Review: 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
review 2013 mitsubishi lancer evolution mr

I review fairly few new cars, but when I head to the American Irony 24 Hours of LeMons race at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois, I feel like I need to take on a country club sort of approach. That means I need the appropriate press car for an official at the race that feels like Caddy Day at the Bushwood Country Club pool. In 2011, I tried to get Chrysler to get me an Avenger R/T, because who wouldn’t want the fallback rental-car Dodge with 283 front-drive horsepower? Instead, I got the Challenger SRT8 392, which was fun but certainly no Avenger R/T. For the 2012 American Irony race, I decided that what I needed was the nice version of Mitsubishi’s contribution to the current rental-car gene pool: the Galant SE. What I got, thanks to Mitsubishi axing the Galant (though not cold blasting it) and generally acknowledging that the Evo is the only big Mitsubishi blip left on Americans’ car-awareness radar, was this white ’13 Evolution MR. Hey, that’s what I’ve got, that’s what I’ll review.

Actually, what ended up happening was that a helpful LeMons team gave me the use of a very nice Piaggio Ape 50 pickup for the race weekend, and of course I ended up parking the Evo and reviewing the Ape instead. That’s understandable, because who wouldn’t prefer the three-wheeled Italian truck built by a scooter manufacturer? However, I did drive the Lancer from the airport to the track, and then back and forth to the hot-sheet flophouse of a [s]crackhouse[/s] hotel that my cheapskate, press-car-destroyin’ boss chose for the LeMons staff, so I was able to get an idea of what this car is about.

What you get with the ’13 Lancer Evolution MR is a 3,517-pound commuter sedan that has been hit with a batshit-crazy 291-horse engine huffing huge boost, all-wheel-drive, lots of scoops and flares and maws straight out of Manny, Moe, and Jack’s most fevered dress-up-accessory dreams, Recaro crypto-race seats, and a couple of decades of race-winning heritage.

The package feels more like a machine put together by crazed hot-rodders in a little shop behind an Osaka noodle house than a production vehicle built by a major automaker. That’s both good and bad.

The Evolution’s ability to deal with a given driving situation can always be determined by asking one simple question: How much does this task resemble screaming balls-to-wall down some Scandinavian dirt while dodging rally spectators?

Driving around the 25-MPH-limit streets of Joliet in a bouncy, noisy, paddle-shift-automatic-equipped, cramped-yet-large car isn’t much like a rally stage, and therefore the Evo falls somewhere between the Dodge Nitro and the Misery Edition Toyota Corolla for this slice of the driving experience.

However, drag-racing a brand-new VW GTI out of the tollbooths on a rain-soaked Chicago highway is something like a maniacal dirt-eating race, and for that situation the Evolution MR becomes the best possible choice of vehicle (yes, the GTI got stomped so bad that I felt vaguely guilty for the rest of the evening). They say this car is good for high-13-second quarter-mile times, which is a bit slower than my ’65 Impala, but the madness of the engine in this car makes it feel much quicker.

As further evidence that we are currently living in The Golden Age of Engines, I present the MIVEC (Mitubishi’s catchy acronym for variable valve timing) 2.0 liter four. If Mitsubishi had been able to build something one-third this good for the Cordia, Things Would Have Been Different for Mitsubishi USA. Every time I felt like laughing at this silly, expensive ($38,960 as tested), flimsy-feeling car, the incredible competence of this powertrain changed my mind.

The numbers of die-hard Mitsubishi fans in America have been dwindling since the heyday of the Starion and Eclipse as mainstream sporty-car options, but I did meet this young Evo VIII owner and her “Live Fast” Santa Cruz License Plate tatt in a LeMons paddock. Perhaps the berserkitude of the Lancer Evolution will keep the Mitubishi brand in our minds long enough for the company to come up with a new line of vehicles that will— finally— make significant quantities of American car shoppers say, “Yes! I must own that!” On that subject, has anyone seen a regular Lancer on the road lately?

The ride is race-car rough and bouncy, of course, and the interior falls somewhere between “rental car” and “sporty.” The Recaro seats are covered with the same type of sweat-proof petroleum-based fabric that faux- Aeron office chairs get, and they’re made for drivers with way narrower shoulders— e.g., wiry Finnish rally drivers— than I have.

The baseball-style stitches on the “Sportronic” automatic shifter add a bit of flavor to the interior, but the overall impression feels more Detroit than Tokyo, something like the world’s nicest 1998 Chrysler Sebring.

I couldn’t find anything in the owner’s manual about the “AWC” button (as a former technical writer, I know exactly how this stuff gets left out of manuals: the writers’ eyes glaze over during the 114th slide of a 4,358-slide PowerPoint presentation and they miss some features), but I suspect it unlocks the center differential. When driving on wet roads, I decided I wasn’t going to be The Writer Who Stuffed a Press Car Into a Concrete Abutment and opted to keep the hoonage to a minimum. It grips hard on wet asphalt, and I’ll bet it lets go real sudden-like.

