Here's a revelation: being stuck in traffic sucks. And it's even more infuriating behind the wheel of an Evo.
Despite what some scribes might lead you to believe, the Evos of yore (VIII and IX) weren't deplorable daily drivers. Granted, Mitsu's engineers erred on the stiff side with the Evo's ride, and it didn't help that the tiller provided more feedback than a Metallica sound check. But the real reason jaded journos harped on the old Evo's workaday unfriendliness was because nothing is more frustrating than piloting concentrated adrenaline in a sea of buzzkill.
With the 2008 Evolution X, Mitsubishi attempted to rectify some of the Evo's (perceived) shortcomings by equipping the range-topping MR with more amenities, more sound-deadening material, a more compliant ride and a new twin-clutch transmission to balance back-road thrills with daily livability.
But all those extras have caused the Evo's curb weight to skyrocket, and its price tag has followed suit. For $42,000 – the sticker on our MR tester – you can get your hands on the new yardstick for high-end, entry-level performance: the BMW 335i. While that kind of wallet shock could ostracize the Evo's core demographic, Mitsubishi is quick to point out that the new MR is for the discerning enthusiast: a more sensible, mature owner. But does mature mean infirmed? Read on to find out.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Brad Wood / Weblogs, Inc.
Despite what you've seen plastered across the interwebs and on local newsstands, the new Evo is every bit as potent as its predecessors. But the MR takes a slightly different tack when it comes to serving up track attacks and tempered trips to pick up the kiddies.
At the heart of the Evolution experience are two elements that made the previous iterations a success with enthusiasts: a turbocharged four and a high-tech all-wheel-drive system. Both are present and accounted for, but they live up to the Evolution's namesake more than any other model in its 16-year history.
To begin with, Mitsubishi dropped its 4G63 workhorse in favor of the all-new 4B11 2.0-liter inline-four, originally equipped in the Lancer ES. But don't let its pedestrian origins deceive you. With a revised 9.0:1 compression ratio, a semi-closed deck, an aluminum block and a twin-scroll turbo, the new mill has proven to be incredibly capable and eminently tweakable. The turbo'd four is churning out 291 hp at 6,500 rpm, while peak torque – 300 lb.-ft. of the stuff – is available from 4,000 rpm. Those figures might not set the forums on fire, particularly when you consider the MR's 3,594-pound curb weight, but how that power reaches the ground speaks volumes about Mitsubishi's new dog and its trick tranny.
Mitsubishi has stepped up the dual-clutch plate with its TC-SST gearbox, the automaker's first foray into the world of automated manuals. Like the transmissions available in a variety of VW and Audi offerings, along with the Nissan GT-R and 2009 Porsche 911 PDK, Mitsubishi's 'box uses a duo of wet clutches to engage odd and even gears on two separate shafts. Six seamless gear changes are available at speed, with oil temps kept in check by an air-cooler.
Drivers can choose between three settings to meet their cog swapping needs: Normal, Sport and S-Sport. A button below the shifter allows you to choose your poison, with the Normal (default) mode putting a premium on fuel economy, slower shifts and a more tempered driving experience. Push up on the switch for Sport mode and the computer tightens throttle response, holds onto the revs towards the 7,000-rpm redline and provides the engine braking manual devotees require. For S-Sport, the Evo has to be stopped and the switch held forward for three seconds. This takes everything that's good about Sport and makes it great, but with the tach rarely dipping below 4,000 rpm to keep the turbo on boil, we found it's best left for the track. All three settings allow you to disregard the TCU's wiser-than-thou selection and choose your own ratio through either the steering wheel-mounted magnesium paddles or the central gear lever, but as we found later, there's no point – it's that good.
Driving around town and blasting down off-ramps, the TC-SST proves to be a remarkably competent and engaging gearbox. Up-shifts are virtually seamless without feeling artificial (ahem, CVT) and downshifts are dispatched with a quick pull and a computer-controlled blip. Even more impressive is the automatic mode, which takes tranny telepathy to an entirely different level. In Sport and S-Sport, gears and power are exactly where you want them, when you want them, whether you're braking into a bend or mashing on the throttle mid-corner.
In traffic, however, the TC-SST reveals that Mitsu's new toy is still a little wet behind the ears. In start-and-stop situations with the tranny set to Normal you can feel the clutch engaging and releasing, sometimes at inopportune times. Occasionally, when the packs loaded up quickly, we'd get a minor "clunk" from the rear differential as the plates locked and sent power to the wheels.* While not as refined as VAG's DSG, what the TC-SST lacks in finesse it makes up for in ferociousness – something that we had the chance to experience at Seattle's Pacific Raceway.
By sheer coincidence or act of car-God, a few weeks after our time with the MR we attended a "Mitsubishi Lancer Family" event allowing us to experience both the GSR and MR models on the track, along with the new Lancer Ralliart and an AMS-tuned Evo X (stand by for reviews).
With our helmet on, the TC-SST set to S-Sport and a race instructor to our right, we headed out onto the front straight of Pacific Raceway. The TC-SST ran through first, second, third, fourth and then fifth as we made our way into the first long, left hand bend.
Keen to see if the tranny's automatic mode would continue to impress, we braked hard before the turn, the gearbox shifting down from fifth to fourth to third just in time for us to apply power as we aimed for the apex. Mitsubishi's Super-All Wheel Control (S-AWC) system imperceptibly shuffled power to the appropriate wheels and the TC-SST shifted up into fourth – mid-corner – but did nothing to upset the Evo's balance through the bend.
Barreling down through the tree-lined back section, the wide straights and first few forgiving turns gave way to a tight and technical section of hairpins and elevation changes. The Active Center Differential (ACD) and Active Yaw Control (AYC) were now in their environment, delivering measured surges of power to the outside wheels while still retaining the subtle rear rotation we loved about the VIII and IX. Smooth, precise inputs may be the best way to lay down quick lap times, but with this much technology available to our extremities, we couldn't help chucking the steering wheel left to right and seeing how the electronics sorted things out. Powersliding bliss proved to be a few ham-fisted maneuvers away.
Just like the last two iterations of the Evo, the new MR (and GSR) allows almost anyone to channel their inner Makinen, and the Evolution is in its prime in a closed environment. On public roads, it's a similar situation. The MR does its best to coddle occupants with beautifully sculpted and supportive Recaros, responsive (and fade-free) Brembos and an intuitive touch-screen multi-media/sat-nav system, while the new dual-clutch transmission makes another compelling case to ditch the third pedal, yet still provides the engagement drivers crave.
But price may remain the sticking point for buyers cross-shopping in the $38,000+ range. The Evo MR's high-tech wizardry, rally roots, aggressive styling and driving dynamics are going to appeal to one subset of the population. Those more concerned with a badge, better interior materials (we're looking at you, dash and door panels) and rear-wheel-drive will win out with others. Just like the Z06 versus GT-R debate, it comes down to what you value in a vehicle and your proclivity for power delivery. Regardless of your choice, you're bound to have fun, and the MR is a sure bet to achieve it.
Mitsubishi provided the vehicle for testing, and arranged travel and lodging for our trip to Seattle. Special thanks to Concord Mitsubishi for allowing us to use one of their vehicles for another photo session.
* According to Mitsubishi spokesperson, Maurice Durand, the Evolution X MR we were driving still had a prototype tune on the transmission's computer. Mr. Durand tells us that some of these issues have been ironed out on the production model.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Brad Wood / Weblogs, Inc.