Contrary to common conceptions, those of us lucky enough to make our livings in the industry won’t generally fawn actively over cars like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR. Instead, typical automotive journalists and assorted hangers-on will grumble about endless new editions of what’s essentially the same vehicle, or carp about uncomfortable cockpits and rough rides. It’s not that we don’t covet their corner-carving capabilities, or appreciate their alacritous acceleration.
Our professional reputations, though, ride on our never giving the impression that we do what we do just because we like to kick ass on the asphalt. In truth, the disinterest is wholly feigned. To let you in on (what’s probably not much of) a secret: no matter how restrained our external reactions are, when something as sweet as the 2007 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR shows up in our driveway, the little gearhead inside is invariably jumping for joy. We may moan to the delivery driver about the impending fuel expenses, and our dispassionate demeanor during the key exchange may be convincing–nonetheless, we won’t waste a second between the departure of the fleet rep and that first, giddy gunning of the gas pedal…and ensuing idiot grin.
Still, there’s something to the scorn we outwardly heap upon such sporty machines. For instance, it does seem slightly silly to spend review after review showering the same praise on every revision of a single car. We seriously suspect the manufacturers churn out so many modified variations of one model mainly because they cherish the copious coverage. Of course, enablers that we are, we invariably oblige.
To allay whatever ambiguity we can, the particulars of this week’s subject: 2007 is the second year for the IX (Roman numeral 9) edition of the Evo. The IX entered 2006 with new front fascia and other body tweaks differentiating it from the VIII version, which in 2003 was the 1st Evolution-ized Lancer to arrive on American shores.
The MR stands for Mitsubishi Racing, and aside from tricking our word processor into continually auto-correcting it into the abbreviation of ‘mister,’ the designation signifies several changes. In the main, the MR is the race-ready selection in the Evo family; and like the old ‘special-order’ COPO Chevys and Thunderbolt Fords in the ’60s, the de-contenting is aimed at light weight and maximum speed. Unique to the MR, an aluminum roof and trunklid further slash superfluous poundage. Reminiscent of itty-bitty sharks-fins, a row of raked “vortex generators” complements the other aero-tricks.
Other than the MR, Mitsubishi offers the Lancer Evolution IX in basic standard issue, and the truly high-tech (and stripped-down) RS trim.
Every Evo is endowed with an exquisite engine, in essence unchanged across the entire line. This tiny 2-liter twin-scroll turbo is arguably the apogee of the artificially-aspirated four-banger breed. (Its superiority would be *in*arguable, were it not for Subaru’s 293-hp 2.5L in the Evo’s archrival WRX STi.) Consider for a moment that the Evo stickers for around twice what a loaded Lancer costs; then think on the fact that the total ten-plus-grand is concentrated under the hood.
Serious scratch nets serious hardware. We could waste the rest of our word-limit writing about it, and still not fit all the go-fast goodies in. Hitting the high points, it’s an all-aluminum affair, breathing through 16 valves actuated by variable, dual overhead cams, and a MIVEC variable-valve system tuned to lock in the lumpy lobes short of the 7000 redline. An intercooled Garrett turbocharger tops it off, running twenty (!) pounds of boost. Bottom line is 286 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 289 lb.-ft. of torque peaking halfway there.
Raised in the rally-racing realm, the Evo runs a Active Center Differential (ACD) all-wheel-drive system, with a locking center differential and an even torque split. A limited-slip diff lurk up front. Specific to the MR package is the selectable function, which switches personalities at the touch of a dash-mounted button. Three positions are programmed in, tuned for Tarmac, Gravel (or dirt, wet pavement, etc.), and Snow (for conditions slippery enough to warrant retarding initial bite). The middleman shuttling power between the motor and AWD is a 6-speed stick, blessed with short throws, close ratios, and rifle-bolt precision. Even the brakes are race-worthy; stops from sixty take a scant 110′-courtesy of Brembo discs all around, with aluminum caliper housings for that extra little bit of weight savings.
In the time it’s taken to read this far, you could’ve already hammered this Rising-Sun hotrod clear to the horizon. As the specs above show, there’s no shortness of speed here. Hustling this honey in a straight line, we hit 60 mph in an astounding 4.7 seconds–tripping the virtual timing lights for a 1/4-mile time just a tick above 13 seconds. Ferraris, Porsches and other rides priced in the real-estate realm were running in terror. We didn’t dare tap the top end; 156 mph is where Mitsubishi’s lawyers put their collective feet down.
