Crucial Cars: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

2015 Lancer Evolution Final Edition

2015 Lancer Evolution Final Edition, Source | Mitsubishi

As recently as seven years ago, it was unthinkable that the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution could be on its last legs. Fully redesigned for 2008, the Evo built on its legendary rally-car heritage with even more turbocharged power and its most sophisticated all-wheel-drive system yet. Dubbed “Evo X,” it graced the cover of seemingly every magazine in the industry, promising near-supercar performance for the price of an entry-level BMW 3 Series.

But then the recession arrived, severely depressing demand for thirsty thrill-machines. In point of fact, Mitsubishi didn’t even build any Evos for 2009. And when the economy eventually rebounded, the Evo X just couldn’t get back on its feet. 2015 marked the final year Mitsubishi produced the Evo, and we said goodbye to one of Japan’s true performance juggernauts. Let’s give the Evo a curtain call by remembering what made it great.

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution photo

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Invincible AWD handling

The rally-derived Evo has always utilized a fancy AWD system to optimize handling, but in the United States, we didn’t get the full treatment until the Evo X arrived. The big news was the debut of Active Yaw Control (AYC), an electronically controlled feature that automatically transfers torque to the wheels that have the most traction. It was a revelation on the road, eliminating understeer in tight corners and making the Evo feel like it was quite literally on rails. Not many cars in the world could keep up, regardless of price.

Of course, some Americans were a bit miffed that they had to wait so long for an unadulterated Evo to arrive. In Japan, AYC had been offered since the mid-’90s, going back to the Evo IV, but Mitsubishi didn’t sell the car stateside till the Evo VIII turned up in 2003—and neither that car nor its successor, the Evo IX, had AYC. Still, one spirited drive was typically all it took to heal those wounds. The Evo X stands as one of the best-handling cars ever created, and we can only hope that there’s a reborn Evo XI somewhere in Mitsu’s future.

Awesome acceleration

2004 Mitsubishi Evo-I

2004 Mitsubishi Evo-I, Source | Mitsubishi

A remarkable fact about the Evo is that it has been extremely fast forever, dating back to the Evo I’s debut in 1992. That car carried a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that pumped out nearly 250 horsepower, and by the time the Evo III came out in 1995, the turbo-4 was up to 270 horsepower, which is roughly where it’s been ever since.

Technically, the Evo X’s 2.0-liter turbo-4 is from a new aluminum-block engine family, supplanting its iron-block predecessors. It’s also rated at a slightly higher 291 hp. But in terms of real-world acceleration, an Evo is an Evo, regardless of vintage. Plus, the older iron-block design is more receptive to major modifications. The one thing the Evo X really has going for it in the powertrain department is its available dual-clutch automated manual transmission, which rips off ultra-quick shifts that no stick-shift driver can match.

Four-door practicality

2014 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR Touring photo

2014 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR Touring photo

The Evo’s full name is “Lancer Evolution,” underscoring its sensible origins as a compact Lancer sedan. Indeed, this sports-car-shaming dynamo is nearly as practical as a Corolla in daily driving, from its reasonably roomy backseat to its serviceable trunk. Sure, you could get a Nissan GT-R for three times the price, but it’s a glorified two-seater that feels bulkier. Naturally, the Evo’s impeccable handling comes at a cost in the ride-quality department, but we’ve never heard enthusiastic owners complain.

Have You Driven an Evo?

This is a bucket-list kind of car. If you have driven one, what were your impressions? Give us some highlights in the comments.

Top Rally Racing Cars You Can Drive Every Day

Rally car

Source/By Hyundai Motorsport/Wikimedia Commons

We’re all all about some American muscle cars. But rally cars are one overseas product that can definitely get our blood pumping. We’re drawn to the World Rally Championship (WRC), which started as a mainly European thing but has since risen to prominence almost everywhere except the U.S. For whatever reason, it’s never really been an American thing to do, so the only way most of us can experience the thrill of a rally car is by driving one of the few rally-derived models available in U.S. dealerships.

What is a rally car?

First, for the uninitiated, a rally is run not on a circular track like other races but over private or closed public roads, from Point A to Point B. Fastest overall time wins. Rally cars need to be fast, versatile, and able to handle whatever the road throws at them–gravel, snow, mountain terrain, tarmac, or dirt. Check out this WRC video for a look at what these insane cars and their drivers can do. Then read on for three rally cars we’d like to have in the garage.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution photo
Popularly known as the “Evo,” this Mitsubishi rally car is a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive compact sedan. It’s unfortunately also on its last legs with an uncertain future. Mitsubishi has officially announced that there will be no Evo after 2015, though a lot of diehard fans refuse to believe that the company would just kill off its most iconic nameplate. Whatever happens, the current Evo will go down in history as one of the most capable four-door cars ever built, and not only because of its deep roots in rally-racing history. The boosted 291-horsepower engine under the hood is just the beginning; this Mitsu also comes with a telepathic all-wheel-drive system that shifts all that power side-to-side during hard cornering, effectively eliminating understeer. Additionally, its dual-clutch automated manual transmission is one of the best, ripping off instantaneous upshifts and flawless rev-matched downshifts that no human could ever match. Bottom line? Mitsubishi nailed everything with this car, and you’ll feel like a WRC champion every time you drive it. It’ll be a shame if they let the transcendent Evo go out with a whimper.

Subaru WRX STI

Subaru WRX STI photo
The top-of-the-line WRX is known as the STI, and it’s the closest you can get to Subaru’s WRC rally cars. It’s also all-new for 2015. As ever, the six-speed manual gearbox–no automated manual here–is a work of art, with short, precise throws and perfectly placed pedals for heel-toe downshifts. The steering feels heavier than before, in a good way, and it’s razor-sharp, with none of the on-center slop you expect in an all-wheel-drive car.

Another thing Subaru has improved is the STI’s body control: the previous generation heeled over in corners like a sailboat, but the new model stays nice and flat, as a performance car should. Though we’d probably mod the engine, because it basically hasn’t changed in 10 years. Sure, 305 horsepower from a turbocharged 2.5-liter four is nothing to sneeze at, but we expect progress after all that time.

Ford Fiesta ST

2015 Ford Fiesta ST photo
The subcompact Fiesta is Ford’s rally car. It comes only with front-wheel drive, so you might not make the rally-car connection right away. But there’s a rich history of Fiesta rally cars dating back at least to the 1979 Monte Carlo Rally, when a couple extensively modified Fiestas braved the icy conditions and achieved respectable results. Since then, numerous Ford rally cars have worn the Fiesta badge, most recently the Fiesta R5 with its all-wheel-drive layout and turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder motor. Swap out the AWD system for front-wheel drive, add a few creature comforts and voila. You’ve got the showroom-ready Ford Fiesta ST.

Rated at 197 horsepower, the flyweight Fiesta ST has plenty of punch. It’s also an ace in tight corners thanks to a brake-based electronic limited slip differential. You can even get a pair of Recaro sport seats that are more or less full-on racing seats in disguise. Throw in the MyFord Touch infotainment system and you’ve got a fully equipped daily driver that just so happens to be a terror on the racetrack, too. For the price (the 2015 model starts at just over $22,000) the Fiesta ST might be the ultimate road-going rally car, absent AWD system notwithstanding.

What’s Your Practical Rally Car?

Tell me about your daily-driver rally ride in the comments, won’t you? As long as it’s got a sporting chassis and some kind of racing heritage, it’s fair game in my book.

Editor’s note: Rally racing or not, treat your ride right with parts and accessories from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in-store, in 30 minutes.