Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The End of an Evolution: Driving the 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR

2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR - side

In 2003, Mitsubishi finally let the United States market have the Lancer Evolution, and 12 years later, Mitsubishi is doing away with it. No, it's not just leaving the U.S., it's leaving everywhere.

I'm a Mitsubishi fan. I grew up with Mitsubishis. And despite the shortcomings of the EVO, most of which have to do with its aging design and quality of interior materials, I will mourn its absence from the U.S. market. And despite the fact it isn't my vehicle of choice (full disclosure: I own a '13 WRX), competition in the segment is a good thing. The EVO vs WRX rivalry is right up there with Camaro vs. Mustang, and the two have been duking it out both on the race track, the rally course, and in showrooms for more than 10 years in the U.S., and longer in Europe and Asia.

But to me, more than the storied rivalry, the EVO's departure marks the end of an era for Mitsubishi, as the EVO represents the last of the factory performance offerings. Mitsubishi has had a performance heritage for decades, even in the U.S. starting in the mid 1980s with the turbocharged Mirage hatchback and rear-drive Starion. In the 1990s, the company released its Eclipse, which could be had with the iconic 4G63 engine, which could also be found in the Lancer Evolution in Asia and Europe. And when the Eclipse turned into a grand-touring car, complete with a V-6 instead of the turbocharged 4G63 in 2000, after a few years, the U.S. finally got the EVO VIII, and Mitsubishi was back in the turbocharged, all-wheel drive arena. But ladies and gentlemen, the EVO has left the building, as for 2016, the EVO will go away.

The EVO formula was simple. Take one part basic Mitsubishi Lancer, add a fire-breathing turbocharged and intercooled engine, beef up the chassis, add a touch of aero parts, and boom: You've got yourself a really fast compact sedan, complete with all-wheel drive. Who's ready to hunt some Subarus?

2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR - angle

I've been driving a 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR for the past week, and while it's not technically the last of the last (that was reserved for one of the 1,600 Final Edition Lancer EVOs), it is the last of the model years. It's essentially a rolling eulogy to Mitsubishi's performance car in the United States, and closes the performance chapter of Mitsubishi until further notice.

The MR version, which apparently stands for Mitsubishi Racing, is indeed the raced-out variant of the already sporting Lancer Evolution. It's got a super-stiff suspension composed of Eibach springs and Bilstein shocks that'll rattle your fillings out. It has a quick-shifting dual-clutch transmission that can snap your neck back when you're suddenly on and off the throttle. It's got heavy, well-weighted steering that's so quick that the car feels twitchy on the highway. It's got selectable terrain settings for tarmac, gravel, and snow, which are great for those occasional stage rallies on the way to the office. It's got gorgeous BBS wheels wrapped in Yokohama ADVAN tires that make the car stick to the ground more than a wad of gum on the Motegi Ring.

It's a pretty punishing commuter, which is what I've used it for over the past seven rainy days. (Why do I always get the fun cars in the rain?) When I say you feel every crack in the road with car, I'm being literal. Every one. Bigger bumps yield a bang-crash kind of noise akin to the sound of a car that's been lowered via an aftermarket suspension system, except the EVO MR isn't slammed—it's just that stiff. But throw the car into a curve, and this thing corners like it was on a racetrack. Because, frankly, that's probably the best place for the MR.

I've always thought that EVOs have always been just a little more hardcore than their Subaru competition. Whereas the Impreza WRXs are comfortable cruisers as well as super sprinters, the EVOs are all about performance, even if it sacrifices ride quality.

2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR - engine

The EVO MR had 291 horsepower and 300 ft/lbs of torque put through all four wheels via Mitsubishi's S-AWC (Super All Wheel Control) system, which utilizes a six-speed dual-clutch automatic, a limited-slip differential up front, and an active center differential. It can be driven in full automatic mode; it can be shifted with the center gear selector; it can be brought through the gears with the metal paddle shifters. Shifts are fast and at times, violent—just like a race car. While it's fun, it can also be taxing, much like a racecar. And pair that with the extremely stiff damping, and you've got a pretty uncomfortable daily driver. But nonetheless, approach a corner, hands firmly around the leather-wrapped wheel, fingers tapping the paddle shifters, and you feel as if you were on a racetrack. The dual-clutch transmission makes that occasional "blerp" noise between gears, a trait common on turbocharged vehicles with a dual clutch. Make no mistake about it, this thing is a rocketship.

2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR - interior

But for every bit of performance, the MR has, there is a cheapness that equals it. The interior sunvisors are ultra thin. There were plenty of squeaks and rattles. The door panels feel cheap, and even the exterior door handles appeared to only be partially painted. You could actually see the unpainted white plastic when you pull the handle.

Mitsubishi Lancer EVO MR - door handle

Yes, this car had heated leather seats, but they weren't nearly as supportive as the Recaros we had in the 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart we tested. Yes, it had Sirius XM Radio with an amazing 710-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo, complete with nine speakers and a 10-inch subwoofer. Yes, it had a power moonroof. It's not devoid of creature comforts. Let's face it: No one bought an EVO MR for anything other than the engine, drivetrain, and chassis; or maybe it's rally car looks. I could gripe all day long how some interior parts felt on par with the Mitsubishi Mirage (from 1990), but I'd be missing the point.

2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR - trunk

Side note: The MR also has the windshield washer reservoir and battery mounted behind the rear seat for better weight distribution, another nod to the sedan's hardcore nature.

I do think the car's looks, despite being nearly the same for the past eight model years, are still sporty and attractive, dare I say classic. However, I'm not much for the front fender vents and chrome thingys that look like they are stick-on bits from isle four at Pep Boys. Other than that, the hood vents, classic EVO front fascia, aero parts, and subtle trunk lip spoiler (a stark contrast to the large rear wings found on some EVOs) look ready for a track day.

2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR - rear

The EVO was also usually more expensive than its WRX arch rival, too. This raced-out EVO MR stickers for a $41,805, or about $1,000 more than a similarly equipped 2016 Subaru WRX STI Limited. However, the STI is more comfortable, is made with better materials, and feels more solid than the EVO.

In the EVO's absence, Mitsubishi said it'll be focusing on smaller crossovers, EVs, and hybrids. So, until further notice, Mitsubishi's performance cars will be put on hiatus. Then again, perhaps it's simply the "evolution" of the company.

THE BASICS: 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR
MSRP As Tested: $41,805
Engine: 2.0-liter, turbocharged MIVEC 16-valve I4
Transmission: Six-speed dual clutch automatic
Horsepower: 291
Torque: 300 lb/ft
Curb Weight: 3,571 lbs.
Wheelbase: 104.3
Overall Length: 177"
Suspension: F: MacPherson Struts
R: Independent Multi-link Rear, 23mm sway bar
Brakes: F: Brembo Disc w/ABS
R: Brembo Disc w/ABS
Wheels: 18x8.5 forged BBS alloy
Tires: 245/40/18 Yokohama ADVAN
Fuel Economy (MPG): 17 city, 19 combined, 22 highway
Fuel Type: Premium 92 octane

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR - rear spoiler

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR - Paddle Shifter

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR - Rockford Fosgate Head

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR - BBS Wheel

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR - washer bottle

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR - front fascia

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the concept of the factory taking a mundane sedan and turning it into something special. Personally I think the "cheapness" of it's build quality adds to it's charm (if we could pretend it was 30k instead of 40k).

To be fair there are far better vehicles to spend 40k on, but either way she'll be missed.