2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
All-new Evo affordable M3 alternative.
The all-new 2008 Mitsubishi Evolution is bigger and more refined than its predecessor. Rally fans may regret the Evo has moved away from its roots in World Rally Championship competition, but it's faster than its predecessor by almost every measure, now more like an affordable BMW M3.
The Evo is the sports edition of the Lancer sedan. Mitsubishi doesn't bring out a new version of the Evo every year. Although the first of the Evolution models appeared 16 years ago, this all-new Evo X, as it is affectionately called by fans, is only the 10th edition. Referred to by its fans with the Roman numeral X, the Evo X follows the Evo IX by two years.
Over those two years, some radical changes have been made. The Evo X is heavier, by some 300 pounds, than the IX. But it's more powerful, too, by five horsepower and 11 pound-feet of torque, so it forfeits little if anything in sheer performance.
More important, though, are changes made outside the engine compartment. The interior is upgraded, importing many of the current family version of the Lancer's features and trim. At the head of this list is the optional navigation system employing a 30GB HDD for map storage that reserves some six GB for personal audio files. The system will also, when the Evo is parked, play video through its seven-inch screen. One interior piece, or rather two interior pieces the Evo doesn't borrow from the base Lancer are its front bucket seats. These are sourced from Recaro and break new ground with in-seat, side impact airbags.
Mitsubishi has also upgraded the Evo's running gear. There's a new, high-tech, twin-clutch, electronically shifted six-speed manual that's exclusive to the top-level Evo MR. It's a sweetheart of a transmission that puts some mega-bucks luxury sports cars to shame. The new Evo's all-wheel drive system is a serious move upscale, too, using data from yaw sensors, steering wheel angle, throttle opening, wheel speeds and the cars' sideways and fore-and-aft motions to regulate differential limiting action as needed to put the power to the wheels that can use it best to deliver what the computer perceives the driver is wanting.
The result of all this technology: Almost immediately after climbing in, we found it very easy to drive very hard. We were able to drive it right to the limit on the second lap of an unfamiliar racing circuit, this more a credit to the 2008 Evo's predictable handling than our driving prowess. It always seems to do exactly what the driver wants.
Pricing is competitive, as well. The GSR's $32,990 easily bests the most likely cross-shopped Subaru WRX STI's $36,000-plus. Mitsubishi hadn't released pricing on the MR when this was posted, but best-guestimates peg that at around $38,000, which again comes in under the STI's higher end of around $40,000. It's even plausible, as some Mitsubishi folk suggest, although off the record, to consider the 2008 Evolution as competitive with a two or three year old Audi A4 or S4.
Choosing between the Evo GSR and MR models comes down to personal preferences and budget; we liked both models.
The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution comes in two versions, the GSR ($32,990) and the MR. Both are four-door, five-passenger sedans and are powered by the same intercooled turbocharged four-cylinder engine and come with all-wheel drive. The GSR comes with a five-speed manual transmission, while the MR has an all-new, high-tech, twin-clutch, Sportronic, electronically shifted, six-speed manual transmission.
The GSR comes with automatic climate control, 140-watt, six-speaker, multi-media stereo, Recaro bucket seats with manual fore-aft and back angle adjustments, power windows, power door locks, keyless remote entry, floor mats and front map lights. Yokohama ASVAN asymmetrical-tread performance tires wrap around 18-inch, cast alloy.
The GSR can be ordered with two factory options. One is the Sight, Sound and Spoiler Package ($2000) that adds HID headlights with manual leveling; a 65-watt, Rockford-Fosgate premium sound system with eight, strategically positioned regular speakers plus one subwoofer; Sirius satellite radio with six months pre-paid subscription; six CD/MP3 in-dash changer; oversize rear spoiler; and FAST Key entry system, which allows keyless door unlocking and push-button start/stop for the engine. The other is premium, Phantom Black paint ($250).
Mitsubishi has kept the faith with its aftermarket vendors, which has yielded seven sets of goodies installed on the GSR either at the port of entry or by dealers. These comprise a 30GB HDD navigation system with digital CD/DVD capability ($1999; installation is extra on this and the remaining aftermarket pieces); a stand-alone, in-dash, 6CD/MP3 audio head unit ($399); a five-piece aero kit ($1999); side wind deflectors ($85); wheel locks ($40); cargo organizer ($58); and an interior sport package ($399) that replaces the leather-topped shift knob with an aluminum knob and dresses up the hand brake with an aluminum/leather grip.
