2003-2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR

Jay Lamm
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2003-2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR
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If you're over twenty-six and don't play a lot of Grand Theft Auto, you're forgiven for not thinking Mitsubishi's Evolution MR is all that different. Aside from some color changes, new BBS aluminum wheels, and a vortex generator on the roof, it looks like the same old Evo. That's not such a bad way to look.

With or without the new MR package, this year's Lancer Evolution boasts five more horsepower (276 total), revised front- and center-differential limited-slip devices, and lighter aluminum side-impact beams. With grippy tires, fine sight lines, full-time all-wheel drive, big Brembos, and understeer more predictable than a Very Special Episode of Moesha, reaching nine-tenths in the Evo is as easy as reaching six-tenths in most other cars. This is one of the great performance platforms of our time. Unless you've spent the last twenty years in Bondurant classes instead of getting a real life, you'll be able to pedal this fast and/or furious econobox quicker than most supercars.

Kicking the Evo to MR status means fitting brilliantly tuned Bilsteins and shifting some mass out of the roof and wheels and into a six-speed gearbox. Mitsubishi also gave the MR a stouter-feeling clutch and classed up the shift kit with stroke stops and Teflon-coated cables. Shift feel was never the Evo's strong suit; the MR mods at least add the sensation of moving real hardware around.

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The interior gets ID badges, aluminum touches, a cushy Momo wheel, and race-grippy Recaros. One gripe: The new auxiliary gauge pod at the bottom of the center stack must be so your dog can call out the boost numbers-given its location, you certainly can't.

While there's no disguising this car's low-budget Lancer beginnings, where the rubber (literally) meets the road, the MR is chuckle-inducingly good. Put this car anywhere on the track, look where you want to go, and things will unfailingly come out right. Enter the corner too high, too low, too fast, backward, sideways, eyes closed, picking your nose, ants in your pants-the MR doesn't care. It refuses to bite back, no matter how big a stick you poke it with. The steering has some typical all-wheel-drive numbness, and in tight corners, the front diff bangs as if you're at a sance for Tito Puente. All the same, the MR is so effortlessly, uncomplainingly good at connecting the dots that you can't help but love it silly. This car grabs the road more tightly than an auto writer clutches his shrimp cocktail, which is tightly indeed.

It's also reasonably priced, admirably invisible, and acceptably comfortable for four. Best of all, the Evolution MR is utterly, eternally forgiving.

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