Ever since we saw the Mitsubishi Prototype-X at the 2007 Detroit auto show, the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution has been at the top of our wish list. Well, near the top, right under the Nissan GT-R. Our desires for the car weren't diminished when we got our first chance to drive the MR version of the new Mitsubishi Evolution earlier this year, running it around the track at Laguna Seca. The car is a performance and cabin tech dream, with a look that's pure animal.
The front of the car is mostly grille, a big air intake to keep the engine and turbocharger cool. Gills mark the fenders, and a big wing sits over the trunk. The Evo even has fins on the trailing edge of the underbody. The powerful engine is complemented by an impressive all-wheel-drive system and a dual clutch manual transmission, the SST, with three automatic programs. Mitsubishi offers a full range of tech in the cabin, as well, with a raucous Rockford Fosgate audio system, hard-drive navigation, and Bluetooth for hands-free cell phone use. The new Evo is more civilized than past versions, but every bit as fun.
Test the tech: Evo and STI
The Mitsubishi Evo and the Subaru WRX STI are the two top production rally cars, vying for trophies on muddy tracks all over the world. We reviewed the newest WRX STI earlier this year, so a comparison with the new Evo is in order. With the STI, we drove it over one of our favorite roads, a challenging route beset with many switchbacks and hard corners. We took the Evo over that same road in similarly dry conditions to when we took the STI out.
Both cars have intercooled, turbocharged four-cylinder engines, with the Evo getting 2 liters and the STI bumping up to 2.5 liters. Where the Subaru makes 305 horsepower at 6,000rpm and 290 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000rpm, the Evo does 291 horsepower at 6,500rpm and 300 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000rpm. Given this power output, both cars also suffer from serious turbo lag, although the Subaru's seemed a little worse, as the higher torque figure in the Evo mitigates it a little.
The biggest powertrain difference between the STI and the Evo is the transmission. Where the STI has a standard six-speed manual, the Evo MR gets Mitsubishi's new Sport Shift Transmission (SST), a double-clutch manual similar to the Audi DSG and BMW DCT. Because a computer operates the SST's clutches, there is no clutch pedal, and shifts happen more quickly, with much less rev loss, than a human could perform them. Of course, it's also easier to overcome turbo lag off the line with the STI's standard manual, as you can get the revs up before dropping the clutch. With the Evo and its SST, you might be able to hold the brake down, get the revs up, then let go, or put the shifter in neutral, bring the revs up, then pull the shifter into drive, but either method could result in expensive repairs.
When we drove the STI over our mountain course, we found its lack of low rpm power seriously hampered our ability to take the switchbacks at speed. With the Evo, we had no such problems. We put the SST in its Sport automatic mode, which keeps the rpms around 4,000, so as we slowed down for each of these very tough corners, the car had plenty of power ready as we pushed the gas pedal on the way out. In fact, there were only two instances where we felt the SST let us down. After coming out of one corner we faced a rising straightaway, so jammed down the gas to take advantage of it, but the transmission was in third gear and didn't downshift, leaving the car with a lack of power. But this instance was the exception.
The SST gave us a few options. We could have manually shifted, using the column-mounted paddles, but wanted to see how the automatic programming would handle it. In automatic mode, we had our choice of Normal, Sport, and S-Sport. Normal definitely wouldn't do, as it keeps the engine speed around 2,000rpm, and S-Sport rarely shifts above second, letting the car hit the rev limiter too frequently. Sport mode worked very well for most of this road, hitting the right gear 95 percent of the time, and letting us concentrate on how to handle the turns.
Similar to our experience with the STI, the Evo's all-wheel-drive system kept the car tracking beautifully around the corners. In some corners, we got a seat-of-the-pants feel for how the car shifted its grip, with the front wheels occasionally pulling us around or some good rear-wheel push kicking in. Although we never got the wheels to slip, the way the car pulled around the corners would let it do some four-wheel drifting on a wider, flatter bit of road.
Near the end of the route, there's a big bump in the middle of a turn. Where the STI snaked over that one, the Evo reared up, breaking front-wheel contact. We could feel the power going to the rear wheels, and the SST jumped down to first gear as the car recovered. The Evo handled it all right, but we preferred the STI for that particular bit.
But, overall we maintained better speed with the Evo over the length of this route--its SST making it possible for us to get better speed coming out of the really tough corners.
In the cabin
The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution offers an impressive array of cabin tech compared to its predecessors. Where earlier Evos maintained Spartan cabins, echoing their rally car aspirations, the 2008 Evo--the 10th version--can be had with modern conveniences, such as navigation, Bluetooth, and a powerful stereo. Even the cabin materials aim for something nicer, with a faux wood strip running through dash and doors. But the Recaro seats are the primary quality item. Our one complaint about the seats: they don't offer height adjustment, and are tipped back at an uncomfortable angle.