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2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Review

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Mitsubishi’s New Lancer Evolution

Special to The Auto Chanel
By Marty Bernstein
AIADA Contributing Editor

Scottsdale, AZ – If weather is any indication of success, things did not look good for the Mitsubishi team that arrived at Sky Harbor Airport on an early December day to prep for the press launch of the automaker’s newest addition. It was raining. It was cold. It was miserable. It was not supposed to be like this!

Three different waves of automotive journalists were scheduled to arrive, the first on Sunday, December 9th. The hotel was set – Scottsdale’s Valley Ho – meals were planned, press kits ready, CD’s completed, the driving course at Firebird International Raceway and support staff of pro-drivers, technicians, tire experts and prep crew were all set to go… but the weather was not fully cooperating. The green flag to start was missing.

This was an important Mitsubishi product introduction for the soon-to-arrive journalists. Not that long ago, six, maybe seven years ago, Mitsubishi in America was in serious financial straits.

The ill-fated zero-zero-zero promotion was an unmitigated disaster of epic promotions. Dealers were is disarray. Consumers were conflicted. Finance staffs were frantic. Some wags suggested more cars were reposed than sold. Yet, with all the clamor corporate management in Japan from all reports was calm and confident.

Slowly and conservatively, Mitsubishi began to turn around their Titanic. Automotive nips and tucks helped move older products. And then a trickle of new products emerged. Recently, the Lancer sedan and Outlander crossover were introduced and are growing in popularity. Sales for Mitsubishi are up 13.3 percent over the same Jan-Nov period last year to a total of 123,089 units.

But Mitsubishi’s halo car, the Evo – of European fame and acclaim – was coming. And this was the premiere week. And so, it rained on Sunday, and on Monday, and a little bit on and off Tuesday.

But not so surprisingly auto scribes are a hale and hearty bunch that will not be detoured, delayed or destroyed by a little heavy dew. Not when they can drive a car, whose three previous generations have inspired cult-like respect and admiration for speed, handling and aggressiveness.

A little rain? It made high speed driving on the track that much more fun and challenging. A little rain? It made driving the auto-cross course – yellow cones laid out for tight driving – slippery, but oh, so exciting, especially the last turn. A little rain? The city driving routes caused rooster tails of water in certain parts.

I was on the final wave, arriving on last Tuesday and driving Wednesday. It was dampish, cool – very cool and overcast – not too common in AZ. But Wednesday morning dawned without a cloud in the azure blue sky, a bright sun and moderate, but cool temperature. After the requisite overview of corporate updates, followed by techno-speak specs, off to track we went. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce couldn’t have ordered a more perfect day for putting the new Lancer Evolution through its paces. This is how it was supposed to have been.

The new, 2008 Lancer Evolution is some vehicle. If you’re driving another vehicle and an Evo appears in the rearview mirror it should be accompanied by John William’s staccato theme music from the movie Jaws – duh dum, duh dum. The front end of the Evo really looks like a shark, a very mean and nasty shark that’s going to eat your car whenever it has the opportunity.

From the side, the mental image of a shark in motion continues, rising slightly from the front as it moves to the rear of the car and sweeps up into the wind spoiler. The wheel wells are slightly flared out as a styling accent but could remind one of a shark’s gills.

Inside another surprise awaits. For a sporty vehicle, the interior is well designed, comfortable, with harmonious trim and a curvaceous sweeping dashboard that allows easy egress and aggresses. Seating is in race-type seats with special fabrics to prevent a person from sliding in the curves. It’s not just a good idea or concept: it works.

The instrument cluster is neat and uncluttered, but I would’ve really liked to have seen a couple more tech-data gauges for oil and water temperature. They may not be used often, but it would add more of a racing or sports car look to the Evo.

Inside the sharks mouth – OK, under the hood – is a 290 horsepower, 2-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with 300 lbs of torque. Without going into the engineering, design and component elements of the powerplant, let me state simply from the vantage point of other writers and my limited time on the track: “Holy [INSERT FOUR LETTER WORD], this is some car!”

Putting the Evo through its paces on the track and auto cross tests the mystique and history of Evo’s exceptional speed, handling, acceleration and design. Consensus: It exceeds previous generations in all respects.

That’s good, very good, and lots of fun too. But it’s the city courses that are of equal importance to the need for speed. It’s important to drive the car like a prospective owner might. Sure, this is one hot car, but does it/will it work in normal daily driving – traveling to the mall, the grocery store, through school zones, and merging onto freeways? Yes.

Two new Lancer Evolution models will be on sale in the U.S. as 2008 models: The GSR (MSRP of $34,000) with a new 5-speed manual transmission; and, the Lancer Evo MR (MSRP $39,000), with a new 6-speed twin clutch shift transmission that is either automated or manual with paddle shifters. The 2-liter inline 4 has 291 horsepower and can generate 300 lb ft. That’s more than flash, that’s dash!

This is the halo car for Mitsubishi and sales of the Lancer Evolution will be limited to a few thousand customers. But whoever heard of a shark with a halo?

duh dum, duh dum.