2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR review:

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR

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  • Trim levels MR
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  • Body style Sedan

Roadshow Editors' Rating

8.4 Overall
  • Cabin tech 8
  • Performance tech 9
  • Design 8
Sep 2008

The Good The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR puts power to the road with an excellent dual clutch transmission, all-wheel-drive system, and turbo-charged four cylinder engine. It uses a hard drive-based navigation system with extra room for music storage.

The Bad Turbo-lag and poor fuel economy afflict the performance, and the price tag runs over 40 grand.

The Bottom Line Although a little expensive for a boy racer, the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR combines impressive performance and cabin tech, making a car that is extremely fun to drive.


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2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR

Ever since we saw the Mitsubishi Prototype-X at the 2007 Detroit auto show, the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution has been at the top of our wish list. Well, near the top, right under the Nissan GT-R. Our desires for the car weren't diminished when we got our first chance to drive the MR version of the new Mitsubishi Evolution earlier this year, running it around the track at Laguna Seca. The car is a performance and cabin tech dream, with a look that's pure animal.

The front of the car is mostly grille, a big air intake to keep the engine and turbocharger cool. Gills mark the fenders, and a big wing sits over the trunk. The Evo even has fins on the trailing edge of the underbody. The powerful engine is complemented by an impressive all-wheel-drive system and a dual clutch manual transmission, the SST, with three automatic programs. Mitsubishi offers a full range of tech in the cabin, as well, with a raucous Rockford Fosgate audio system, hard-drive navigation, and Bluetooth for hands-free cell phone use. The new Evo is more civilized than past versions, but every bit as fun.

Test the tech: Evo and STI
The Mitsubishi Evo and the Subaru WRX STI are the two top production rally cars, vying for trophies on muddy tracks all over the world. We reviewed the newest WRX STI earlier this year, so a comparison with the new Evo is in order. With the STI, we drove it over one of our favorite roads, a challenging route beset with many switchbacks and hard corners. We took the Evo over that same road in similarly dry conditions to when we took the STI out.

This switch changes the Evo's SST automotive mode from Normal, to Sport, to S-Sport.

Both cars have intercooled, turbocharged four-cylinder engines, with the Evo getting 2 liters and the STI bumping up to 2.5 liters. Where the Subaru makes 305 horsepower at 6,000rpm and 290 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000rpm, the Evo does 291 horsepower at 6,500rpm and 300 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000rpm. Given this power output, both cars also suffer from serious turbo lag, although the Subaru's seemed a little worse, as the higher torque figure in the Evo mitigates it a little.

The biggest powertrain difference between the STI and the Evo is the transmission. Where the STI has a standard six-speed manual, the Evo MR gets Mitsubishi's new Sport Shift Transmission (SST), a double-clutch manual similar to the Audi DSG and BMW DCT. Because a computer operates the SST's clutches, there is no clutch pedal, and shifts happen more quickly, with much less rev loss, than a human could perform them. Of course, it's also easier to overcome turbo lag off the line with the STI's standard manual, as you can get the revs up before dropping the clutch. With the Evo and its SST, you might be able to hold the brake down, get the revs up, then let go, or put the shifter in neutral, bring the revs up, then pull the shifter into drive, but either method could result in expensive repairs.

We pulled over on the low side of this switchback for a break and some pictures, as we had been handling similar turns for the previous 20 miles.

When we drove the STI over our mountain course, we found its lack of low rpm power seriously hampered our ability to take the switchbacks at speed. With the Evo, we had no such problems. We put the SST in its Sport automatic mode, which keeps the rpms around 4,000, so as we slowed down for each of these very tough corners, the car had plenty of power ready as we pushed the gas pedal on the way out. In fact, there were only two instances where we felt the SST let us down. After coming out of one corner we faced a rising straightaway, so jammed down the gas to take advantage of it, but the transmission was in third gear and didn't downshift, leaving the car with a lack of power. But this instance was the exception.

The SST gave us a few options. We could have manually shifted, using the column-mounted paddles, but wanted to see how the automatic programming would handle it. In automatic mode, we had our choice of Normal, Sport, and S-Sport. Normal definitely wouldn't do, as it keeps the engine speed around 2,000rpm, and S-Sport rarely shifts above second, letting the car hit the rev limiter too frequently. Sport mode worked very well for most of this road, hitting the right gear 95 percent of the time, and letting us concentrate on how to handle the turns.

The SST includes paddles, letting you keep the power on while shifting, but we let the car shift automatically for this road course.

Similar to our experience with the STI, the Evo's all-wheel-drive system kept the car tracking beautifully around the corners. In some corners, we got a seat-of-the-pants feel for how the car shifted its grip, with the front wheels occasionally pulling us around or some good rear-wheel push kicking in. Although we never got the wheels to slip, the way the car pulled around the corners would let it do some four-wheel drifting on a wider, flatter bit of road.

Near the end of the route, there's a big bump in the middle of a turn. Where the STI snaked over that one, the Evo reared up, breaking front-wheel contact. We could feel the power going to the rear wheels, and the SST jumped down to first gear as the car recovered. The Evo handled it all right, but we preferred the STI for that particular bit.

But, overall we maintained better speed with the Evo over the length of this route--its SST making it possible for us to get better speed coming out of the really tough corners.

