I knew this day was coming. My last hurrah in a new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution before it disappears from showrooms. The Japanese carmaker said this generation of the Evolution, its tenth, would be the last. For sport-compact car enthusiasts who thought that the announcement may have just been a cruel joke, the release of this special Final Edition model is proof positive that the end of Mitsubishi's rally-bred high-performance sedan has become reality.
Losing the Evo bums me out even though I've never been a huge fan of the current model. I love the Evolution IX for its emotion-rich drive character, gonzo performance and fitting boy-racer looks, yet in all my experiences with the Evo X -- mostly in MR trims with a not-so-great dual-clutch transmission -- it never quite spoke to me like its predecessor.
Am I missing something about the Evo X? I'm using this last go with a five-speed-manual-equipped Final Edition to find out by taking it on a short road trip and to the race track. Maybe I'll finally come to terms with this last Evo? Or maybe I'll still be disappointed and continue my casual search for good-condition Evo IX for my own garage.
The drone from the drivetrain churning at 3,500 rpm in fifth gear on the expressway is headache inducing, explaining my florescent orange ear plugs as I head west across Michigan. Things like sound insulation and acoustic glass aren't always high on the requirements list for a no-nonsense performance car. Road, wind and drivetrain racket whirls constantly in the cabin making the 180-mile run to South Haven, Michigan, far from delightful.
Turning up tunes on the six-speaker audio system to mask the unpleasant noises is one option. The 6.1-inch center infotainment touchscreen gives access to satellite radio and Bluetooth audio and phone streaming, but not much else. There's no navigation, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in the Final Edition, meaning techies will likely continue to be disappointed with this Evolution in that respect.
How about safety tech such as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assistant systems? Sorry, you won't find anything like that in the Evo, either. It's too old -- in fact, you'll note that this car wears a 2015 model year -- that's not a misprint, Mitsubishi held over a particularly long model year to see this one through.
Those looking for ride comfort and interior quality also need not apply. The noisy 18-inch Yokohama Advan A13 tires have cement-like sidewalls that yield a rough-and-tumble ride quality. If you're expecting the suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers and Eibach springs to provide some damping relief, think again. There's little give, meaning impacts from even small ruts transmit into the cabin and up your spinal cord.
Since its 2008 launch, the Evo's interior has undergone a string of minor improvements. The center multi-information display is now color instead of all red, chrome accents dress the environment up some, and soft-touch upper door trims help break-up the acres of hard plastic up front. It's a cabin that doesn't look too out of place in an $18,000 compact economy sedan, but likely will disappoint many in a $39,000 machine.
Even without a show-stopping interior, there's no denying that the Evolution Final Edition looks the part on the outside. An aggressive front end, vented hood, wider front fenders and trademark shopping-cart rear wing are direct links to the car's World Rally Championship roots when driver Tommi Mäkinen notched four consecutive titles piloting Evolutions in the late 1990s.
2015 Lancer Evolution Final Edition marks the end of Mitsubishi's sport compact iconSee all photos
Some small styling alterations do set the Final Edition apart from regular Evos, with the most notable alteration being the black roof panel that contrasts nicely with this car's Diamond White paint. A black center bumper, hood vents, dark chrome grille trim and Enkei wheels complete the Final Edition touches outside.
Even the spartan interior gets some Final Edition love, with red accent stitching, black headliner, sun visors, pillar trim and a numbered center console plaque denoting each car's place within the 1,600-unit limited-edition series.
Disappointingly, the Recaro sport seats offered on some Evo models aren't part of this Final Edition package. While the basic chairs are comfortable and have respectable side bolstering, they don't look like they belong in a model that is serving as the swan song to a noteworthy performance model.
A magician on track
The last 30 miles to GingerMan Raceway are off the expressway and on country roads. Here the Final Edition begins to come into its own. Mitsubishi engineers squeezed an additional 12 horsepower out of the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine over other Evolutions, pushing output to 303 ponies, while torque sees a 5-pound-feet uptick to 305. I'm not going to claim my internal dyno can feel the extra power, but I can say the engine pulls really well at the top half of the rev band.
Output gains don't have a negative effect on the Final Edition's fuel economy, either, with EPA figures staying steady at 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. That's far from stellar efficiency, but those figures are in lockstep with Evo's arch rival, the Subaru WRX STI, which gets the same ratings with its 2.5-liter turbo engine and six-speed manual drivetrain.
At GingerMan, my feelings for the Evo X began to turn more. The Mitsu's right-now steering response immediately tucking the front end into corners is behavior of car that weighs hundreds less than this model's 3,527 pounds. Being a hydraulic power steering system, feedback and weight remain sensational.
The super firm suspension and tires finally begin paying dividends, too, keeping the Evo's body roll at a minimum and giving the chassis high lateral grip IQ, with understeer only appearing on the circuit's really tight turns. Add in Mitsubishi's Super All-Wheel Control all-wheel-drive system that includes features like an active center differential and yaw control, and this car is rocket around a race track.
The best part is that the Evolution's driving experience still feels organic and honest. It doesn't feel overcomputerized like the Nissan GT-R. You work a respectable manual gearbox and the handling aids don't noticeably interfere as you click-off laps. You feel like you're in control of everything. Hitting your marks in corners is easily done, there's plenty of power to hustle down straights and the Brembo brakes with their two-piece front rotors stay strong throughout an entire day of punishment.
What's the main takeaway from my day on track with the Final Evolution? Everything I love about the Evo IX is still very much alive in the Evo X, just not in MR trim.
Coming to terms
I'll forever be thankful for my experience with this end-of-run Evo. Now instead of thinking that the Evo is going out on a low point, I know now that its Final Edition bow is a fitting tribute to a high-performance legend. The FE not only boasts the title as the most powerful production Evolution to leave the factory, it looks like an Evo should and, perhaps most importantly to me, it's equipped with the right transmission.
It wasn't too late for me to finally start liking the Evo X, and it's still not too late for you to buy one, either. You won't be able to buy the very last Final Edition because that was recently auctioned off by Mitsubishi with proceeds going to charity, but there are still a few new Evolutions on dealer lots looking for good homes.
I realize the Evolution isn't for everyone. Its brutal ride and lack of cabin technology features may not entice many people to drop close to $40,000. If you fall into that camp, there are numerous fresher AWD performance alternatives out today, including the aforementioned WRX STI, Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R all pack superior comfort, nicer interiors and substantially more tech.
As for me, there's a white Evolution Final Edition at a dealer 14 miles away to mull over.