By on April 1, 2014

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Japan’s greatest rally special. The M5 for the Playstation generation. The only decent car Mitsubishi ever made. Different people associate the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution with different enthusiast tropes. For me, the Evo will always be inextricably linked to heartbreak.

Early in my career as an automotive journalist, I managed to wrangle a red Evo MR (above) for a week-long road test. A weekend trip to visit my then girlfriend ended in a very humiliating public breakup, and a 100 mile drove home in near-blizzard conditions.

The breakup, though minor in retrospect, served as a trigger for the kind of emotional anguish that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I was an animated example of every post-breakup cliche: unable to listen to certain songs, all too able to ingest excess amounts of alcohol, unwilling to get out of bed in the morning, incapable of focusing on my work or personal responsibilities. I steadfastly avoided anything that had even the slightest association with my ex. Except the Evo.

For some unknown reason, the local press fleet manager had another Evo, an MR model in the dark graphite color that was so popular a few years ago. Nobody seemed to want it. When I’d check for available cars, the Evo was always kicking around, and I was always there to borrow it. I ended up driving on three different week long stints, and it never lost its lustre.

On the continuum of “superlative performance cars with humble origins”, the Evo is somewhere between an Integra Type-R and an Escort Cosworth. It still retains the vestigial shape, drivetrain configuration and hard points as the regular Lancer, but beyond that, there is little commonality.

The base Lancer is meant to be cheap, practical transportation for global C-segment consumers. The Evo is not cheap to buy or to own (thanks to a small tank and a thirsty powertrain, good luck getting above 12 mpg). About the only concession to practicality it makes is the fact that it has two doors and a barely passable rear seat. Between the fuel tank, the all-wheel drive system, the pureile subwoofer and the battery, the trunk can barely hold more than a carry-on suitcase. The interior is an embarrassment and the Mitsubishi brand – from the dealer experience to the name itself to having to tell people you drive one – is dismal.

In return, you get one of the most visceral, thrilling driving experiences available at any prices. The Evo is not a rival to a Subaru WRX or a Focus ST or a Golf R. It would not be hyperbolic to liken its qualitative traits to something exotic. The steering is more similar to a Lotus Evora than anything else, while the handling defies verbal explanation. Dynamically, it’s as capable as a Nissan GT-R, but without the clinical, disconnected personality, and the turbocharged 4-cylinder powertrain, with its overwhelming induction noise and unrefined dual-clutch gearbox, is the welterweight version of the GT-R’s mighty twin turbo V6.

No wonder it’s going to be put to sleep. In a marketplace full of commoditized boxes with in-dash iPads, CAFE-driven two-point-oh-tee engines and reverse teardrop styling, the Evo is a relic of a time when performance wasn’t equated with profligacy and planetary destruction. There’s simply no place for the Evo anymore.

But that’s nothing new either. When I penned my earlier piece for TTAC, it looked like the Evo was on its way out as well. At the time, I felt it was a fitting metaphor for a particular stage in my life, one that took supreme importance to me at the age of 22, but was long in the past for most of the B&B. Now that I’m a little older and a little more experienced, I think about the Evo’s demise in its proper context, as the last of a particular breed of Japanese performance car - one ungoverned by profit & loss, economies of scale and other realities for auto makers doing business in the 21st century.

The new crop will look a lot different – a new hybrid NSX, a Supra built with BMW, a Nissan sports coupe with only a CVT. But it won’t look too different either. We still have the FR-S, the new WRX, and a Miata that will be as light as it was in 1990. But there won’t be an Evo. And we’re worse off for that.

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51 Comments on “TTAC Salutes: The Mitsubishi Evo...”


  • avatar
    LALoser

    I am bummed.

  • avatar
    Cubista

    So now the Evo fanboiz (*raises hand*) are in a far worse place than before…the car is on the way out, followed as sure as Christmas by the company that made it, meaning if we ever actually get our hands on one keeping it properly maintained/supported will be nigh impossible to do. Not just anyone can work on that drivetrain. And God help you if you have the TC-SST gearbox out of warranty.

