Seeking an uncompact-like compact? Need your four doors to make a parking lot statement among sedentary sedans? The answer is Evolutionary my Dear Darwin. Mitsubishi
's Evolution transforms a conventional, well regarded but otherwise pedestrian Lancer sedan and pumps up the volume on so many levels. Mitsubishi
piles on larger 18-inch tires, high-endurance brakes, sports-tuned suspension and a turbo-charged engine (all for a few extra Benjamins) to create an aspirational machine. Optimizing the most of the successful compact Lancer platform, Mitsubishi
also offers a five-door Sportback wagon, but for pure adrenaline-producing four-cylinder excitement, Evolution has few equals.
On the mean streets of suburban Chicago, Mitsubishi
's Lancer Evolution
is simply known as "Evo," earning street cred in the U.S since 2003 after years of underground racing success in its home market of Japan and later Europe. Evo and Subaru's Impreza WRX STI are two popular import pocket rockets the niche tuner crowd enjoys pushing and accessorizing to their respective limits. Both sport road-hugging all-wheel drive and four-cylinders, drawing from a different generational audience than domestic V-8 rear-drive muscle car enthusiasts historically eyeing late model Ford Mustangs or Chevrolet Corvettes. The need for extra discretionary cash is one commonality linking together both factions.
Evo offers two trims: GSR and slightly up-priced MR. Five-speed manual transmission is a GSR staple while a six-speed, dual clutch automatic transmission adorns MR. Both share a smile- enhancing 2.0-liter turbocharged engine generating an impressive 291 horses. Turbo charging takes advantage of highly-compressed air feed into engine cylinders for a more potent air/fuel combustion delivering enhanced power with an assist from recycled exhaust gases. This turbo emits a low-note, throaty growl letting occupants know it's no Shrinking Violet. Mitsubishi
's 'super all-wheel control' system requires no driver input, automatically managing a 50-50 torque split between front and rear wheels.
Changes are minimal from the 2011 effort save for softer-touch interior door panels and updated Bluetooth advancement simplifying hands-free cellular phone operation. Mitsubishi
supplied a GSR trim with a seemingly hefty starting price of $34,495. Two GSR factory optional packages are available: (Sunroof/Leather Package- $1,800; Sight/Sound Package- $2,100). Both were included in our tester brining the bottom line to $39,190 including a $795 destination charge. Two optional packages are also offered on the MR trim ($37,695 starting price): Premium and Touring. An in-dash navigation system in not available; Satellite radio comes tucked inside the option packages. Subaru Impreza's WRX STI comes in four-door sedan and five-door body styles. Subaru's WRX STI sedan starts in the same neighborhood ($34,095); $36,095 for the five-door wagon.
Thick side bolsters, built into front bucket seats, holds drivers and passengers in place. Not much room for rumps to roam. Relatively low seating positions open up a goodly amount of headroom even with the optional sun roof. Stately white stitching trims seats and also makes an appearance on the padded, leather-wrapped three-spoke, manually tilt (no telescoping) steering wheel with cruise control functions and secondary audio controls. While fabric-type material comes standard, our tester featured heated leather surfaces. A solid piano black interior is standard in both trims with hints of brushed aluminum on the steering wheel and fine-line pin striping. Evo's traditional long, deep dashboard includes a welcome single-zone ventilation system with three large, easy-to-grab dials. The rectangular stereo high atop the dash includes large pre-set radio station presets flanked by two knobs controlling volume and station rotation.
The bulbous knob atop the five-speed manual shifter resembled a scaled down Rawlings baseball thanks in part to sportsman-like stitching. A sixth forward gear would be nice, especially for those relegated to longer-type Interstate stretches. Subaru's Impreza WRX STI offers a sixth manual gear and a hill-holder type clutch, a welcome technology preventing the vehicle from rolling backwards during shift starts from an incline. Evo's long, heavy foot clutch is not designed for the novice crowd. The Instrument panel includes two circular, independent, deep-set analog gauges. In between is a detailed digital display with outside temperature and trip readouts along with bar gauges monitoring engine temperature and fuel consumption. Shade extensions above employ a dueling eyebrow design, contributing a peering 'here's looking at you' effect.
The driver's door is home to power window and lock functions along the 90-degree armrest and a small power window pad ahead at 45 degrees and near the very small door handle. Both long, thin fuel door and trunk release levers are floor-bound left of the driver's bucket. Between the leather seats are a hand-operated parking brake, dual in-line cup holders (front doors also include molded holders) and a small storage bin/arm rest.
Even Evo's trunk prioritizes function over form. The tiny 6.9 cubic foot trunk is 40 percent smaller than Lancer's plain Jane cousin, sacrificing golf-bag storage in exchange for enhanced weight balance with the lead acid battery (back passenger side of trunk) and windshield washer fluid reservoir (left side of cargo bay) both sharing room with enhanced chassis braces. Because of extra busyness, second-row seatbacks remain stationary, and don't fold down enhancing trunk access. Mitsubishi
did find a home under the flat cargo floor for a temporary spare. Smartly, strut-like hinges situate outside the cargo region.
What sets GSR visually apart from MR is the supersized spoiler atop the short deck lid. It's hard to miss among the in Mall parking lot herd, but unfortunately when gazing through the rear view mirror, it's also hard to avoid. The MR trim opts for a lower-key, rear-view-mirror friendly lip-type deck lid spoiler. The ventilated aluminum hood and front fenders work in a team-like fashion with two hood scoops acting as inlets with final exit through side crescent slits. Strap-like door handles and side mirrors retain body color. Side fenders have secondary turn indicator lights sometimes found on side mirrors. Evo's distinctive front end makes use of an upside-down "U," center grille with the three-diamond logo (Mitsubishi
, translates to' three diamonds' from Japanese) above a center bar with air dam and fog lights below. Narrow head tail light housing flank both ends. Dual exhaust comes standard.
Interested in amped up fuel economy? Look elsewhere. With five-speed manual transmission, the all-wheel-drive Evo GSR averages 17 mpg city and 23 highway, V-8-type consumption; the price paid for race-inspired fun. With the MR's six-speed automatic, subtract one mile highway. Premium-priced, 93-octane premium fuel is recommended to fill the 14.5-gallon tank. Subaru's Impreza WRX/STI offers similar mileage numbers. Evo's lower key, conventional cousin Lancer averages a more respectable 25 miles per gallon city and 32 mpg highway.
Suspension is sports tuned so drivers experience all the road has to offer; a softer, plushier ride remains the domain of mid-size family sedans. While pricier luxury-appointed V-8 models from around the world share similar driving dynamics with more engine punch, Evo is one a very few four-cylinders providing a truly race-inspired, sports-car like experience.
At A Glance
2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
Engine: 2.0 liter, turbo charged four cylinder
Fuel economy: 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway
Overall length: 177.0 inches
Overall height: 58.3 inches
Overall width: 71.3 inches
Wheelbase: 104.3 inches
Price as tested: $39,190
Powertrain warranty: Five years/60,000 miles
Final assembly: Mizushima, Japan