The MR upgrades include the computer-shifted, six-speed manual, BBS forged alloy wheels, Bilstein shocks, Eibach springs, two-piece brake rotors (steel disc on aluminum hub for weight savings), hands-free Bluetooth cell phone functionality with voice recognition, the HID headlamps, the oversized rear spoiler and steering wheel-mounted audio controls (the toggle for the three all-wheel drive modes moves to the center console). The sole factory-installed option for the MR is a Technology Package, with the Rockford-Fosgate audio system, Sirius satellite radio, the 30GB HDD navigation system with 7.5-inch touch screen (that also displays video with the transmission in Park), the Mitsubishi Multi-Communication system (on-board computer and information system), and FAST Key.
Safety features include dual-stage frontal airbags, front seat-mounted side impact airbags, full coverage side air curtains and driver's knee airbag; electronic stability control; anti-lock brakes; electronic brake-force distribution; and tire pressure monitors.
The 2008 Mitsubishi Evolution, or Evo, as it's popularly known, draws heavily from the carmaker's Concept X first shown publicly in Tokyo in 2005 and from the more polished Prototype X U.S. fans swooned over in Detroit two years later. Although nominally a member of the Lancer family, the new Evo, the 10th (or X) in the specialty line, stretches the '08 Lancer's styling envelope in some subtle and not so subtle ways. In fact, only the front doors and roof are interchangeable between the two sedans.
The front end borders on brutish, with a deep chin spoiler that does double duty, shoving the onrushing air out of the way to keep the front tires firmly planted while forcing cooling air past a sporty looking mesh through the intercooler and radiator. Shark eye-like headlamps curl around the fenders in a stylistic optical illusion masking the longish front overhang. Functional, NACA-like ducts in the hood, like the chin spoiler, serve dual purposes, vacuuming hot air out of the engine compartment, both cooling the powerplant and reducing front end lift.
Side view shows a mild wedge shape, with a steeply raked windshield, a slowly rising beltline and an almost bustle-like trunk lid topped by an overstated spoiler. Heat extractor vents outline the trailing curve of the front fender blisters that are repeated in the rear fenders. Wheel wells are perfectly circular and nicely filled by the high performance rubber. Matte-black B-pillars (the roof support between the front and rear doors) visually lower the car's height, giving it somewhat of a chopped look. Color-keyed door handles bridging round recesses accommodate bare hands but won't be as friendly to gloves in the colder seasons.
When it comes to the view most other drivers will have of the new Evo, Mitsubishi's reluctance to forsake its street-racer fan base becomes obvious. Most of the pieces are flat panels and arrayed either horizontally or vertically on either side of sharp edges, but the overall effect gives an undeniable aggressiveness to the Evo's back end. Capped by a nearly shoulder-high, oversized rear spoiler and supported by a matte black, below-bumper, racecar-like diffuser panel, the Evo's rear aspect presents the passed-by world with nothing short of a blunt flip-off.
With one notable exception, the Evo interior packaging is as inviting as the exterior is brash. At least as far as creature comforts, that is. However, the telltales so vital to informing a driver as to the state of a car's mechanicals suffer the same shortfalls as the Evo's Lancer kin. This is no surprise, as that Lancer kin served as the source for all but two or three of the Evo's interior elements.
Given that the Evo is a car intended to be driven more than merely steered, the loss from previous iterations of full-time gauges for oil pressure and engine temperature is a serious disconnect. Yes, the data are available, but can be accessed only by clicking through a series of virtual LED gauges centered between the otherwise most impressive, and quite sporty, large analog tachometer and speedometer. Beyond this oversight, however, the instrument panel and center stack, with audio, climate control and, when ordered, very competent navigation system screen and associated user-friendly switches, are well done and generally intuitive. And unlike certain of Mitsubishi's Pacific Rim compatriots, the power outlet for an increasingly essential radar detector is readily accessible at the base of the C-stack and within reach of a standard-length power cord.
The front seats are compromises. They're Recaro buckets specifically engineered to incorporate side airbags to protect the occupant's torso in side impacts. And kudos to Mitsubishi for this, but they lack a height adjustment, which leaves even tallish drivers feeling as if they're sitting in a hole. Granted, and as the Mitsubishi people point out, this lowered seating position adds a modicum protection in a side crash by leaving more of the door between the intruding vehicle and the belted seat occupant, but it sometimes feels as if one must raise one's head to peer over the door sill to count the lug nuts on the 18-wheeler parked in the next lane at the stop light. Otherwise, as is to be expected from one of the great names in seating, and once one maneuvers one's backside around the aggressive side bolsters, they are remarkably accommodating, whether it's a long freeway drive or a rambunctious blast down a winding two-lane.
The steering wheel-pedals-seat proportions feel right. Dropping the right hand from the steering wheel to the shift lever finds it where it should be. The magnesium shifter paddles affixed to the back side of the steering wheel in the MR are equally natural in placement and feel. Mitsubishi has, thankfully, resisted loading up the steering wheel spokes with controls for various and sundry features. After all, not all of us are jet fighter jocks and used to managing the world with a thumb and forefinger. And the Evo's steering wheel-mounted controls are simple to use, too. One problem that even having a height adjustment on the front seats wouldn't solve is the price paid in rear visibility for that high-mount rear spoiler. No matter how much the inside rearview mirror is levered this way or that, the spoiler perfectly masks the roof-top light bar on a following cop car. Beyond this, visibility is good, and checking outside mirror location requires minimal sideways head turning.
