The short- the 105 equivalent on the xc mountain bike side will be anything with one of the RS SID models, or a Fox 32 or 34 SC.
For Specialized that means avoiding the base EVO (which has the lower tier REBA) and jumping up to the Comp model. The real reason to upgrade from this point becomes wheels, these stock aluminum wheels and generic hubs can get mixed reviews. That’s the big draw to the Expert with the Roval carbon rims and DT Swiss 350 hubs. Down the line, the wheel upgrade (for carbon+warranty) would be about the same grand as the difference in the Comp to Expert. If you ride hard or often you’ll notice the little upgrades to the suspension and drivetrain as well. IMO from that point up it’s just style and weight you are paying more for.
I went with the Blur S model and after about 5k miles over 2 years bought the reserve wheels and after another year picked up a 120mm fork to swap to a TR setup from the 100mm non-TR I bought. Spread out the costs but ultimately more expensive.
Well after a month of looking at pics and specs and reading reviews and watching videos I finally pulled the trigger on and Epic Evo Comp
The main deciding factor was that I waited so long to make a decision that eventually all the Blur TR bikes in my size were sold out both through the dealer and online.
Due to the recommendations above I spent the extra $750 (plus tax) to move up to the Comp model. I think I’ll get a powermeter but other than that I’ll ride it as is.
Went with the previous years model (Sage Green) as I didn’t want a white or matte bike as I figure they’d be harder to keep looking clean. Shop said it should arrive in a week or so, though I’ll wait until after the Boston Marathon in April to ride it just to be safe
New wheels was on the back of my mind. I wasn’t sure if I should get used to riding the bike (and to be quite frank a mtb in general again since it’s been a while since I’ve spent significant time on one) before replacing them. Or if I’d be better of trying to see the stock wheels off the bat as new and just upgrading right upfront.
I saw a couple online shops had the Roval Control 29 6B for just over a grand if I wanted to be matchy-matchy. But I probably need to do my typical 100 hours of analysis paralysis that I do for pretty much any purchase over $100