2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution: No Half Measures!

Strong points
  • First-rate performances
  • Prix/performance ratio
  • Efficient sequential gearbox (MR)
Weak points
  • Hard to know which version is best
  • Lacks comfort
  • High fuel consumption
Full report

Who can resist a car that offers top-notch performances while turning heads and sparking envy? More often than not, vehicles with this kind of charisma are astronomically priced – but not this time! The Mitsubishi Lancer can be yours for just over $40,000. It’s been available on the Canadian market for several years and has already won a lot of people over.

The Lancer Evolution – or "EVO" to its friends – first came out in Japan in the early 90s. Following its undeniable success in the island nation, it was exported worldwide. It made its mark on the sports car scene, challenging its biggest rival, the Subaru WRX STI. Both have a cult following who passionately defend their favourite. Despite their similar characteristics, the STI has got the upper hand this year with a starting price slipping to $4,000 less than the Lancer’s.

A real rally car

Seen from the outside, the Lancer Evolution doesn’t seem all that exotic. Rally cars are designed to be efficient, and not necessarily eye-catching. And this is all too true for the Evolution, which differs from the classic Lancer in that it features additional equipment, a large rear spoiler (on option), side aprons, functional air intakes in the hood, a more aggressive body shape and 18-inch BBS wheels that showcase the big, red Brembo brakes. In other words, the EVO comes standard with all the little extras that car tuning enthusiast shell out big bucks for. Whether you love it or hate it, the idea is to please the car geeks, not the masses. So if you consider that, it’s a total success.

The interior design is all about performance, with equipment such as a metal pedal and the super supportive Recaro seats to hold you securely in place in all conditions. You can also use the controls on the central console to change the AWD modes (track, snow, sand), while a multi-purpose screen displays different types on info, such as torque distribution. The rest is pretty subdued. The plastics are a little on the cheap side and the sound system on the GSR version could let some music lovers down. It would also have been nice if they had included a telescopic steering wheel or more precise seat adjustment options to make it easier to find a good driving position.

Small displacement, big power

Although the Subaru WRX STI has been available as a sedan or wagon for quite some time now, the EVO comes as a sedan only. If you’re in the market for a wagon, you’ll have to go for a regular Lancer or Ralliart. In keeping with the compact sports car tradition, this car has neither a V6 nor a V8 – it comes equipped with a petite 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 291 horsepower and an incredible 300 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. That’s 15 hp less than the Subaru WRX STI, but the EVO can boast an extra 10 lbs-ft of torque.

Two very distinct versions are offered – the GSR and MR – but choosing between the two can be tough. The EVO GSR offers an attractive lower price, but if you want the sexy style elements, you have to add the Handling Package – for $3,000! It includes the rear spoiler, 18-inch wheels and sport suspension. All this will set you back more than $45,000. And without the Handling Package, you get plenty of EVO power, but none of the style you want from a car like this. Plus, the EVO GSR comes with a five-speed manual transmission, which is efficient, but comes with its fair share of unpleasantness.

So, you might think that the easy answer is the Lancer Evolution MR, as it is more complete. It comes standard with a high-performance six-speed dual-clutch transmission and all the equipment you’ll find on the GSR, including the Handling Package. And yet, the choice really isn’t as easy as that… This version costs upwards of $53,000 and the hefty rear spoiler – the kind you’d see on rally cars – is not available on the MR, not even as an option. Makes you wonder why they got so tight with the rules…

Pleasure before comfort

Out on the road, the Lancer Evolution GSR is fairly uncompromising. It’s an extreme car no matter how you look at it, forcing you into sporty driving. You have to push the revs to get the maximum amount of power out of the engine. Do that, and you’ll be satisfied with its accelerations and pick-up. The four-cylinder engine will also have you playing with the shifter more frequently, especially because the distance between the gears is quite short. I was happy to have the sixth gear, as it helped bring down revs at cruising speed, making the ride more comfortable. In fact, this is the real advantage of the Evolution MR’s six-speed sequential gearbox: it offers better performances and is more pleasant overall.

Comfort? Forget about it. The suspension was designed with road handling in mind, and you’ll feel all the details in the road. That said, few cars in this price range can deliver as much fun on the track. You can take corner after corner, without feeling weight transfer. The brakes have serious bite, stopping the car on a dime. And the AWD offers great traction in all conditions. In short, the EVO is a performance vehicle. But if you plan on using it for your everyday needs, the honeymoon could be short indeed. That’s how extreme she is.

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