Rear seat is a bench, with bolstering only sufficient to delineate the seating positions between the sections. Leg room gives up a half-inch from the Evo IX as do most of the other data points. Save, that is, for rear seat hip room, which gains more than two inches. Cargo room measurement wasn't available at post time, but given the X's other dimensions, expect it to come in right around 11 cubic feet with the up-level stereo's subwoofer mounted against the left rear quarter panel and around 12 cubic feet sans subwoofer.
The Rockford Fosgate stereo sounds great and is quite clear at very high volumes. Bass and treble are crisp, the chuckle in Pink Floyd's 'Shine on you Crazy Diamond' is clearly audible and no.
Driving is the best part of the new, 2008 Mitsubishi Evolution and marks perhaps its most welcome advancement from the old Evo IX. No doubt some true-blues will bemoan the filing off of that model's sharp edges, but for anybody for whom wearing a kidney belt is no longer a rite of passage, the X's refinements are most welcome. And not merely in the ride and handling, but in the major, and eye-opening, upgrading of the electronics.
Turbo lag, long the bane of smallish four-cylinder powerplants, has been almost completely banished to the memory banks. In fact, drivers who've come of licensing age in the past 10 or 15 years may not even identify that subtle surge in power as the engine speed climbs as anything more than the engine coming on cam, or more discreetly, as the movement between phases of variable cams. Yes, it's there, and readily felt in the seat of the pants, but it's more linear than ever, and there's no moment of instability in the steering wheel. A good part of this is likely credited to the Evo's next-generation all-wheel-drive management system, but even so, the absence of that unsettling, light switch-like leap in power is much appreciated.
The GSR's five-speed manual handles the power well. Almost too well, as its beefiness occasionally surfaces in a slight clunk between gears, especially when moving through third gear on the way up or down. But gear engagement is solid and throws are short enough. The clutch feels a little light for the power, but it manages engagement with reasonable confidence. Brake and accelerator placement could be closer for optimal heel-and-toe downshifts, but they're close enough.
The TC-SST, for Twin-Clutch Sportonic Shift Transmission, as the MR's electronically managed six-speed manual is nomenclatured, is nothing short of marvelous. It offers three modes, Normal, Sport and S-Sport (likely for Super Sport), and each is unique and superbly configured. In Normal, shifts resemble those in a regular automatic transmission, smooth and quiet. They can be managed with the throttle, although they're better left alone. Sport is a significant step up, in both feel and engine speed. Shifts are felt more, occur at higher engine speeds and are more easily controlled by the throttle; accelerate hard, then lift for a moment to allow the upshift, then repeat. For the hardcore, and emphasis on hard, there's the S-Sport. Shifts are sharp and immediate but not brutal, although they can jerk the neck of the unsuspecting. When the car is slowing, the process reverses in all three modes, and with the same feel, although the slickly executed double-clutched downshifts occur at lower speeds and are more suppressed in Normal and Sport than in S-Sport.
Drivers who want to row their own have the use of either the console shift lever, which offers a up-for-downshift/back-for-upshift manual shift gate to the proper, driver's side of the automatic gate, or the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. With either, the execution of the shifts matches in quality and sureness the shifts in full-auto mode. This gearbox is such a delight, in fact, BMW would be hard put to find a better model as that carmaker begins to move from its archaic single-clutch manu-matic to a state-of-the-art double clutch system. (As a bonus for the street racer crowd, the TC-SST also has an undocumented launch control. It works in much the same was as with a full automatic. Stand hard on the braked pedal, depress the accelerator about halfway to load up the drivetrain, then sidestep the brake pedal. There's the briefest chirp before the electronics of the stability control system snub any tire spin, and it's time to hang on.)
Where both trim levels of the new Evo shine is in the filing down of the rough edges in the ride. Small potholes and freeway expansion joints no longer jar teeth fillings loose. Yet the Evo still tracks flat and true around corners, responding.
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evo is growing up. Not getting older, but maturing. This doesn't mean its forsaking any of its heritage, just making living with it more comfortable. Part of that maturing is learning to make the best of the inroads electronics are making into the interface between driver and car. The Evo reflects the best of that world, too. It is, in sum, evidence that fun can co-exist with maturity and high tech.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this driving report from Phoenix, Arizona, with on-track impressions by NCTD editor Mitch McCullough.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GSR ($32,990); MR.
Options As Tested
Sight, Sound and Spoiler Package ($2000).
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GSR ($32,990).
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