    Sad news indeed, but not exactly unexpected.

  • avatar
    TDIGuy

    Stupid CAFE rules. I wish more people would buy fuel-efficient cars so that it makes the average better and then I can buy something fun.

  • avatar
    Travis

    While I understand the emotions connected to the older Evos and the old Japanese way of building up their normal models into special sports cars, I just don’t feel like that rhetoric is important these days. Mitsubishi’s lack of innovation and forward mobility is most readily apparent in the current Evo which is amazing at everything that makes Evos good and right on the nose for everything that make Mitsus depreciate like 6 series BMWs. That interior is completely unacceptable even for a 22k dollar car. It’s a strong throwback to the 90s way of throwing everything together. And for fucks sake, a close ratio short geared 5 speed? There’s no 6 speed manual available for the X. Are we serious? The IX MR came with a 6, but X is just SOL? Of course you’re going to be getting 12mpg when you’re cruising at 3500RPM at 80mph.

    There’s a lot to like about the current Evo. The day to day living experience simply isn’t one of those things. It just works much better as a track car because of everything you listed. That should never be true of a 4 door sports car based on an entry level model.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    to me the Evo X isnt really the ‘true’ EVO any more

    here’s a car that’s 3,500lb and the DSG is as much as “Skyline” as the r35

    the old Evo7 to 9 is what an EVO is, even the Evo 7 GTA

    and it will live on… you can buy any number of Evos for under $20k

    i even dont mind the Evo 6 (now this is a real hardcore machine, esp. the 6.5 TME)

    Evos like the RS which is plain white with steel wheels and vinyl interior and no radio, no aircon… thats the stuff of legends

  • avatar
    RetroGrouch

    Perhaps Ford should fill the empty space with an all wheel drive Focus RS.

  • avatar
    michal1980

    “No wonder it’s going to be put to sleep. In a marketplace full of commoditized boxes with in-dash iPads, CAFE-driven two-point-oh-tee engines and reverse teardrop styling, the Evo is a relic of a time when performance wasn’t equated with profligacy and planetary destruction. There’s simply no place for the Evo anymore.”

    I’m sure but thats just bs and you need to be called on it.

    Theres room in this world for the evo. performance cars aren’t going away. gas guzzlers aren’t going away. Blaming CAFE for the evo going away, is like the fat kid blaming Mcdonalds for getting fat.

    The reason this car is going away is twofold. Evenly split between Mitsubishi and car ‘enthusiasts’.

    Mitsubishi for creating sub-par products. Thats all their products period. Without mass volume product, how is a company that needs volume going to produce niche cars? They aren’t, they can’t. Futher more, the evo’s “rawness” is excatly what prevents it from being sold more. Every online fanboi says they want a raw experience, then they go drive the raw experance, and reality hits. small back seat, poor gas mileage, cheap interior, no trunk space. hmmm how many working enthusiasts have budgets for what amounts to a one trick pony? The answer is not many.

    So dont blame CAFE. Blame mitsu from creating so much junk they can no longer make a niche product, and blame car guys for not buying the niche product.

    • 0 avatar

      I mentioned all of that in my piece

      • 0 avatar
        michal1980

        mentioned. but still blamed CAFE. I quoted the relevant paragraph, that states your conclusion as to why its being put to sleep. And its nothing more then typical enthusiast drivel.

        Things you blamed for failure

        “commoditized boxes” ‘oh everything is so the same and steril’ bla bla bla.

        The EVO was always based on commoditized box. A mitsu box that wasn’t good when it came out, and is now even worse.

        “in-dash iPad” – might as well be that old guy already ‘Kids these days with there fancy whatnots. back in my day we had am radio with knobs. Thats all we needed, and thats all that should be there.

        “reverse teardrop styling” damn that progress, I want square corners. (because there was a time where every car looked far different then the last? only in peoples memories)

        “Evo is a relic of a time when performance wasn’t equated with profligacy and planetary destruction”

        really? really?

        Lets see we have the 5.0 mustang, the camaro SS, challengers rt/srt, jeep cherokee srts. New vipers, new vettes, new(ish) sti’s, etc etc etc. But the EVO was/is the last hold out?

