Anyone who’s driven one of the first nine iterations of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (a.k.a. Evo) approaches the tenth fully expecting chest-flattening acceleration and spleen-rupturing cornering. Obviously, the Evo X’s engine and chassis are bound (and determined) to continue the model’s budget supercar-killer tradition. But there’s another less welcome Evo tradition: denture destroying suspension and a Gladware interior. Will the Evo X’s ride quality and interior materials once again conspire to kill the love for all but the masochists among us?
The Evo’s new X-terior has moved Mitsubishi’s compact sedan from the bargain basement to the penthouse suite. The X’s profile now strongly resembles the Acura TSX and Volvo S40. The new Evo’s snout sports a huge black inverted trapezoid-grille, fender vents, a rear wing and body kit. Thanks to the car’s more svelte shape, the macho mods don’t scream “teenage toy.” Of course, it helps that Audi has made the world safe for gargantuan grilles, and that overpriced body kits are now common on overpriced German machinery.
The old Evo’s interior was cheaper than a one-star Romanian hotel. The new Lancer’s interior is a bit more upmarket, but it’s still a third-rate romance, low rent [Buick] rendezvous. Mitsubishi would have been well-advised to replicate the Alcantara interior of the Prototype X concept. One nit an upholstery shop can’t fix: the semi-swoopy exterior yields a windshield base that stretches out like an African Savanna; it’s a bit alienating for a “driver’s car.” Well-bolstered Recaro seats compensate.
Like just about every car (and person) in recent years, the new Evo’s gained some weight. Yet unlike Subaru, Mitsubishi refused to forsake the World Rally Championship’s 2.0-liter rule in their rally car production variant. Two liters of displacement for a 3500lbs. car? That’s like playing croquet with a toothbrush, isn’t it?
Nope. The Evo’s four-pot may not deliver the Subaru STI’s seamless shove, but once the revs crest 4000 rpm, the Mitsu’s mini-mill pulls like an amphetamine-crazed tractor. We’re torquing 300 ft.-lbs. of twist. And the X’s engine revs so freely that getting into the pleasure zone is not a problem. And then, suddenly, 291 horsepower at 6500 rpm.
Thanks to premium-powered variable valve timing and turbo technology, boost lag is also not an issue– provided you keep the revs up. Otherwise, it’s a second of “what the?” followed by “Holy CRAP!” Missing–and missed: a sixth ratio in the GSR’s manual transmission. The Evo’s engine spins at nearly 3000 rpm at 60mph. An extra cog certainly would have helped boost the mpgs from a never-caned 16/22, in case anyone’s wondering.
The Evo’s strangely-hyphenated, driver-adjustable Super All Wheel-Control deploys a pair of trick, electronically-controlled differentials. Minus the jargon-laden physics lessons and references to the anti-HAL handling nanny (I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid you can’t not do that), the nose-heavy compact feels balanced, agile, controllable, poised, planted, secure, balletic and ballistic.
Like any great driver’s car, the Evo X makes you a better driver than you are without taking you out of the equation (in every sense of the phrase). Point the Evo where you want it to go, and it goes there confidently, smoothly and quickly. The Evo X’s steering isn’t as quick and sharp as before, but compared to just about any other sedan you can buy— including (especially?) BMW’s new M3— it offers a highly responsive, entirely intimate helm.
There’s only one flaw: a tug at the wheel when digging into the throttle on turn exits. Never mind. Whether going, turning, and stopping, the new Evo has an eager, playful nature that’s all-too-uncommon in the post-Lexus age. Mitsubishi’s supercar remains a blast to drive, even in typical suburban driving. At the same time, it feels much more polished and controllable than before. You don’t have to push it hard to enjoy it. And if you do push it hard, you’ll enjoy it even more.
With the old Evo, potential buyers who could see past the crap interior were put off by its rock-hard ride. Here, as elsewhere, the new Evo ups its game without losing its character. No doubt the new lightweight 18” wheels and improved rubber– plenty pricey and not anywhere near immortal asymmetrical Yokohama ADVANS– have helped matters. The Evo’s no more a Lexus than you are, but it’s not a go-kart, either. Some BMWs are worse (128i anyone?).
The new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X has eliminated the previous car’s faults without killing the joy. The punishment is gone; the fun remains. Unfortunately, there is a new and major downside: price. The Evo’s hardware is a steal for $35,600. That’s premium compact territory– without a premium compact interior or a premium compact brand. Those who can’t see themselves spending thirty-five large for a mainstream extreme machine, or simply don’t have a BMW-sized budget, might be happier in the upcoming Lancer Ralliart. Or not.