In the cabin
The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution offers an impressive array of cabin tech compared to its predecessors. Where earlier Evos maintained Spartan cabins, echoing their rally car aspirations, the 2008 Evo--the 10th version--can be had with modern conveniences, such as navigation, Bluetooth, and a powerful stereo. Even the cabin materials aim for something nicer, with a faux wood strip running through dash and doors. But the Recaro seats are the primary quality item. Our one complaint about the seats: they don't offer height adjustment, and are tipped back at an uncomfortable angle.

The navigation system in the Evo uses a touch-screen interface, which makes it more intuitive to use.

The navigation unit is the same as you can get in the Mitsubishi Lancer GTS, storing its data on a 30 gigabyte hard drive. As a hard-drive-based system, its map refresh and route calculations are very quick. Having tested a number of cars with different system interfaces recently, such as the BMW 128i's iDrive, we found the Evo's touch screen refreshing. There's nothing like direct input, especially when the alternative is trying to wrap your head around which motion of a knob will have what effect on the screen.

That said, the Evo's navigation menus could be designed better, as the points of interest (POI) off the main destination screen requires you to input the city for locations you want to find. You have to go into the Advanced Search menu to get a list of POI near your current destination. The Advanced Search menu also has options for entering destinations by coordinates, map input, and plotting a return trip. This navigation system's route guidance works well, offering good graphics to indicate turns. But the system lacks advanced features, such as text-to-speech and traffic reporting, although it does let you input multiple waypoints.

The fact that this navigation system is hard-drive-based means there is space left over for music storage. You can set the system to automatically rip any CDs put into the single CD slot, and it will tag them from its internal Gracenote database. We were also impressed to see a set of three RCA jacks for auxiliary input, which includes video, letting you hook up a game console to the car, for example. Sirius satellite radio is also available as a music source.

A 10-inch sub in the trunk combines with a 650-watt amp to make sure you, and everyone else, will hear your music.

To amplify your music, the Evo gets a 650-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system, with six speakers in the cabin and a 10-inch sub in the trunk. The audio it produces is loud and bass-heavy, lacking detail at the high end. There are a number of presets for equalization, such as Rock, Hip-Hop, and Pop. On the Rock setting we found that treble is minimized while the mid-range dominates-- a balance we didn't really care for. We tweaked the bass, mid, and treble to our own preference. The sound system also lets you choose different audio fields, with Stage, Live, and Hall being options, the latter producing a heavily echoed sound.

The Evo completes its trifecta of cabin tech with a Bluetooth phone system. Operated with voice and through the touch screen, this system has its own internal phonebook, but you have to enter each phone number manually. We did find that, if you dial a number on a paired phone, the audio will play through the car's speakers.

Under the hood
The performance tech in the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo MR is mostly what this car is all about. We discussed how the engine works with the SST transmission in detail above, but that's not the whole story. As a rally contender, the Evo's all-wheel-drive system uses three differentials: front, center, and rear. And you can get a visualization of the torque distribution with a display in the instrument cluster, although the irony of these types of screens is that if they are showing anything interesting you'll be too busy driving the car to notice it.

This screen would be really interesting to watch if you didn't have to concentrate on the road.

As in past Evos, the all-wheel-drive system can be adjusted depending on what type of terrain you are on. Pushing the AWD button on the console cycles through the three possible settings of Tarmac, Gravel, and Snow. For Tarmac, the differential allows more torque transfer between the wheels. When you choose settings for more slippery surfaces, the differential locks down, making sure each wheel is getting some power. These three settings are limited compared to the multiple levels of control you get with the Subaru STI.

When we had the Evo MR on the track, we found it handled the corners extremely well, generating lots of grip. It really excelled on the sharper turns, where its all-wheel-drive kept power distributed to the right wheels to get the care through the corner. On the straightaways we got a sense of the limits of the Evo's power. Mitsubishi says it will get to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, a number we can believe, but reaching towards 100 mph requires an upshift to fourth gear, not something you would have to do in a BMW 135i, for example.

The Evo handled the corners at Laguna Seca excellently, but proved a little short of guts on the straight-aways.

The trip computer in the Evo polls in fairly short increments, showing changes in average mpg with more frequency than most. Monitoring it, we saw our fuel economy move between 14 and 16 mpg during our time with the car, and we computed a final average over a tank of gas of 15.6 mpg. Our numbers were far under the EPA's 17 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. The reason for this discrepancy seems to be that you will only get those EPA numbers if you leave the SST in Normal mode, where it gets minimal use of the turbo. Put it in Sport, as we did for much of our driving, and the engine speed stays higher, sucking down the gas more quickly. Unfortunately, the car is really only worth it with the turbo wound up. For emissions, the Evo merely achieves California's minimal LEV II rating.

In sum
Our 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR had a base price of $38,965, a hefty price for what was once a great performance bargain. Options on our car included premium paint for $250 and the Technology package, which brings in the navigation system and Rockford Fosgate audio system, for $2,550. Along with a $675 destination charge, the total comes out to $41,765. That's not much more than a fully loaded Subaru WRX STI, and you get what we think is a better gearbox in the Evo and a better cabin-tech package.

We've noted a few criticisms through this review, but we can't deny that the Evo is fun to drive. It's a car you can drive to work every day, but will want to thrash it around the track or any good, winding roads on the weekends. We give it a high rating for performance tech, only dinging it for turbo lag and poor fuel economy. Cabin tech is surprisingly good for a model that didn't have much to show in previous generations, and we give it extra credit for the in-dash jukebox and hard-drive-based navigation. It's a good-looking car, too, earning it points for design.

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