        • 0 avatar
          Flipper35

          Actually, there was a time when you could tell the year, make and model of every car coming down the road.

          This is a gizmo car, no one else makes them other than the not so affordable godzilla.

          • 0 avatar
            michal1980

            thats only in your mind. This topic was covered before on TTAC. In reality in every generation of cars, the vast majority end up looking the same. Why? Because that was the style/flavor of the day. and everyone always copies.

      • 0 avatar
        imag

        And you did it without being churlish.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    As a long time Subaru fan boy, the Evo was the bad guy to the STI good guy. Over the past 5 years or so, I’ve warmed up to the Evo. I even hopped on Autotrader for a moment to see what Evo VIII and IX were going for these days. The only things available are multiple-engine-replacement*, ragged out heaps. I actually sat in an X at an autoshow recently. I never had much love for the X on paper, but that thing is truly a single purpose machine. No fluff. Just fury. I might have to stop at the local Mitsu dealer (which was a Suzuki dealer as well, bless their souls) just to experience the Evo before it is gone. I’m going to miss the rally car battles of the mid-00s. Shame I didn’t have the money for one of them back then.

    *fault of “tuners”, I’m sure.

  • avatar
    dwford

    The successors to the Evo are going to be cars like the Mercedes CLA45 AMG. With the current Evo MR sticking for $45k loaded (before discounts) an extra $10k to step up to a Mercedes isn’t too big a jump – yes I know it starts at $47k, but to get it with navi etc you’re in the $50′s. Cars like the Evo were originally aimed at younger buyers looking for cheap speed, but now that cars like this and the STi are well into the $30′s to start, who is buying them? There are better options now. Reminds me of the 90′s when the Supra and 300Z got so high tech and so expensive they both got cancelled.

    • 0 avatar
      hubcap

      “The successors to the Evo are going to be cars like the Mercedes CLA45 AMG.”

      You’d think that a car with an AMG badge would offer an AWD system some what on par with the EVO. It doesn’t. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the two cars are analogous. They’re not even close.

      • 0 avatar
        dwford

        The AMG may not have as sophisticated an AWD system as the Evo, but it is in the same performance vein – compact awd 4 cylinder turbo very fast 4 door car. I think most people would trade off the trick AWD system for the Mercedes badge, the luxury features and the higher quality interior. And there aren’t enough buyers at this price point who appreciate the Evo advantages and are willing to live with its compromises.

  • avatar
    hubcap

    “The only decent car Mitsubishi ever made.”

    Was that statement made in haste? Can you not think of any other decent cars made by Mitsubishi?

  • avatar
    Wiedowerz

    Gotta beg to differ on the comment “The only decent car Mitsubishi ever made.”. Mitsubishi had the Starion in the 80s and the 3000GT VR4 in the 90s, both of which I think were a cooler car than the EVO. I also don’t think the EVO is “Dynamically just as capable as the GT-R”. The GT-R is worlds away from a performance stand point.

    • 0 avatar
      sitting@home

      The first two generations of the Eclipse were better than competitive, though not quite exceptional. The fastest I’ve ever driven was in a rental Eclipse GSX.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    “…thanks to a small tank and a thirsty powertrain, good luck getting above 12 mpg.”

    In what way does fuel tank size affect mpg?

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    I hope the next MazdaSpeed3 is AWD, and Nissan Jukes up the Juke NISMO R. This segment is just too interesting to leave to one manufacturer.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    At least two manufacturers: Subaru WRX STi.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    Back when these cars (STI, Evo) made it big, the Camaro had recently been killed, and a Mustang GT made about 260hp; A Corvette 330hp. These were serious machines, and they had a pretty big following in my high school hallways.

    Fast forward to now when you can buy a 305hp Mustang for $22k. The cars got bigger, a bit more refined, but never truly better. If they had kept up with the times, we would have 420hp Subaru STi’s by now. I don’t know would spend money, on either of these cars, which the availability in the market today. You’d have to a die-hard fanboy to buy such a thing, and those kind of cars never make it in the end.

