2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR Review
The Subaru WRX STI has only one real competitor as a rally-bred street car: The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, called the Evo, for short. The Evo is the one bright spot in Mitsubishi’s otherwise sad line-up of mediocre-performing, front-wheel drive, budget cars. The thing is, the STI and Evo people each love their vehicles desperately, and they hate the owners of the opposing vehicles with a passion that burns with the heat of a thousand suns. Much insult and ridicule is exchanged between the two groups.
But the mutual hatred may be coming to an end in the United States. In May, 24/7 Wall Street predicted that by 2014, both Volvo and Mitsubishi would have to abandon their US operations. Mitsubishi says they’re determined to stay in the US. But, then, they would say that, despite a small model line-up, only 373 dealerships, empty showrooms, and less than a 0.5% share of US auto sales.
Just in case Mitubishi is wrong, I thought this might be a good time to take a last look at what we’ll be missing if Mitsubishi joins Suzuki in leaving the US market.
How it looks
Unlike the STI—which is The Ugliest Car in the World—the Evo is not an ugly car on the outside. Indeed, it’s pretty much the exact opposite of the STI. In the MR trim level, there’s no gaudy, boy-racer accouterments. No huge and useless wing mounted on the trunk—though you can get one in the Evo’s GSR trim, if you want it, you maniac. Instead, the Evo MR is an attractive, squat, somewhat aggressively styled sedan.
OK, the gaping maw in the front, which was blatantly stolen from Audi, is not a favorite among the aesthetically inclined, but at least it’s functional. It provides cool air to the radiator as well as the massive intercooler for the turbo. It makes the front look like it’s screaming at you. Angrily.
Inside, however, it’s a bit of a different story. The base-level Lancer is an economy sedan and the interior of the Evo MR shares much of its style. And by “style”, I mean lots and lots of hard plastic, which is to say, no style at all. The outside might be prettier, but inside, the Evo is just as low-rent as the STI. On the other hand, the STI is also at least $3,000 cheaper, as the Evo MR costs $42,000.
Still, the front seats are real Recaros, with leather-trimmed alcantara upholstery. The floor pedals are forged aluminum. So, some of that forty-two large went to those things. But, really, the rest of the purchase price went in front of the passenger cabin. Speed costs money.
Maybe that’s why the steering wheel doesn’t telescope. And maybe why, though it’s leather-covered, it’s too thin and hard to comfortably use. Also, maybe that’s why, though there’s a nice touch screen in the center of the dash, all it controls is the stereo, since there’s no sat-nav in the standard Evo MR. The trunk is also small, and the rear seats don’t fold down. But at least the trunk space is sacrificed to a big, honkin’ subwoofer that makes the 700-watt stereo system sound pretty good. It’s another place where some of the forty-two grand of the purchase price goes, I guess.
But, let’s not be coy. It’s pretty nasty in there. All the nice stereo does is make the interior of the Evo the Worst Concert Venue Ever. Even the Recaro seats are pretty tough to deal with. I’m sure they’d be great for a seven minute lap of the Nürburgring Nordschleife, or while tearing around Willow Springs and Laguna Seca. On a 45-minute morning commute to work, though…not so much. They’re racing seats, which means they’re bolstered to within an inch of your life at the hips, back, and shoulders.
My 5'10", 200 lb frame fitted snugly. In fact, too snugly at the hips,where, after a half hour, I was tortured by a dull ache as the hip bolsters slowly viced my hips painfully. The back seats are far more comfortable, with plenty of leg and head room. Frankly, I’d rather drive it from back there.
But, of course, you don’t by an Evo for the looks and comfort. You buy it because you want a street-legal rally car. If you buy a street-legal rally car as a daily driver, you’re quite mad.
How it drives
It drives like, you know, a street-legal rally car. That means that at a brisk pace, it’s pretty fantastic. The chassis, suspension, and all-wheel drive form this beautiful little concert with the driver. It begs to be flogged like a nipple-clamped masochist in Mistress Zara’s Dungeon. And when you flog it…it rewards you.
First, there’s the steering. There’s none of that electrical power steering nonsense here, just good old hydraulics. It gives you a level of feedback that’s pretty much unmatched by anything else today. It’s not a simulation of feel for what’s happening, it’s the real deal. It’s also as responsive as can be. Mitsubishi has all sorts of technology packed into the all-wheel drive system, and a good part of it is made to provide fantastic steering response. Well, it works.
It helps the agility, too. The steering is a bit heavy and needs a lot of movement to haul the Evo MR around at low speeds, but at road speed and higher, the MR leaps in the direction you steer it, instantly responsive to your slightest directional whim. It’s scalpel precise in doing exactly what you ask of it.
Body roll? Hah! I sneer at the very idea of body roll!
Braking is a joy, too. Tons of feel, tons of stopping power. No fade. Even better, the electronic wizardry calculates the lateral g-force, speed, yaw, and other magical things to determine how much braking to apply to each wheel.
The same technical witchcraft works to provide you with maximum grip, and sorts out which wheels need to get the most torque. You dive into a corner at speeds much higher than seems prudent, aim towards the exit, stomp the accelerator at the apex, and you’re through the turn, looking for another one.
