You don’t just drive a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. You thrash it; fling it around corners; tromp on the accelerator on straightaways and slam the shifter through the five forward gears. If you’re not driving this car aggressively, you’re missing the point of driving it at all.
But if you’d like to experience a showroom-fresh “Evo,” you’d best not wait too long. Mitsubishi is discontinuing its iconic pocket rocket after the 2015 model year. “Mitsubishi Motors does not have any plans to design a successor with the current concept such as a high-performance four-wheel-drive gasoline-powered sedan,” the company stated last year. “Mitsubishi Motors will explore the possibilities of high-performance models that incorporate electric vehicle technology.” Those are truly discouraging words. Mitsubishi is faring poorly in the EV market with the i-MiEV, “America’s most affordable electric car,” garnering poor reviews and dismal sales figures.
The Evo and Subaru STi have long been the pocket rockets of choice in the U.S. market. Basically, they’re conventional compact 4-door sedans – the Lancer and Impreza, respectively – that have been retuned as blindingly fast, lightweight, meticulously balanced rally cars. They’re loads of fun to drive, yet are capable of more mundane tasks such as hauling as many as five people to work or school reliably and safely.
With a 291-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, 5-speed stick shift, performance tires, all-wheel drive, sport-tuned suspension and Brembo braking system, the Evo is a world-class automotive athlete, though it’s a little less muscular than the 305-horsepower STi. (A 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual gearbox is available as an option.) Our Octane Blue test car had a base price of $34,495; options unrelated to performance brought the bottom line to $39,105. Even without the option package, the Evo is equipped with a 6.1-inch audio touch screen, satellite radio, cruise and audio controls on the steering wheel, power windows and locks, sunroof, and tilt (but not telescoping) steering wheel. By contrast, the first STi we test-drove, soon after the model arrived in the U.S. market in 2004, had virtually no amenities. It didn’t even have a radio. But boy, was it fast.
Aside from administering punishing kicks and jolts whenever the tires encounter a pothole or expansion joint, the Evo rides reasonably well. There’s a fair amount of road noise, and the engine serves up a gratifying howl under hard acceleration. The manually operated seats don’t go back far enough or provide enough thigh support for tall drivers during long trips.
Trunk space is small for this class, at 6.9 cubic feet, because Mitsubishi placed the battery and windshield-washer reservoir there to equalize weight distribution. The remaining space is conveniently shaped and looks bigger than it is.
Fuel economy is mediocre, at 17 mpg city, 23 highway, and the manufacturer requires premium unleaded gasoline.
Safety is a strength in the Evo and other Lancer models. The Lancer has been designated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.