    Mitsubishi, and the Evo, are what happens when you just don’t invest in your product. At least Subaru still makes a half-assed attempt every few years, but then again, they actually sale cars too.

    • 0 avatar
      WhiskerDaVinci

      I’ve always had a bit of a hard time accepting the Evo and STI after they both pulled out of top tier WRC competition. You can’t make a rally bred car if you don’t rally it. The STI sells well enough to justify making it still, which is fine, but I still get slightly argumentative when owners go on about the rally performance and handling of post-competition STI’s and Evo’s. Neither company has actively rallied these things, so they’re just hot versions, not rally versions.

    • 0 avatar
      Blitz

      This. I remember Best Motoring videos back in the day with Ferrari 360s and Corvettes just barely edging out a well-driven Evo or STi in a drag race. Now a V6 Mustang has as much power as they do. No excuse for that. Not with how easily/cheaply they make more power with mods.

  • avatar
    RS

    I managed to find a used Evo that is COMPLETELY stock and unmolested.

    …April fools! Those nearly impossible to find.

  • avatar
    redliner

    I remember reading somewhere that the evo as we know it is going away for good, but in its place, Mitsubishi will introduce a new electrified Evo that will have electric all-wheel drive and decent mileage. Basically, it’s going to become some kind of hybrid. It, may have just been idle speculation, but it seems logical.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    @ Derek:
    “No wonder it’s going to be put to sleep. In a marketplace full of commoditized boxes with in-dash iPads, CAFE-driven two-point-oh-tee engines and reverse teardrop styling, the Evo is a relic of a time when performance wasn’t equated with profligacy and planetary destruction. There’s simply no place for the Evo anymore.”

    1) Mitsubishi makes plenty of small, fuel efficient cars, and the Evo had a fairly respectable MPG rating (19/23), so I doubt the Evo would have dragged the company’s CAFE rating down all that much, given its volume.

    2) If anything, the Evo was a poster child for the type of performance car that wasn’t profligate and destructive to the environment. It was certainly a lot less wasteful than many other cars that offer similar performance. And there are no shortage of other, more efficient performance cars to be found, including the Evo’s nemesis, the Subaru WRX, which isn’t being discontinued.

    Clearly there IS a place for cars LIKE the Evo (i.e., small performance cars), but it wasn’t the right fit for Mitsubishi’s lineup. Blaming CAFE and environmentalists for its demise doesn’t make a lot of sense. I think in the end, it was a great car in a lineup where it really never fit in, sold by a company that didn’t quite know how to sell it.

    • 0 avatar

      I think that you are focusing too much on this particular point. What I wanted to get across was that the economics and regulatory environment that exists now is unfriendly to a car like the Evo. Perhaps I failed to communicate that clearly.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I disagree with you on that. There are quite a few small performance cars out there these days, and Ford just brought out two (the ST versions of the Focus and Fiesta). If they didn’t see any opportunity in this segment, I doubt they’d have done that.

        Granted, nothing else is close to the Evo’s performance envelope (very few cars are), but none are nearly as expensive either, and if the “regulatory market” is behind a move towards more efficient cars, then I think this segment is actually set for some growth.

        I actually see a pretty bright future for smaller performance cars – probably brighter than the one for cars like the 300 SRT8, or the Chevy SS. But at the Evo’s price point, it was a tough sell, particularly for Mitsubishi. I think we’re going to see more compact sports cars, just not one that’s priced like an entry-level BMW.

        • 0 avatar

          The ST cars are an example of how it can be done in an economically viable way: they leverage global architectures and powertrains to deliver a performance car. The EVO has a lot of bespoke technology that doesn’t necessarily scale. This is the crucial difference that will enable Ford to keep doing it while Mitsubishi will have to cut back due to limited resources.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Wait until you see the 2016 Outlander Evo!

  • avatar
    Noble713

    Man, there’s a lot of TTAC hate/misunderstanding for this car. I’ve owned 3 Mitsubishis, a ’95 3000GT, a ’97 JDM Evo IV, and my ’08 Evo X MR (which I still own and daily drive anytime I’m home in the US). I’ll also address some comments from the last TTAC Evo X article.

