The $50,000-plus Mitsubishi Lancer EVO MR isn’t a car for the faint of enthusiasm. Poseurs needn’t apply.
If you aren’t all about performance, this isn’t the car for you.
Yes, it looks modestly flash, tricked out in side skirts, cool BBS alloy rims and with that aggressive grille up front and wrap-around rear spoiler, but the reality is it won’t be readily recognized by most for what it is and what it’s capable of.
And while it has a rockin’ Rockford Fosgate audio system, racy leather seats and steering wheel, navigation and Bluetooth communication systems and some other nice touches, the interior isn’t exactly what you’d call BMW-like. Its less than entirely civilized power delivery at boulevard speeds and kidney-punching suspension stiffness will also prove more tiresome than looking good is worth.
So who’s actually buying the ultimate EVO version of Mitsubishi’s compact Lancer instead of a number of powerful and luxurious alternatives available for about the same money?
Well it won’t, at this price point, be attracting many of the successors of those bobble-head-to-a-hip-hop beat young urban types seen in Mitsu’s catchy Wake up and Drive commercial of few years ago. Although I’m told EVO news is still a social media hit. You’d likely have to be a more mature person to be making enough to afford one, which might automatically make you too “mature” to actually want one.
That campaign, incidentally, helped re-awakened interest in Mitsubishi, which was once partnered with Chrysler and, since going it alone in North America in the early 1980s, has seen more ups and downs than a suspension test rig. But it has been struggling since to maintain mainstream momentum, and is counting on additional new products – a significantly re-done Outlander due next year, followed by an all-new sub-compact – to boost its fortunes.
I’m not really sure exactly who’s buying this expensively tricked-out compact, only that they are not buying many of them. The company sold 6,632 (starting-price $15,998) Lancers last year and it’s a safe bet most weren’t $41,998 EVO GSRs or $51,798 EVO MRs.
But sales numbers aren’t what it’s really all about. The EVO is a halo car in the true sense of the expression, and that halo doesn’t have anything to do with the angelic. Picture it caught on a tine of the devil’s pitchfork, rotating at high speed, emitting a werewolf wail exhaust note and the shriek of tortured rubber.
It exists, as does Subaru’s WRX STI with which it shares a certain spirituality and rally legend status, for the sole purpose of lending some trickle-down excitement to Mitsubishi’s range of small, practical bread-and-butter cars. Generate some ink, or website play, from auto journos. And, of course, to provide some serious driving thrills to the small number of keen types willing to buy into and perpetuate 10 generations of legendary EVO performance and video-game-fed mythology.
To hand over the silly amount of money being asked even they’d have to have their enthusiasm mode switch clicked – as you can with the EVO’s twin-clutch gearbox – from Normal, through Sport and all the way to the frenetic SuperSport position. What they would then get is the ultimate sporting evolution of compact class car first seen in its current form in 2007.
Turning this pleasant enough little sedan into an evil EVO begins, not surprisingly, under the hood. Caged there is a 2.0-litre, twin-cam four with an intercooled turbo that blows in enough mixture to generate 291 hp at 6,500 rpm and 300 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. This is coupled to an MR-only six-speed twin-clutch transmission you can leave in auto mode, in which it works effectively if a little clunky, or shift yourself with steering wheel paddles or the shifter.
This, in turn, sends all that power and torque to all four wheels via Mitsubishi’s Super All-Wheel Control, Active Yaw Control and Active Centre Differential systems, which sense what the car is doing and adjust power delivery to suit, front-to-rear and side-to-side. You can select programming to suit tarmac, gravel or snow.
Fire it up and the engine emits a mechanical whir and a throaty-growly exhaust note. Line up the EVO and punch it and it is capable of getting you to 100 km/h in less than five seconds. Whatever transmission mode you choose, shifts are light-switch-click-quick up and down through the gears, with downshifts punctuated by throttle blips. Toggling SuperSport – which requires you to bring the car to a stop and pause for a moment’s reflection on how badly you want to keep your license – switches in a hyper-drive of high-revs and rattlesnake-strike-like shifting aggression. It’s as serious a drivetrain as you’ll find in a street car.
Underneath the 1,630-kilogram EVO is a seriously sports-tuned MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension system that, on the test MR, came with Eibach springs, stouter anti-roll bars, Bilstein shocks and tougher forged aluminum control arms. As well as Brembo brakes with two-piece front rotors only 50 mm smaller than those on a BMW M5, and 18-inch BBS forged alloy wheels shod with grippy P245/40R18 Yokohama Advan performance tires. Firm-feel and quick hydraulic power steering points those up front.
Bolstered and belted into the snug driver’s seat and with the small-diameter leather-wrapped wheel gripped in your hands, you’re hard-wired into the EVO MR’s systems like a video-race-game controller.
And your inputs produce instantaneous responses that make this car one of the most engaging and entertaining cars available that you can bolt license plates to. Living with it? Well, that’s a pain and reward thing only a (lucky) few will get to explore.
Tech Specs: 2012/2013 Mitsubishi Lancer EVO MR
Type: Sports sedan
Base price: $51,798; as tested: $53,498
Engine: 2.0 L, DOHC, I4
Horsepower/torque: 291 hp/ 300 lb-ft.
Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.6 city/8.9 hwy. (premium fuel).
Alternatives: Subaru WRX STI, Mini Cooper JCW, Mazda Mazdaspeed3 or, and here’s where it gets a bit silly, an Audi S4, BMW 335i, Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic, an Infiniti M or a Lexus IS350.