The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution was originally developed in the early 1990s to compete in the World Rally Championship (WRC) racing series and abide by homologation rules. Packing a powerful turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive, the Lancer Evolution quickly became a successful rally car. Early road-going versions of the Evo were originally just meant for the Japanese home market, but this didn't stop the car from developing a cultlike following around the world. Finally, for the 2003 model year, Mitsubishi started importing official road-going Lancer Evolutions to the North American market.
The Evolution (or "Evo") is based on the Lancer compact sedan. The two cars don't have much in common beyond their body and interior design, however. Whereas the regular Lancer is a rather mundane economy car despite its edgy styling, the pumped-up, flared-fendered Evo is turbocharged, boisterous and ready to lay down rubber on a racetrack.
Despite its humble beginnings as an average economy car, the Evo can accelerate and corner with all but the fastest production cars on the market. Finding a well-kept used example may be tough, but is certainly worth the effort. If you're interested in a new Evo, then you'd better act quickly, because its days are likely numbered.
Current Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
Today's Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, technically known as the Lancer Evolution X, offers a level of performance typically found in European sports cars and sport sedans that cost considerably more. Only a few cars, in and outside of its class, can provide comparable engine power, precision handling and driving intensity. As a bonus, the Evo looks the part of a legitimate high-performance car as well.
The sole available power plant is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 291 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels through an advanced all-wheel-drive system.
There are two available trim levels -- GSR and MR. The GSR is intended to attract traditional driving enthusiasts, as it offers more aggressive suspension settings and a slick five-speed manual transmission. The pricier MR features a marginally softer suspension and Mitsubishi's automated twin-clutch manual transmission, which is operated via paddle shifters and also functions as a traditional automatic when not in manual mode. Mitsubishi has done its homework with this transmission -- it's one of the quickest in the business when you're firing off full-throttle upshifts. The MR's Touring package tacks on even more creature comforts, with a sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, leather seating, heated front seats and additional sound insulation.
Although the Evo's exterior styling has taken a significant step forward, the interior can't hide its humble econocar roots. The control layout is functional, but there's no getting around the fact that you can get essentially the same interior in a base Lancer sedan. Even with the top-end MR Touring, the point of the Evo is to transport you from point A to point B more quickly than just about anything under $40K. If you expect a certain degree of luxury for that type of money, we suggest looking elsewhere.
In reviews, we've been impressed with the Evo X's sports-carlike handling and responsiveness. Its ability to go around tight corners quickly and securely is rivaled by only a handful of cars on the road today. Acceleration, too, is top-notch, as the Evo can give far more expensive cars a run for their money. Hard-core enthusiasts may find that the new car feels a bit blunted compared to the razor's-edge performance of its predecessor. The trade-off, however, is in refinement, as the Evo X is leaps and bounds ahead of the Evo VI by this measure. Yet it remains one of the most capable cars in existence for the money.
Used Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Models
The second-generation Lancer Evolution, the Evo X, debuted for the 2008 model year. Production was put on hiatus for 2009, in order to sell off the backlog of '08s. With the return to production in 2010, the Evo added the more luxurious MR Touring and more aggressive side sill extensions.
The first-generation U.S.-market Evo, sold from 2003-'06, was actually the eighth generation overall by Mitsubishi's count. Arriving on our shores in 2003, the Evo VIII was an extreme car with extreme ride characteristics. Its tightly tuned suspension was unforgiving over bumps and there was little cushion from the seats. The Evo VIII also had a decidedly sparse interior that betrayed its econocar roots. Nonetheless, our editors loved it. If you could put up with its shortcomings, it was more fun than just about any other car on the road.
The Evo VIII, rechristened "Evo IX" for 2006 based on a handful of revisions, was initially powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 271 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. Later years saw only incremental power increases, though for 2006 Mitsubishi added variable valve timing, which resulted in noticeable improvements to the engine's low end and midrange power delivery. An excellent five-speed manual transmission was mandatory on all Evos of this generation except the later MR model, which featured a six-speed unit.
Our reviews of the Evo VIII (and IX) were basically praise-fests -- we simply couldn't get enough of this car's hyperactive reflexes, sublime controls and explosive turbo power. Of course, the interior looked and felt cheap, and in profile this Evo looked too much like a Japanese taxi. Then there were the matters of its shock absorption, which was nonexistent, and its ginormous rear wing, which we'd remove post haste if we owned one. But as soon as we got behind the wheel and headed for our favorite canyon roads, all was forgiven. The Evo VIII/IX still stands as one of the all-time great driver's cars.
A number of running changes were made to this Evo generation. For 2003, only one trim level was available, but a decontented, track-ready RS model was added for the particularly hard-core consumer in '04. The MR model debuted for 2005, featuring a six-speed manual transmission and other performance upgrades; the all-wheel-drive system was also improved for all models. Slight styling modifications complemented the aforementioned addition of variable valve timing for 2006, among other minor revisions.
Buyers searching for a used Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution of this generation should wait for one that's clearly been well cared for. No one buys an Evo to drive it daintily, but some owners are more fastidious than others about the engine break-in period (particularly important for this car), regular oil changes and services, et cetera. If you insist on buying a well-maintained Evo with extensive records, you'll likely be rewarded with endless fun from the car's proven powertrain. Roll the dice with a more marginal example, however, and the repair bills could start to pile up.