Reviewing a car a week, and dispatching the great majority as boring (if not in so few words), I begin to wonder whether I’m pursuing some fantastical ideal. Perhaps the concepts of communicative steering, a connection with the car, and a visceral driving experience are just something I have in my head? Can they actually exist in the real world? As the weeks roll on, one begins to have doubts. Then fate places a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR in the driveway.
I hadn’t requested the Evo because the car hasn’t changed since I last reviewed one (with a little help from RF) over four years ago. Moreover, Brendan brilliantly reviewed a GSR last fall. But the car I was scheduled to have was pulled, and the fleet company asked if I’d be up for an Evo MR as a replacement. Would !? I already knew how it would drive, but who turns down a week with an Evo?
Well, my wife would. As she put it, “I have had quieter, more relaxing rides in the back seat of an airplane.” And she hates flying. Judging from the Evo’s firm Recaro seats, firmer ride, ever-present exhaust boom, and 1990s econo-car interior, one might think Mitsubishi did nothing to make the car suitable for daily driving. Those of us who’ve driven a previous generation Evo know better. Compared to earlier Evos, this one’s actually livable, at least for people who value the things the car does well. (Especially since it doesn’t have a ridiculous wing on the back.)
The Evo X does do some things very well. Last time around I drove the Evo GSR, which has a five-speed manual transmission. This time it was the MR, with a six-speed automated dual-clutch manual transmission (“SST” in Mitsubishi parlance—we badly need a single, concise, widely recognized term for these things). In the two-pedal car, the powertrain feels even more aggressive. It’s always ready to jump into attack mode. There’s some lag from a dead stop, but once rolling, you’re apt to get a stronger response than you were seeking. In these economy- and-refinement-minded times, this is not a common occurrence. I’ve driven plenty of cars that didn’t feel as strong as their specs suggested they should have. Though the Evo pairs a no-longer-so-impressive 291 horsepower with a 3,600-pound curb weight, it’s not one of those cars. The heated driving experience exceeds the cold, hard numbers. It’s not just the quickness. It’s the immediacy.
The SST doesn’t snap off shifts quite as quickly as VW’s DSG, with a brief pause to let the engine relax instead of yanking it down, but it reacts instantaneously to your right foot, perhaps even to your brain waves. Decelerate for a turn, and it automatically steps down through the gears, so the right one will be there the instant you need it. If you feel the need to employ the lovely column-mounted magnesium paddles, you’re just not thinking clearly enough. Choose from normal, sport, and super sport modes to vary the height of the boil at which the transmission keeps the angry hair dryer under the hood.
Of course, you can get far more bang for your buck in a Mustang. The Evo isn’t primarily about going fast in a straight line. It’s about handling. Not the sort of light, balanced, intuitive handling you’ll find in the best sports cars. The car is too hefty and nose-heavy for that, and the Evo even feels more than a little out of sorts in casual driving. But get jiggy with wheel and pedals, and the Evo’s hyper-sophisticated electronically-modulated all-wheel-drive system comes into play, tweaking the car into a seemingly perfect line. Wondering what car reviewers are looking for when they criticize the steering in, well, everything? This is it, firm, direct, quick, and communicative.
The harder you drive the Evo, the better it feels, and the better you feel…as long as you ignore the fuel economy readout. Economy isn’t one of the SST’s modes. The EPA rates the Evo MR at 17 MPG in city driving, and 22 on the highway. You can moderately exceed these numbers if you drive the Evo like you would a Prius. But why would you do that? Drive the Evo in the suburbs without a concern for gas mileage and mid-teens happen. Drive it like you stole it and the digits become singular.
I hadn’t driven a Subaru WRX since that car was tweaked in response to widespread complaints for the 2009 model year. While the STI is a more direct competitor to the Evo, the Mitsubishi’s $38,490 price tag ($40,785 as tested with nav) raises the question of how much you’d really be giving up with a sub-$30,000 Subaru.
Well, you’d be giving up nearly everything that makes the Evo an Evo. The WRX is about as quick, but even with the 2009 tweaks, it remains a far softer, less immediately responsive, less communicative, considerably less visceral car. The Subaru doesn’t beg to be flogged the way the Evo does. It’s happy to relax and go with the (traffic) flow. It’s cushier, roomier, and has a rear seat that folds to expand a larger trunk. If Subaru offered one with an automatic, my wife could drive it without complaint—and even without realizing its performance potential. For a reminder of what’s missing from nearly every car sold today, we still need the Evo.
Mitsubishi provided the Evo MR with insurance and a quickly depleted tank of gas.
Rory Williams of Dwyer and Sons Surbaru in West Bloomfield, MI, provided the slightly pre-owned WRX. He can be reached at 248-295-2082.
Michael Karesh operates truedelta.com, a provider of car reliability and pricing information.