Most cars these days try to be good at everything. Your average $30,000 sedan, for instance, accelerates to 60 mph in less than seven seconds, has a really nice interior, and doesn’t use that much fuel. The flip side of this is that very few cars are absolutely great at anything. Which is why it’s refreshing to drive the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo.
The Evo is not trying to please all buyers. It has an econo-car interior that isn’t even acceptable by present econo-car standards. It isn’t all that efficient, achieving only 19 mpg on the EPA combined scale despite its four-cylinder motivation. And even with a more subdued deck-lid spoiler (I actually prefer the full-blown wing), it’s not the sort of car you drive to a job interview. But the rare person who’s willing to put up with all these flaws for his (I could add “or her,” but who are we kidding) $35,000 will be rewarded with unqualified greatness. The Evo’s handling is superb, and so is its steering. Much credit of course goes to the Evo’s all-wheel-drive system, but honestly, it’s more than that. There are plenty of vehicles out there with similarly advanced torque-vectoring setups, but none feel so natural, so transparent. Even the Evo’s power delivery is a uniquely involving affair, with a dearth of torque followed by a fat wallop of boost. Annoying in everyday traffic? Sure. An absolute blast when the road opens up? You bet.
If I were buying an Evo, I’d keep it as cheap and simple as possible: manual transmission (the dual-clutch automatic is smoother than it used to be, but that’s beside the point), cloth seats, an outspoken color, and an obnoxious wing. Let everyone else settle for good -– I’ll happily accept the bad in return for the great.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Winter is a time when superfast cars are generally absent from our test fleet, so I thought it was a nice treat to get behind the wheel of this raw, rally-bred Mitsubishi. Like our departed Four Seasons Evolution MR, this test car features Mitsubishi’s dual-clutch automatic gearbox, and, although I was disappointed to not get the chance to experience the Evo’s slick stick shift, this gearbox was perfectly adept at hauling me around the frozen tundra of Washtenaw County at extralegal velocities. The Dunlop SP Winter Sport M3 tires helped me enjoy Mitsubishi’s so-called Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC), and the quick steering solidified my smile.
The Evo rides rough, and the seats clearly were designed for high-g support more than long-haul comfort. The SE package means that the chairs are heated, but this package is presently not available on 2011 model-year Evos (our test car was a 2010 edition). Compared with the base GSR, the SE trim level also added the dual-clutch automatic, HID headlights, a small lip spoiler, and an MR-spec suspension. In other words, it was the cheapest way to get the dual-clutch automatic. I hope the fact that Mitsubishi simplified its Evo lineup — and gave us last year’s model to test – does not mean there is any truth to the recent rumors that the Lancer Evo is a dead man walking …
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Driving the Evo is more like driving some sort of high-speed contraption than a normal car. Whirrs and whistles abound as turbines spool up and wind down and clutches engage and release, and the revs jump as the car downshifts coming to a stop. Is that a complaint? Hardly. It was a blast. Don’t ask me about the stereo in this car, because over my three days with this car, I never turned it on — listening to the Evo do its thing was far too exciting.
The steering is slot car-quick and sharper and more direct than almost any car I’ve driven. The suspension makes for a firm ride, yet has the ability to absorb bigger bumps (like the speed bumps in the garage) with ease. Most cars with a suspension this responsive rattle your fillings loose by the time you climb to the 6th floor.
Those two reasons are the only ones that really justify this car over the Subaru WRX — and they are convincing, but if I had to live with one of these rally-inspired cars on a daily basis I might have to opt for the Subaru because it has a much nicer interior for less money. The interior of the Evo is so spartan and plasticky, it belongs in a car half the price. The Recaro seats are fantastic at holding you in place, but everything else in the interior makes you feel like you’re driving a 10-year-old subcompact.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
This is the Evo to buy. With the current-generation Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution in its fourth year on the market, it’s become fairly predictable what reviews will say. The interior is crude. The price is high. The build quality is questionable. And, hallelujah, it drives like a dream. With the 2010 SE trim, Mitsubishi mashed the entry-level GSR and top-end MR trims into the perfect balance of equipment and price. The SE plucks Bilstein dampers, Eibach springs, and the excellent dual-clutch transmission from the MR, but passes on the BBS wheels, and aluminum hood and fenders. The result is a car that’s just as crisp and agile as we’ve come to expect of the Evo, but about $1500 less than a no-options Evo MR. Would I rather have a manual transmission? Maybe, but I have never driven a manual-transmission Evo and I still lust after this car.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
Each time I get behind the wheel of a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, I wish for one small, but very specific improvement. Not a higher quality interior. Not a more compliant suspension. Not a smoother powertrain. These are important in everyday cars but the Evo doesn’t fall into this category. Instead, what this five-foot four woman wishes for each and every time is a height adjustable driver’s seat. If the Evo came equipped with normal car seats it might not be such an issue but the Recaros are so deeply recessed that I feel like I’m sitting in a hole. Until I get my wish, maybe Mitsubishi can add a New York City phone book to the standard equipment list?
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor
2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution SE
Base price (with destination): $36,550
Price as tested: $36,550
2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine
6-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission
HID Xenon headlights
Heated front seats
Tire pressure monitoring system
Super all-wheel control (S-AWC)
Brembo disc brakes with ABS
Active center differential
Active yaw control
Front helical limited slip differential
Rear limited slip differential
Remote keyless entry
Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob
Recaro front sport bucket seats
140-watt CD/MP3 player audio with 6 speakers
MP3/auxiliary audio input jacks
Options on this vehicle:
Key options not on vehicle:
MR Touring trim — $5500
MR trim — $3200
Navigation system — $1999
Interior sport package — $525
17 / 22 / 19 mpg
Size: 2.0L turbocharged I-4
Horsepower: 291 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 300 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
6-speed dual-clutch automatic
Wheels/tires: 18-inch aluminum wheels
245/40R18 Dunlop SP Winter Sport M3 winter tires
Competitor: Subaru Impreza WRX STI