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2008 Mitsubishi Lancer EVO GSR Review

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Rally Car for the Common Road
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

This is not a car for the faint of heart or the timid among us. It’s also not the car for those who like a quiet serene ride. This is a screamer, a brute, a hot-shot in the wildest sense – fun, fast and moderately functional.

The Mitsubishi Evolution, or Evo as it is more commonly known, dates back to 1992 when the first versions were homologations making the car eligible for competition in the grueling World Rally Championship. For those not familiar with WRC I’ll explain that it is the purest form of racing, putting real cars (modified for endurance) on real roads (the roughest and crudest that can be found) going real fast. These can be mountain logging trails or rocky desert paths or snowy, icy winter roads. One of the fastest, most competitive classes in the WRC is these small, powerful, all-wheel drive sedans.

Our 2008 test car is the tenth iteration. The first seven were primarily racers and the eighth was the first to come to the US as a production car. Mitsubishi had seen the popularity of Subaru’s WRC - another small, powerful, all-wheel drive, streetable rally car - and thought they could share that market. If we think of each iteration as a generation of this car, it might constitute the shortest product cycle in the industry at about 2 years each. But, of course, the whole car doesn’t change each time. It just gets updated a bit.

Styling is brash and aggressive with a large, gaping grill that slants forward at the top and lots of scoops and vents, most functional. Character lines are sharp and distinctive making it instantly recognizable to those who know these cars. The exaggerated rear wing obstructs vision but makes its performance statement emphatically. Standard 18-inch tires on great-looking alloy wheels contribute to the visual image of performance.

This current car is a wisp slower and heavier than the last one - it is reported by those who have test tracks - but hardly noticeable. It still goes 0-to-60mph in just 4.9 seconds and back to 0 in just 112 feet, thanks to the powerful Brembo brakes up front. Power is from a new, aluminum-block, 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder with a twin-scroll turbocharger and intercooler, making 291 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. That’s a lot of power for a little sedan that weighs just over 3,500 pounds. Turbo lag is noticeable but thrust is eye-popping right up to the raucous rev limiter which kicks in at around 7200 rpm. Fuel mileage is 16-city and 22-highway and it has a small 14.5-gallon tank.

All-wheel drive with torque vectoring to distribute the right amount of power where needed is essential to getting that power effectively to the road. Can you imagine that kind of power with just two wheels driving? Our test car has a new, tough 5-speed manual transmission but you can get it with a 6-speed automatic featuring dual clutches for lightning-quick shifts. This has been another cold and snowy week here in Michigan so I had the opportunity to thrash it around only at relatively low speeds. I could pretend I was pushing it sideways through a rough rally racing course on the snow and ice without going very fast. While easy to push off kilter, it was also manageable and predictable.

Suspension is stiff and tight with substantial stabilizer bars front and rear. The McPherson configuration in front features inverted struts. It feels like a suspension that would serve well on a race course, logging trail or skid pad. In fact, the testers at Edmunds logged a .99g on the skid pad, which is as good as the best sports cars on the road. It’s a bit stiff for every-day use, though, I thought. I’d have a hard time living with something that stiff on our seasonally busted-up Michigan roads.

Front Recaro seats are sharply bolstered and mighty firm making entry a challenge for this big guy. Once in the seat, though it’s not uncomfortable at all. My pretty blonde in her off-side Recaro thought it felt good to be held so firmly – just like a good hug from the ol’ man. Instrumentation and controls are good mostly. I’m particularly impressed with the 190-mph speedometer. On the down side, I could not find a way to dim the overly bright orange info screen between the large analog gauges. The glare would be obnoxious if we were driving great distances at night.

We had rear seat passengers this week who thought the space generous back there but the ride a bit rigid. They found it difficult to get the seat belts clicked and found it noisy and bouncy – kind of like a carnival ride, one commented. The cost of good back seat room is stingy trunk capacity at only 6.9 cubic-feet – very shallow, indeed.

Driving the Evo enthusiastically takes some concentration and attention. It tends to follow groves in the pavement with those big 18-inch performance tires and the steering is so quick that we must not daydream. Some cars, particularly bigger luxury cars, are so soft and insulated that you don’t even notice when you’re driving at high speed. In the Evo you feel every mph intimately. And, since it’s a high-revving engine and transmission combination it often feels like we needed a sixth gear when cruising on the highway. It’s turning around 7,200 rpm at 70 mph. We can feel and hear much of what’s going on mechanically because the sound deadening is minimal. It’s especially noisy in the back seat, my passengers tell me.

The price of the Evo GSR begins at $32,990 and is equipped like the high-line Lancer SEL. Our test car came with no options above that level and I didn’t miss a thing – except, perhaps, heated seats.

Warranty covers the whole car for just 3-years/36,000-miles and the powertrain for 5-years/60,000-miles.

I would like to have been able to thrash this hot shot through some tough roads this week, but time and circumstances interfered – three days out of town, too much snow and a death in the family. Let’s just hope this exciting Evo survives these violent constrictions in the automotive business. I want another shot at this one.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved