Pros: Very fast, incredible handling thanks to sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, nicely executed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, lots of performance for the price.
Cons: Noisy engine, stiff ride, cheap interior for the price, steering wheel doesn't telescope, poor fuel economy for a four-cylinder engine.
The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution helps us remember what turbochargers used to be good for: making cars ridiculously powerful and quick. These days, all you hear about is how turbocharged engines get better fuel-economy estimates from the EPA, but that's definitely not what the Evo is all about. Starting with the regular Lancer's wimpy 2.0-liter inline-4 "world engine," the Evo's engineers dropped in a big ol' turbo, transforming a 150-horsepower economy-car motor into a volatile 291-horsepower beast. Throw in the Evo's serious suspension modifications and advanced computer-aided all-wheel-drive system, and you've got one of the most capable cars in the world, all for a price somewhere in the $30,000s.
Of course, the Evo only attracts a certain kind of driver. You have to be willing to put up with the stiff ride-yes, even with the MR model's Bilstein struts. You have to be at peace with the vacuum-cleaner noises from the engine. You have to be okay with the cut-rate interior, which is little changed from what you get in a regular Lancer sedan. And you have to accept that people who aren't obsessed with cars will wonder why you bought a silly Mitsubishi economy sedan with a spoiler on the back.
But if you can honestly check all those boxes, then we recommend running to the nearest Mitsubishi dealer and picking up an Evo before it's too late. We've heard rumors that this is the last year for the current "Evo X," and that the next Evo will employ various "green" technologies, perhaps including electric power. Maybe it'll be awesome; maybe it won't. But we're quite sure that the current Evo is our kind of turbocharged performance car, and we'll be sad to see it go.
Comfort & Utility
The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is offered in GSR and MR trim levels.
The GSR features a five-speed manual transmission, 18-inch Enkei alloy wheels, Brembo brakes, a large rear spoiler, Recaro front sport seats, a leather-wrapped tilt-only steering wheel, a color trip computer, cruise control, automatic climate control, Mitsubishi's FUSE voice-command system for phones and music devices and a six-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input.
The MR steps up to a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, automatic xenon headlamps, 18-inch BBS alloy wheels, Eibach springs, Bilstein struts and a subtle rear lip spoiler (instead of the GSR's huge wing).
Options abound for the Evo. Highlights include a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system with satellite radio, keyless entry/ignition, a sunroof, leather upholstery, heated front seats and a hard-drive-based navigation system with music storage.
The Evo's standard Recaro front seats provide wonderful lateral support for both hips and torso. However, they're not height-adjustable, so you'd better like the rather low default height that Mitsubishi has chosen. Moreover, the tilt-only steering wheel could be a deal-breaker for drivers with long legs. On the bright side, the Evo's deeply hooded tachometer and speedometer are crisp and attractive, and they bookend a great-looking color LCD trip computer.
Ergonomics are good except for the optional touchscreen navigation system, which is surrounded by small, similar looking buttons that aren't necessarily intuitive. Materials quality is definitely not an Evo strong point. The entire cabin screams "economy car" other than the Recaros, so be prepared for quizzical looks from non-enthusiast passengers when they hear how much you paid.
Like every Lancer, the Evo has an unusually accommodating back seat. A number of compacts with cramped back seats have debuted lately-we're thinking of the Cruze and Focus in particular-so the Evo's high rear bench and satisfactory head- and legroom are especially welcome.
The Evo's trunk, however, measures a roadster-like 6.9 cubic feet.
The Evo's been around a while, but you wouldn't know it from the available technology features. Most notably, there's the standard FUSE voice-recognition system, which lets you control your Bluetooth-compatible phone and portable music device via voice commands. It's Mitsubishi's version of Ford SYNC, and it works quite well. Then there's the Evo's optional hard-drive-based, touchscreen navigation system with digital music storage. We also like the color LCD trip computer, which hasn't always been featured in the current car. Sure, the Evo's interior still looks cheap, but you can't deny that it houses a whole lot of desirable tech.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The Evo is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 291 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. The GSR comes with a five-speed conventional manual transmission, while the MR gets a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual with column-mounted paddle shifters. A trick adjustable all-wheel-drive system with a side-to-side torque distribution algorithm ("Active Yaw Control") is standard on every Evo.
We're of two minds about this engine. On the one hand, the noises it makes remind us more of a vacuum cleaner than we'd like. But on the other hand, it makes the Evo go fast. Very fast. Interestingly, we actually prefer the twin-clutch automatic for its seamless upshifts, which allow the turbocharger to do its thing without interruption. Also, the five-speed manual isn't an especially engaging piece of machinery.
Fuel economy is 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway with the manual and 17/22 mpg with the automatic-pretty poor numbers for something with a small four-cylinder engine, regardless of how much power it makes.
The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution comes with standard stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, active front head restraints and seven airbags (front, front-side, driver knee, full-length side-curtain).
The Evo hasn't been crash-tested, but the Lancer sedan on which it's based received an overall score of four stars out of five in government crash-testing, including four stars each for frontal and side impacts. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the regular Lancer its highest rating of "Good" in every category.
Critics like to say that the Evo drives like a videogame, and they're right. But if we were Mitsubishi, we'd take that as a compliment. The Evo's engineers have built a car that can make almost anyone look like a hero on winding roads, and that's no mean feat. Most of the credit goes to the incredibly effective all-wheel-drive system with Active Yaw Control, which instantaneously transfers torque to the wheels that need it. In hard driving, the sensation is one of being yanked through the corner by the hands of the driving gods. Unfortunately, the Evo is a bit of a chore to drive in a civilized fashion on account of its stiff ride and incredibly responsive steering.
Other Cars to Consider
Subaru WRX STI - Long the Lancer Evolution's arch-nemesis, the STI is due for a redesign, but it's still a formidable foe with its turbocharged boxer four and rally-inspired all-wheel-drive system.
Ford Mustang GT - Lest you come away from this review thinking that the Lancer gives you the best performance for the buck, we should mention that the V8-powered Mustang GT makes an easy 400-plus horsepower and can be had for thousands less.
Mini Cooper John Cooper Works - The "JCW" isn't often mentioned in the same breath as the Evo, but we think it belongs here. Don't be fooled by that cute face-the JCW is a focused driving tool, and we much prefer the way it sounds at full song.
As noted, we prefer the automatic in the Evo, so our choice would be the MR model. It doesn't hurt that the MR ditches the GSR's obnoxious (we think) rear w