When driving at the limit, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR provides you with an experience available in very, very few cars today, most of which cost at least $10,000 more.
There are a few minor down sides to the experience. First is the dual-clutch transmission. It’s pretty well sorted in fully automatic, both in Normal and Sport mode, but for manual shifting, there are better ones out there. When you click the flappy paddles to shift gears, there’s a bit of a lag. The shifts themselves are almost imperceptibly quick, but I’d like to see a faster response from the paddles. It is not, in any way, a deal-breaker, but it’s something I noticed.
Also, the magnesium alloy paddles are not mounted to the wheel, but to the steering column, so when you turn the wheel, the paddles don’t move with you. The paddle is never quite in the exact place it was when you last shifted. That’s just plain old bad design, and it means the paddles have to be much larger so that your fingers have a chance of hitting them when the wheel is turned.
I’d also like to see a thicker steering wheel. The Evo MR’s stock wheel is much too thin for sport driving, so you have to grip it a bit harder. That gets fatiguing. This is a car that screams for a nice, thick wheel with chunky grips at the nine and three positions. Honestly, my chick’s Pontiac Vibe has a better-feeling steering wheel.
Those are fairly minor quibbles though.
So, if you’re blasting down a track, the Evo is just super. But if you’re driving across town to work—or even worse, across the state to visit the folks—the Evo MR is actually quite horrible.
The ride is painfully harsh at street speeds. The only worse car I’ve driven when it comes to ride quality is the Nissan Joke Nismo. (Oops, I’m sorry. That should be “Juke”, of course. Though “Joke” is, in fact, more true in a broader, metaphysical sense.) Perhaps you should expect some harshness in Sport mode, but Normal mode is no better. It just softens the power delivery while giving you the same bad ride quality. Look, if you’ve got the chassis sorted—and the Evo does—then you don’t have to have a suspension made by stone-age tribesmen chipping it out of flint.
After half an hour, you get the idea that the front seats are just torturing you for a laugh. When you maneuver through a corner at 100 MPH, Recaro seats are meant to stop you from being thrown around in the cabin like the child mannequin in a 1960's car crash test film. They cannot do this if they are in any way soft or comfortable. The hip bolsters make simply getting into and out of the driver’s seat a chore.
Then there’s the mileage. You can drive the Evo like a grandmother on the freeway, and it’ll cough up maybe 23 miles to the gallon, like it was 1978. Despite being only a 2.0L 4-banger, the Evo is not economical in any way, shape, or form. In the city, it gets…wait for it…17 MPG. It has a 275-mile range. In short, from an ecological perspective, the Evo makes Johnny Polar Bear quite unhappy.
There is literally nothing about the Evo that makes it fun or enjoyable to drive in normal city traffic. It’s just nasty and uncomfortable. The only way to make the Evo enjoyable is to drive it at speeds that will cause the police to do something to you that’s even more nasty and uncomfortable.
What’s good about it
Unless you’re driving it on a track, or a rally stage…nothing. If you’re someplace you can flog it, it’s one of the most enjoyable driving experiences you can have. The agility, steering, braking, suspension, and chassis are all top-notch. This really is a race car that happens to be street legal. For anything other than racing, though, it pretty much sucks. Except the stereo. I mean, it’s got 700 watts of power and a subwoofer. Like everything else in the Evo, it’s dialed up to 11.
What’s bad about it
It’s the worst daily driver imaginable. It’s cheap and uncomfortable inside. The only people who will be even mildly satisfied when travelling in it will be back-seat passengers. The trunk is absurdly tiny. The harsh ride is tiring, and the front seats are painful. Worst of all, if Mitsubishi does leave the US, then good luck getting it fixed. Federal law requires automakers to provide spare parts to the US market for 10 years if they withdraw. Federal law does not require a repair shop within 500 miles of where you live to install them.
It’s a car that’s ready to drive directly off the showroom lot into a rally stage. That’s great if you want to get into amateur rallying in a big, big way, but the worst possible thing imaginable if you just want a peppy, sporty car to make your commute a bit more fun.
The only people who could possibly be happy with a street-legal rally car like the Evo as a daily driver are lunatics, or young men in their 20s. (But I repeat myself.) And, in fact, the main customers for the Evo are young men, who, in most cases, you wouldn’t think could really afford it. And not only do they manage to buy it, they often manage to find the money to modify it outrageously.
Which brings me to a piece of advice: Never buy a used Evo. God only knows how the young mental patient who owned it before you has driven or maintained it, or what sort of half-baked engine and suspension mods he’s foisted on it.
Which brings me to my last piece of advice: Unless you’re regularly going to the track or a rally stage, never buy a new Evo, either. The Subaru WRX STI hatchback is a far better daily driver. It only has 95% of the Evo’s capability, but you can’t use that extra 5% on public roads, anyway. The STI is still perfectly hoon-ready, but is more comfortable and far more practical with its extra cargo space. Plus, when you’re inside it, you can’t really see how ugly the STI’s exterior is. And if it starts to get under your skin when the Evo owners jeer at you for owning an STI, then just remind yourself: they’re lunatics.