An episode of The Simpsons that aired in 1995 gave us a vision of life in the year 2010, and the marriage of Lisa Simpson to a British aristocrat. Amid talk of World War III, sentient robots and flying cars, Lisa and her fiancé part ways after he tells her she is “a flower that grew out of a pot of dirt”. We may not be blessed with Jetsons-era technology, but we are blessed with a Venus Fly Trap of a car, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR, one that truly did emerge from a worm-infested vase of mulch.
1. The Evo is powered by a 291-hp 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder and can hit 60 mph in roughly 4.5 seconds.
2. MR models come with Bilstein shocks, Eibach springs, upgraded Brembo brakes and the 6-speed SST Twin-Clutch transmission.
3. As of writing this Mitsubishi CEO Osamu Masuko has refuted claims that the Evo will be axed, but did say the car will “evolve” and head in a new direction.
Mitsubishi is in a difficult spot, with a lineup that is radioactive to buyers and lacking the resources to do much about it, but that hasn’t stopped them from making strides. The new Outlander Sport is a decent effort, but cars like the dismal Galant still loom in the background. Fortunately, the brand has a luminous halo in the form of the Lancer Evolution, a car that does nothing for the company’s bottom line, but everything for its image and reputation.
With the Evo comes all the hype of more than a decade of American consumers being denied this car, and it’s important to establish the Evo is many things, but refined is not one of them. The interior is still behind the Koreans in terms of quality and finish. The ride is stiff and uncompromising in day to day driving, the Recaro seats, while aesthetically arresting, offer little concessions to comfort or convenience, the trunk can barely hold a carry-on suitcase and a helmet bag (essentials for a track day far from home) and the go-fast bits like the BBS alloys, bright red Brembo brakes and the painfully gauche rear wing (notably absent on our test car) would give one second thoughts about taking the boss for lunch in this car.
Fuel economy is also abysmal, with a tiny tank and a thirsty turbocharged 4-cylinder engine returning 12 mpg in our admittedly spirited city driving. Nevertheless, we have seen V8 muscle cars like the Ford Shelby GT500 deliver better numbers, and this isn’t the first time AutoGuide has gotten outrageously poor fuel economy from the EVO.
Mitsubishi threw all of its eggs into the performance basket, and if this is the kind of omelet you want, you will be richly rewarded. The steering has NASA-like precision, always direct, well weighted and blessed with the ability to move the car using inputs from the pads of your fingers.
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“Vague” is a word noticeably absent from the vocabulary of the Evo’s engineering team. You are always plugged in to every function of the car. The motor might make a dull drone and a host of turbo sucking sounds, but those get lost in the periphery as you try and keep your vision after stepping on the gas. The sprint to 60 mph is quoted at roughly 4.5 seconds, a tame figure by modern performance car standards, but you would never know that, since highway onramps can have you well beyond that without even trying. The same kind of pace can be kept when you exit the freeway, with the Evo staying absolutely unflappable no matter the situation. The car rewards good driving and absolves your worst sins behind the wheel, leaving you with a rush of serotonin to the brain, and your passengers queasy with the terror of imminent death.
Halfway through our week with the car some time back in mid-winter, we were dumped with a foot of snow, and it didn’t matter one iota. One switch of the all-wheel-drive control to “Snow” mode and we braved whiteout conditions, burning down the freeway at 80 mph, the Evo surefooted as can be, dodging panicking drivers in SUVs on the way to our destination. At a Starbucks pit stop, donuts and rally-style heroics through the unplowed parking lot were the norm, leaving us scarcely believing that we weren’t playing a video game.
Although our hearts may have been set on a stick-shift, the Evo’s twin clutch SST gearbox was better matched to this car than our ham-fisted shifting. Unlike other systems, such as the Volkswagen DSG or Ford’s own dual clutch, this one is firmly biased towards feeling like a manual. On inclines, the engine revs itself noticeably before the electronic clutches let out and the car crawls forward. Shifts are quick in “Sport” mode, though less noticeable in the “Normal” setting. The paddles are large and easy to manipulate, and passing someone even in 6th is laughably easy. If you really need to haul ass, a couple clicks of the left hand stalk and they’ll soon be a fuzzy blip in your rearview mirror.
As we drove the Evo, we began to think of the Nissan GT-R, another car kept from our shores for so long, only to be recently released here amid enormous fanfare. Ultimately, the GT-R proved to be polarizing, with some loving the techno-gadgetry and vicious performance, while others detested the lack of visceral interaction, the enormous bulk and the juvenile aura surrounding the car. With the Evo, you can have it all in a smaller, slightly more discrete package, with a useable backseat and no trouble communicating with the driver.
Even amid a bitter, damp February, the Evo was an automotive anti-depressant, a car that reminded us that even though most mainstream cars are so sanitized as to be nearly indistinguishable, something truly special can emerge and make us feel enthusiastic about the automobile again, even from a company that is going through truly dire times.
In today’s marketplace, the idea of “branding” often comes before the actual product, and if you opted for the Audi S4, a more expensive but elementally similar car to the Evo, but costing $10,000 more, you can have a “premium” ownership experience, attract members of the opposite sex and impress friends and family with supposed financial success. On the other hand, you can eschew the kitschy cachet of driving an “Ahhdeee”, ignoring the shiny and pretty, and walk into a dank, empty showroom staffed by people whose shirt and tie came in the same box, and cut a check for a $37,000 sedan that will tear your face off and leave the flesh hanging off its Fisher Price interior.
The choice is yours – but if you choose the Mitsubishi, you will know that you chose the best car, one with a transcendental appeal that will bring you unbridled joy behind the wheel long after the tastemakers have moved on to the next “must-have” luxury car. The fact that the Evo is slated to die (or ‘evolve’) within a couple years should give you a sense of urgency about owning one, but frankly, if you are the kind of person who is willing to buy this car, you have probably made up your mind before reading this review, rather than being a fashion victim of the latest chic luxury brands.