When Mitsubishi brought the Lancer Evolution to the U.S. market in 2003, the company answered the prayers of enthusiasts all over the country. Prior to this, the only way to experience the thrill of driving the "EVO" street-legal rally car was via video games.
The last iteration of the EVO, version 9 (IX), was a raw, bare-bones sedan with a high-powered turbocharged engine and rally-bred all-wheel-drive system. The audience for such a car is limited, but the EVO showed off Mitsubishi's racing roots and acted as a "halo car" for the brand. Sadly, a limited audience is not always good for business, and broadening the car's appeal was behind many of the changes of the all-new EVO X.
Same Role, New Goal
As a rally car for the street, comfort and luxury have always been secondary to performance in the EVO. For 2008, this is no longer the case. While performance is still impressive, the EVO no longer feels like a street-legal race car. Though hard-core enthusiasts may flinch, this means the EVO X is now a great choice as a daily driver.
After driving the EVO X back to back with the EVO IX, we have to admit we miss the thrill of the previous edition. The last-gen model is very basic inside and the ride could hardly be described as smooth, but after every shift the turbo boost hits and it feels as if someone is providing a swift kick in the hind quarters. But that doesn't mean the new EVO isn't a blast to drive. It still has plenty of power, and with quick steering and grippy tires it's akin to driving a go-kart. So have no fear: Underneath the upgraded interior and stylish new exterior that raw rally car still exists.
Unlike the boxy styling of the EVO IX, the EVO X takes the crisp styling of the new Lancer and toughens it up with air intakes and vents in the hood. Bold fender flares compliment the aggressive shark's nose grille. The larger rear spoiler looks more integrated into the design of the EVO X, and the large Brembo brakes can be clearly seen through the spokes of the 18-inch wheels.
Inside, materials are of a much higher quality than the IX. The Recaro sport seats not only provide excellent support, they look good with the optional leather side bolsters and double stitching. A host of high-end features are now available, including a 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate audio system, and a 30-gig hard-drive-based navigation system with plenty of storage space for music. The downside to the convenience upgrades is weight - the EVO X has gained about 300 pounds.
At the heart of the EVO X is a new 2.0-liter DOHC turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produces 291 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm. This is an increase of 5 horses and 11 lb-ft of torque over the outgoing model. The new engine provides a wider torque curve, and the revised turbocharger provides a claimed 20 percent quicker response at lower engine speeds. We found this made for much smoother acceleration than in the previous edition.
Two transmissions are available - a new 5-speed manual or the new 6-speed, Twin-Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission (TC-SST). Similar to Volkswagen's DSG system, TC-SST employs dual clutches, making shifts almost instantaneous. The TC-SST can be shifted manually via magnesium paddle shifters on the steering column, or it can be left to shift automatically.
For automatic shifting, there are three different modes: Normal, Sport and S-Sport (Super Sport). Sport raises shift points to a higher RPM, holds the transmission in gear longer and shifts faster than the Normal mode. S-Sport mode shifts even quicker, and is for high-performance driving or track events. On the track, the TC-SST shifted much quicker than humanly possible, and in S-Sport mode, shifts seem to come exactly when expected.
Power to the Pavement
Mitsubishi has equipped the new Lancer Evolution with its latest all-wheel-drive system called Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC). The new system uses a number of new acronyms, such as Active Center Differential (ACD), Active Yaw Control (AYC), Active Stability Control (ASC), and Sport ABS brakes. We could write an entire article on each of these technologies, but let's simply say that S-AWC can regulate the torque being delivered to each wheel individually.
On an autocross course, this system really demonstrated its abilities - in high-speed turns control was impressive, and drivers can almost feel the car grappling for the best traction. Add in a longer wheelbase, sweeter suspension tuning, and it becomes the best-handling EVO ever from Mitsubishi. So to answer the question originally posed - Is the new EVO better than before? - The answer is a resounding "'yes."
Two different versions of the EVO will be available. The GSR gets the 5-speed manual transmission as well as a 140-watt audio system, automatic climate control, remote keyless entry, Recaro bucket seats and 18 x 8.5 Enkei cast alloy wheels. The MR will upgrade with the TC-SST transmission, Bilstein shocks, BBS wheels, a larger rear wing, HID headlights and Bluetooth wireless interface system. Navigation, the hard-drive music system and FAST key are only available on the MR.
The GSR is on sale now with a base price of $32,990. The MR will arrive later this spring, with pricing to be announced closer to the on-sale date.