it does enough. It's a nice ride, but I just didn't enjoy the overall package. I also really dislike the view over the hood from the driver's seat, as it just looks far too odd, especially the weird arches over the front wheels.
It's not a bad car, but I'm glad I got the car I did, as it just feels like the best all-year round performance car for the money (for a snow environment too..), bar-none.