Anyway, the button made some change to the way the all-wheel drive system took care of business.

Overall, the ’13 Lancer Evolution MR is sort of annoying to live with, except for the moments when it’s the greatest car ever built. Were I to own one, I think I’d spend about 95% of my Evo driving time being mildly annoyed and the rest of the time laughing maniacally. Worth nearly forty grand? Strangely, yes.

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  • Vettel1 Vettel1 on Oct 04, 2013

    Old review but couldn't stop myself. It's crazy out of all the posts I think 2 people got it. They understood the Evo. When you respond with "I could get a BMW for that price" you missed the point and it's odd you are even commenting. The Evo isn't a car for you, why take the time to comment? But it is your right. Just strange. I read the same things in every review. Interior, gas mileage, harsh ride, trunk too small, wing too big. But what you are complaining about IS the definition of the Evo. It's no accident it ended up the way it did. It was planned from the start to be an Evo. I want a zebra but I don't like stripes. It's purpose built and designed for a small percentage of die hard fans. If you want a car that does everything well, BMW, Audi, Merc is the car for you. And you can wave at the 30 other people in the exact same car you pass on a 10 mile freeway drive. If you want a car that does a few things AMAZINGLY PERFECT and the others below average, Evo is for you. A true drivers car isn't about leather, lack of noise, smooth ride, great gas mileage. I have owned those. BMW and others, they are great all around. But they aren't soul touching. 2 years owning an Evo now, 38k miles and it still makes me grin ear to ear just thinking about starting it up in the morning to go to work. It's the lack of so called comfort that makes it more enjoyable. It's not seeing every other person in one that makes it special. Although I don't think its uncomfortable and a harsh ride isn't painful. Mine has stiffer springs so is harsher than stock. Pure performance cars aren't soft. They beat you up, but that's the point. They are designed for screaming around corners disproving the laws of physics. That comes at a cost, ride comfort. Here's how I see the Evo price point. Manufacturers have a budgeted cost to build a car. Where the spend more they have to cut someplace else or raise the price of the car. True Evo people agree that cost cutting should be to the interior, trunk size, pretty parts and as much money as possible thrown at only the parts of the car that gives performance. In my opinion they made the interior too nice. Give me nice seats and a steering wheel and that's it. Put the rest of that towards performance. What you buy for 35 to 40 grand the foundation. It's a 600hp beast tamed down to sell at the price point and give the end users the option of how much HP they want. My 2012 has an exhaust, intake and runs E85 fuel, total cost less than 3500. HP at the wheels 400 (for those that go off magazine and manufacturer HP) that's about 480HP at the crank. My 35k car is now about 39k and will hurt the feeling of any M3 that chooses to challenge me. Heck I can beat many of the Porsches, muscle cars, even a few Aston Martins. Do the math, 480 crank HP out of a 2 liter engine. That's 240hp per liter. Find another car on the street like that. Nope, the 1000hp Bugati has half that. Yes, total HP is what matters but it shows Mitsu isn't a slouch when building cars. And 400 isn't even pushing it. 600hp daily driver out of a 2 liter is within reach. Yea it will never be a Porsche or Aston , but so what, it won't cost me the same and there is that excitement when the guy in his 100k$ car thinks he is just messing with some "ricer" import that is all noise and no go. But ironically even though I wrote all this informing you of what makes the Evo special, it's the fact that you DON'T understand what makes it special that truly makes it special.

  • Tominla Tominla on Oct 04, 2013

    This article was well written.You really have to live with a Evo to understand the car.I drove Porsche's for 32 yrs. I was looking around for a different car. It was time to get rid of the 911. At 115,000 mi. the car was going to eventually cost big bucks to rebuild. If I did not sell it now, it would been hard to sell with more millage. A friend of mine who was a real motor head told me about the Evo. I started to go car shopping on Sundays.The G37S,BMW,GTI,Geneses coupe,STI,VoLks Wagon CC. It was hard to be excited about driving something other than a 911.All these cars were boring.Yes BMW is nice,so was the g37s. But no balls. But when I drove the Evo. As soon as I took the car for a test ride . I went this is nice.Then WOW. Right away I had the ride I was looking for. Tight , great breaks, Amazing trany on the Mr.The suspension was what I wanted Love the sport seats. Perfect for me. And I don't go out with fat chicks. They would not be able to fit in the seats.Besides to much weight on one side.Can't do that. I test drove the car 5 times. To show you how crazy I am.I was trying to find something that I did not like. Just kept liking the car more and more.Like I say getting away from Porsche is not easy. I bought the MR. with everything (no nav). LOVE this car. It is not for the average driver. You really have to be a car guy.I wanted to get away from a stick. That is why the MR was the car for me. The car is great in traffic and a blast to drive in the Malibu canyons. So it all depends what your needs are.If you like to drive. The EVO is a Big bang for your buck.

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