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New Rocket/Car Review: 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

By Carey Russ

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Mitsubishi

You say that modern cars are boring? You think they are antiseptically-sterile and have no character? Well, yes, some are that way. Actually, many are that way. But not all - try a quick jaunt in the latest iteration of Mitsubishi's legendary Lancer Evolution series of rally cars for the street, the MR. It's the perfect antidote to the oh-so-wholesome-and-boring modern sedan, and it's about as close as you can come to a race car for the street at a more-or-less affordable price these days.

The Evo MR is a statement of Mitsubishi's capabilities in the design and construction of a high-performance car, and is as little changed for daily road use as possible from its World Rally Championship-winning rally car cousin. It is brash, rash, noisy, and pleasantly uncivilized. Toss the stereo (the 315-watt Infinity system offered for the base model is not available in the MR), the cell phone, the nav system, and any other distractions - the Evo MR requires concentration on the part of the driver if it is being used anywhere in the upper reaches of its performance envelope. And that would best be done on a racetrack, not the street. Which is appropriate, as the ``MR'' stands for ``Mitsubishi Racing.''

All 2005 Lancer Evo models have some important changes. Engine power has increased from 271 to 276 horsepower (at 6500 rpm) , more importantly, there is more midrange torque (now 286 lb-ft at 3500 rpm) and stronger top-end power, all courtesy of turbo modifications. Maximum boost is 20.3 lbs at 3500 rpm, considerably more than usual in a road car. The front differential is now a helical limited-slip design for improved traction and cornering performance, and there is a three-position active center differential (ACD), all the better for control on a variety of surfaces in a variety of conditions. Like so much in modern cars, the ACD is electronically-controlled, and varies the front-rear torque split from full front-wheel drive to 50/50 front/rear depending on data from acceleration, yaw angle, and steering angle sensors. A three-position switch allows the ACD to be adjusted for the best operation on dry pavement, wet pavement and gravel, or snow.

The MR gets more, however. Immediately visible at the trailing edge of the roof is a patch of carbon fiber from which sprout a series of small fins. This is the vortex generator, and it reduces aerodynamic drag and increases the downforce generated by the huge carbon fiber rear wing. You may have seen similar devices on airplane wings. Special dark gray forged-alloy BBS wheels also distinguish the MR, and reduce unsprung weight at each corner by 2.76 lbs to further improve cornering ability.

And then there's what can't be seen. The MR's roof panel is aluminum, to reduce weight and lower the center of gravity. Total weight savings from use of lightweight parts is 27.6 lbs, so the MR gets less, too. The suspension features specially-developed Bilstein shock absorbers to improve adhesion. The gearbox is a six-speed, not the five speed of the standard and RS models. As in all Evos, the front seats are genuine Recaros, but the MR has three extra gauges on the center stack - for turbo boost, voltage, and oil pressure. Because of the position of the boost gauge, it's not especially useful for the driver (and that doesn't matter as electronic controls keep the pressure in check) but can amuse the front seat passenger.

Of course, if you're going to play hard, or even moderately, in the Evo MR, any passengers had best be very understanding and enthusiastic. This is probably not the car in which to take your mother shopping. Even when driven enthusiastically on the road, the Evo MR demands attention and respect. The suspension and chassis touches that civilize a car that transmits a great deal of power through its front wheels seem to be missing or at least greatly diminished, as is completely appropriate for a high-performance car with a front-drive bias. 286 lb-ft of torque can produce quite a kick through the steering wheel before torque is sent to the rear wheels. The soft suspension and steering bushings that civilize regular front-wheel drive cars by absorbing some of the torque reactions and bump steer inherent in fwd don't seem to be found in an Evo MR, and that is as it should be. So as a result of that, and 5500 journalist miles on the car when I got it (meaning that the tires were well into middle age if not beyond and the alignment was probably off a bit) the car was nervous in a straight line, and required constant relaxed attention. Which is absolutely not a problem, but, rather, part and parcel of the high-powered front- or all-wheel drive (with front bias) experience. This is, after all, a car made to turn, not just go straight. And it has quick turn-in characteristics to go with its sensitivity. Chassis rating? Excellent. There are only two cars I've driven that I could compare it to - a vintage Lotus Seven, which was even more nervous in a straight line, being meant to live for corners, and a first-generation Volvo S40 prepared for one of the European Junior Touring car championships. The Volvo was driven back-to-back with an American-spec street model when that car was introduced a few years back, and had a stock engine and extensive suspension modifications. Besides much stiffer springs and shocks, all of the rubber and plastic suspension and steering bushings of the standard car were exchanged for much harder ones, in many cases made from bronze. The result? Much more precise steering and suspension response, and vastly-increased torque and bump steer. If I rate that as 10, the Evo MR would be a 7. Meaning that it can still be used as daily transportation by an enthusiast owner but would not be my personal first choice for a long, straight highway journey.

The drivetrain is as good as the chassis. Nowhere is power in any way deficient, and the relative (only relative, mind you) lack of low-end should lengthen both clutch and tire life. Acceleration anywhere near full throttle is exhilarating, and the MR stops as well as it goes, with brakes by Brembo featuring ventilated discs all around, with four-piston calipers in front and twin-piston ones in the rear, all augmented by a high-performance antilock system. Yet, despite the tremendous power, the Evo MR is docile at low speeds and easy to drive around town. The six-speed gearbox has well-chosen ratios and very good short-throw shift linkage, making it the perfect match for the engine.

The driver's office is set up perfectly for the task at hand, and the front Recaros provide excellent comfort and lateral support. Part of the MR's weight reduction plan involved reduced soundproofing, but that's a plus for a car like this as the various mechanical sounds of the engine and drivetrain give it character. There is, however, also more road and wind noise - but the Lancer Evolution MR is not a car for the superslab, or any long, straight road with speed limits. Those are merely transportation stages. The Evo MR is meant for the sort of twisting, challenging roads that are used for special stages in WRC events. Freeways? Only if you must. Backroads? Absolutely. Track days? The best idea, and the best place to enjoy the Evo's performance.