    1. The Interior. What are people specifically looking for in an interior that this car doesn’t deliver? Whale penis leather? The objects that I touch regularly (steering wheel, seats, any place I rest my arm) are soft enough. The Recaro seats are amazing. The climate control has functional knobs, and the head unit plays my iPod via aux cable with a minimal number of button pushes. It has both cruise control and Bluetooth but I rarely use either. The back seat is big enough for coitus (field tested =) ). Maybe my standards for interior comfort are ….”different”. Two years ago I was driving my Evo IV with the whole dash removed, no AC (in a brutally humid tropical summer), and the dash cluster, passenger airbag, and radio zip-tied to the chassis.

    2. The fanbase. “Flat brim Monster hat boi racers.” Spend some time on Evolutionm.net. The typical Evo owners are military, IT guys, engineers, or successful blue collar business owners, mostly over 30. Which roughly parallels the car tuning scene here in Okinawa: predominantly middle-aged men with good jobs and plenty of disposable income. People who transition away from an Evo seem to upgrade to an R35 GT-R.

    3. 5-speed vs 6-speed vs TC-SST. My understanding is that Mitsu’s 5-speed is significantly more durable than the 6-speed that was briefly found in the IX. Still, I have to fault Mitsu for failing to make the R&D investments necessary to improve their transmission. That said, I LOVE the DCT in the MR. Sure it’s not as engaging or flexible as a manual (can’t do clutch kicks) but it’s still a blast to drive. I’ve done donuts in a snowy parking lot, just turn the traction control off.

    4. The market. As others have said, clearly there is a market for AWD turbocharged sedans because Subie moves *PLENTY* of metal. The fault is with Mitsu’s marketing and failure to make appropriate R&D. There’s no excuse for a 2L turbo I-4 to get such terrible gas mileage. Likewise, failing to standardize the 4B11T, TC-SST, and the AWD across the rest of their model range reduces their economies of scale. Why is the 400hp FQ-400 only available in the UK? And why is it so expensive? Aftermarket turbo kits and supporting mods reliably make 400hp *at the wheels* for less than $5k, and you’re telling me Mitsu couldn’t figure out how to do make 400 *at the crank* cost-effectively in-house?

    At any rate, I knew this would happen sooner or later. I just hope it doesn’t drive Evo prices up. I’m planning to reduce my motor pool from 3 cars to 2, selling my US Evo X and my JDM Mark II iR-V to buy another JDM Evo X. This will give me an AWD DCT sedan for a DD and a RWD 5-speed sedan (my Toyota Chaser) for maximum nocturnal/track day hoonage.

    • 0 avatar
      Blitz

      I registered here just to say that I agree with pretty much everything you said. Long time IX owner, also on evom. #4 especially puzzles me. 400 crank is nothing for these cars. I don’t see how Mitsu (and Subaru, for that matter) expected to stay competitive with $35k+ 300 hp flagships in a market with $30k 420 hp Mustangs. The world has moved on.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    “The only decent car Mitsubishi ever made”? The first-gen Eclipse counts too.

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    The legend of Evo grew out of FIA Group A rules – Group A referred to a set of regulations providing production-derived vehicles for competition. Basically all the cars that are now legends among enthusiasts were grown out of Group A rules – To qualify for approval, a minimum of 2500 cars of the competing model had to be built in one year, out of 25,000 for the entire range of the model. So the true Evos were models I – VI, but basically all Evos up to IX were built on the same platform and with the same engine, so one could say that from I to IX all the Evos were basically race cars built for the street. Because FIA changed its rules, now all production car based race cars look like weird monsters and basically share nothing with to their original counterparts. With group A that was not the case. Basically the same thing happened in US during muscle car era, when you could buy cars and engines which were sold to the public only because factories were competing under homologation rules in drag racing and Nascar. Good times that will never return.

    Here you can see the whole list of cars which were born from Group A rules: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_A


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