You'll notice bigger changes when you open the driver's door. Like the recently re-vised, more pedestrian Lancer, the Evo X has a completely revamped interior. The wing-backed Recaro seats are the only familiar touches; everything else, from the dashboard to the door panels, has gone decidedly upmarket. There are still echoes of the Evo's econo-box roots--some of the console trim is made from hard, scratchy plastic, and the painted cockpit trim can feel a little flimsy--but by and large, the interior no longer reeks of Play-skool technology. ("Look, Mom! I bought a My First Rally Car!" "That's nice, honey. No oversteer in the house.")
Climb into the Evo X, twist the chunky black plastic key, and you are instantly aware--and a little disappointed--that the whole car doesn't buzz and hum and feel alive at idle like its predecessors. Yes, you think, a normal, nonmasochistic person could actually enjoy this. Above all else, you're immediately conscious of the change in size--the Evo's wheelbase is up one inch, and its width has grown by two inches. The size increase is most obviously manifested in a more cocoonlike seating position. If you sat on all previous Evos, then you sit in the Evo X, surrounded by a high-sided cave of dark plastic and grippy seat cloth.
Regardless, like every previous Lancer Evolution, the Evo X redeems its various idiosyncrasies with a fantastic engine and drivetrain. The turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder is the first-ever aluminum-block Evo powerplant and the first to sport four-bolt main-bearing caps. It's also 26 pounds lighter than the iron-block four. A steel chain supplants the old engine's rubber timing belt, and there's now variable valve timing for both the intake and exhaust cams (previous Lancers had it on the intake side alone). Mitsubishi also ditched the previous long-stroke layout--bore and stroke now each measure 86 mm (3.4 inches), and a balance shaft is no longer provided.
Power delivery from the new engine is far less manic; there's still sizable turbo lag, but forward thrust is no longer served up in a nothing . . . nothing . . . WHAM! manner. The new engine is more linear, more progressive, and more friendly. It also makes more torque than the old four-cylinder at any given rpm, is quieter and smoother, and pulls more strongly at high engine speeds. Outside the car--and audible from a football field away--a familiar mix of exhaust grumble, jetlike induction whoosh, and wastegate pshht fills the air.
Tradition requires that a turbo Lancer fling itself to the next county when you hammer the throttle, and on that front, the Evo X doesn't disappoint. But for all its giddy straight-line speed, the Mitsubishi's primary strength is its chassis. And while the new Evo is cushier, better-insulated, and indeed heavier than the last car (U.S.-spec curb weights haven't been announced, but we expect roughly a 150-pound gain), those changes haven't diminished the Evo's over-the-road capability.
A heavily massaged version of the Evo IX's AWD system lives under the Evo X's exterior, complete with a tweaked iteration of the IX's electronically managed active center differential. (The helical limited-slip front unit is largely unchanged.) Mitsubishi's famed hydraulically activated Active Yaw Control rear differential--first used on the Evo IV but previously unavailable stateside--also makes an appearance.
The entire package is fantastic. The various clutch packs, differentials, and hydraulic pumps work seamlessly to make you look heroic, pulling off feats of power management that make most other all-wheel-drive cars look like stumbly boobs. Turn off the newly available stability control, flick the Evo's tail out, and the chassis simply sorts itself under throttle. Remarkably, the Evo even seems conscious of how you treat it: drive cleanly, and you're gifted with a minimally understeering, largely neutral car; throw around the car by the scruff of its neck, though, and torque gets shifted back and forth to actually help you stay sideways.
Like the base Lancer, the Evolution rides better than before. High-speed damping and suspension compliance are greatly improved, and the rack-and-pinion steering, while much less talkative than the Evo IX's, is still respectably communicative. The new, Getrag-developed, six-speed twin-clutch transmission--similar in function and layout to Volks-wagen's DSG gearbox, and the only trans- mission available on the MR (the GSR offers only a conventional five-speed manual)--works well enough, being neither obtrusively rough nor drastically uninvolving. (That said, we'll reserve our final judgment for a later date, as Mitsubishi claims the transmission's control software isn't yet in its final form.)
In the end, some of our fears were correct: Yes, the new Evo is slightly more diluted than its forebears, and yes, it's not quite as dramatic and frenzied as we had hoped. But to bemoan the march of progress is to miss the bigger picture. We might mourn the loss of the Evo IX's rough-around-the-edges personality, and we might complain that the latest Evolution MR isn't available with a manual transmission, but in the end, you have to be realistic. For Mitsubishi to survive--and, logically, for it to keep producing Lancer Evolutions at all--the Evo needs to appeal to a broader market. To do that, it had to grow up. If a small increase in refinement and isolation is the price you pay for such a fantastic chassis and all-wheel-drive system, then so be it. Trade-offs and compromises for the sake of survival? Sounds like . . . evolution, don't you think?