What we can’t express in mere exposition is the experience of sheer exhilaration engendered by the Evo’s engine. Power pins the driver to the Recaro racing seat, as revs sweep up into the stratosphere, demanding the next gear; the insistent exhaust all the while singing an insistent symphony that speaks of sinew and stamina and pure power. Each stab at the throttle triggers an explosion behind you, blasting the Evo to breakneck velocities in a vivid blur. The sensation is every bit as lusty and the thrust every bit as thrilling as any we’ve experienced–even when piloting the potent powerhouses that bear prominent (pompous?) badges like “Porsche” and “Z06″ (plus appreciably higher pricetags).
The Evo is entirely capable of instigating a frenzy of forward acceleration that could last for hours, but that would mean forgoing half the fun. Sprinting at a quick clip through the curves and lopping those apexes right off the sweepers–generating lateral g-forces is just as galvanizing. Capable of pulling 0.98 g’s on the skidpad, the Evo is easily as proficient–and passionate–tearing through the twisties as it is overtaking on the freeway.
A stout suspension setup is the basis for the Evo’s unassailable handling dynamics. The overall architecture follows the familiar stiff n’ sturdy theme. Little is left from the lightweight Lancer line; Mitsubishi endows every Evo with Bilstein shocks, ultra-firm spring rates, and sturdy sway bars stem to stern. Robust rubber-235/45 Yokohamas–rolling on 17″ by 8”-inch BBS rims rounds it out.
This is one raucous runner; outfitted in rather drab interior furnishings. Done up in a dark, gray/black theme, the overall effect would be distinctly depressing–if you weren’t distracted raising hell and causing a general ruckus behind the wheel. Businesslike buckets up front are as bolstered as can be, without actually cocooning you in, although the back bench is basic Lancer fare. Dominated by the tachometer and speedometer, instruments are straightforward. Tacked on near the shifter is an ancillary gauge pod (volts, boost & oil pressure–no temperature indicator for oil or water). Decorative dress-up trim in the true ‘tuner’ tradition includes drilled aluminum pedals and carbon fiber accenting the e-brake lever and shift knob. A strip of the same stuff, across the dash, mimics the rear spoiler’s horizontal panel.
As a rule, Evos are not cushy cars–especially the MR edition, which exists to eschew creature comforts. Windows, locks and mirrors are motorized; keyless entry pretty much rounds out the power conveniences. There’s no sunroof (not worth cutting up the aluminum roof), no power seats, and other than A/C the climate control is bargain-basement stuff. Xenon HID headlights, with height adjustment switch, enhance visibility–better to keep your focus outside anyway. There’s a stereo, barely–a single-slot CD player, with 140 watts and 6 speakers, stuck square in the standard-sized DIN slot Mitsu surely expects most owners to customize anyway.
Safety gets the same ‘satisfactory’ score. Standard airbags number 2–up front, as required by law. That about covers it. At least the drivetrain is well-protected–Mitsubishi attaches an amazing 10-year/100,000-mile warranty to the greasy guts of all Evos. Of course, the coverage is curtailed if you’re caught racing the car–kind of a catch-22.
There’s also a kernel of truth to the ‘feeble fuel economy’ finger-pointing, depending on your point of view. Considered against the compact-sedan class, the Evo’s economy is abysmal; but compared to cars of similar capabilities, it’s stellar. We averaged 14 mpg–far off the EPA’s claimed 18/24 city/highway, but we clearly weren’t treading lightly.
Mitsubishi’s eminent Evolution series is rightly renowned for its potent propulsion and precise poise. Even more tightly focused on performance, the MR edition impresses with its invigorating character–and conspicuous appearance–as well as a bargain price. At $36,300, the MR actually rings the register at $4,900 more than the slightly softer standard Evo IX, and $7k above the all-out RS. Laying out that kind of cash for ‘lap of luxury’ features isn’t as easy to justify as coming up with the cost of the cool go-fast bits. We figure if you’re in the market for Evo-echelon acceleration, the Mitsu is already saving you at least a hundred grand.