2003 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Evo VIII Four Seasons Test

Ian Dawson
Passenger Side Front View

We never tired of driving Mitsubishi's rally-bred performance sedan, but it wasn't cheap to run.

We've just finished a one-year test with a 2003 Lancer Evolution, but we've actually been on a much longer journey with Mitsubishi's World Rally Championship-bred sedan. After all, we first told you about a Nrburgring drive in the European-market Evo VI in March 2000, and in May 2002, European bureau chief Georg Kacher stormed over Bavarian back roads in both an Evo VII and a Subaru Impreza WRX STi to celebrate the announcement that Mitsubishi's most (only?) exciting car at last would come to the States. In June 2003, we compared U.S.-spec versions of the top-tune Lancer (effectively the Evo VIII but called the Lancer Evolution here) and the Subaru WRX STi and gave the Evo the nod. The Evo then power-slid its way into our October 2003 megatest of $30,000 sedans, and in January, it turbo-boosted its way to victory as our 2004 Automobile of the Year.

We've never tired of telling you about the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, because it's a car we've never tired of driving. Twelve months and 27,636 hard and fast miles have only confirmed that the Evo lives up to all the hype we and others have disseminated about it. It's raw. It's edgy. It's fast and furious. Decked out in lightning yellow paint and the optional rear wing, as our test car was, it's loud, outrageous, and sometimes uncomfortable, but it's always entertaining, because it's the automotive equivalent of Howard Stern. And at only $30,000, the Evo's tariff is far less than what that particular shock jock has been incurring in FCC fines lately.

Our 2003 Evo's sticker actually worked out to exactly $30,062, which reflected a base price of $28,987, a destination fee of $595, and only one option: the $480 carbon-fiber spoiler, a boy-racer affectation that might have provided a bit of extra downforce but impeded rear vision and probably attracted undue attention from the roadside authorities. We'd definitely forgo the darn thing next time around.

Front Interior View

Although there was no surfeit of frills in the Spartan cabin, all the stuff that makes the Evo the Evo was standard, including the 271-horsepower, 2.0-liter, turbocharged in-line four-cylinder engine; slick-shifting five-speed manual; ground-grabbing four-wheel-drive system with three differentials; quick-ratio steering; aluminum suspension engineered to make the best of the worst rally roads; supremely comfortable and supportive front Recaro seats; Momo steering wheel; Brembo brakes; Enkei alloy wheels; and seventeen-inch Yokohama high-performance tires. If the cabin trim and secondary controls were as down-market as a Wal-Mart sweat suit, well, no one much cared, because the Evo could run with cars that cost more than twice as much (as the Evo, not the sweat suit).

Turning the pages of our logbook, we find some negatives, however. There was no cruise control, something editor-in-chief Jean Jennings and her husband, Tim, discovered soon after taking off from Ann Arbor for New York. Given the sport-tuned suspension, the Evo rides remarkably well on smooth pavement, but every encounter with Michigan's freeway expansion joints, noted technical editor Don Sherman, was "pure punishment: constant shake, rattle, and crash." At 38.7 feet, the Evo's turning circle is bigger than the Subaru WRX's (35.4 feet) as well as the Jeep Grand Cherokee's (37.4 feet). The raucous little engine, although an absolute rocket above 3000 rpm, suffers from considerable turbo lag below that. And there were calls for a sixth forward gear for the transmission, which might have quelled a bit of freeway noise in addition to improving fuel economy.

Full Engine View

But these are mere quibbles in light of the Evo's hugely rewarding driving experience, which was lauded repeatedly: "I love the gearchange and the brakes, and the drivability around town is amazing. The steering is quick and precise, and in the wet, the handling is supremely throttle-adjustable. The suspension is stiff, but the damping is excellent, so the Evo rides through undulations better than most cars."

"The Evo's rally-car heritage was evident yesterday as I drove through an unexpected early-spring snowstorm. The car can be controlled not only with the steering but with the throttle and brakes, with predictable results."

"I like the seats, the on-center stability, and the gearshifter but, most of all, the ability to leap tall buildings with a kick to the throttle."

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