For those lucky few who do get a chance to acquire the keys to a new Evo MR, they’ll get about as close as possible to a $36,000 street-legal racer. In addition to the 276-horsepower turbocharged engine and grippy AWD found on all Evo models, the $800 MR package offers carbon fiber trim, aluminum pedals, and high-intensity discharge headlights, among other unique goods. The result is one of the hottest cars on the market, and, oddly enough, it’s parked outside that Mitsubishi dealer you carelessly pass everyday.
Mitsubishi’s Evolution is a nearly perfect performance car, so it is easy to dismiss some interior materials that are of questionable quality and stock tires that have the lifespan of a housefly. Those are minor quibbles for such a capable car – be content that the engine doesn’t have to be swapped out after every race and the tires after every 50 laps. Since significant changes run the risk of doing more harm than good to an existing vehicle, the 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR attempts to only add a bit of polish to what is already a shining package.
In exchange for $800, the MR package delivers front and rear Bilstein shocks, 17-inch one-piece BBS forged alloy wheels, an aluminum roof panel, foglights, high-intensity discharge headlights, antilock brakes, and aluminum trim on the foot pedals and shift knob. That knob controls a six-speed manual transmission, unique to the Evo MR. Also exclusive to the MR is a carbon fiber brake handle, silver gauge trim, wheel locks, and gauges for volts, oil temp and turbo boost. Above the rear window is a strip of what looks like small shark fins – termed the Vortex Generator, this feature basically directs air to the massive carbon fiber spoiler situated atop the trunk lid. And for tunes, buyers of the 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR will have to be satisfied with the stock 140-watt sound system, for the 315-watt unit is not on the MR’s options list, which also lacks a sunroof option.
Standard on all 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution models is a new electronic active center differential (E-ACD), designed to improve the Evo's responsiveness to varying road conditions by allowing the driver to select between pavement, snow, and gravel settings. In a further effort to improve the Evolution's performance, the front helical limited slip differential previously available only on the RS has been added to the standard Evo and the MR. The new model year also marks the deletion of the intercooler's water spray feature.
When people say “it handles like it’s on rails” they’re likely talking about the 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
As the brand’s get-‘em-talking-about-Mitsubishi car, the Lancer Evolution is all about the driving experience. Sure, the top-notch build quality, second nature ergonomics, and five-passenger accommodations are nice features, but they’re all secondary points behind what makes this car rule – the nuts and bolts that make it go fast and keep it planted on terra firma.
As with the Evo RS and VII models, the 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR taps 276 turbocharged ponies from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; full gallop rolls on at 6,500 rpm, and 286 lb.-ft. of torque makes itself available at 3,500 rpm. Exclusive to the Evo MR model is a six-speed manual transmission.
Claiming that this powertrain is competent is a colossal understatement. Raising the tach needle and riding the clutch a bit eliminates turbo lag, which is noticeable up to about 3,500 rpm. Of course, burning up the clutch is never a good thing, unless, as is the case with the Evo MR, it helps to reach triple digit velocities even faster. Once spooled, the turbo delivers power quickly, but it also plateaus quickly – this is not the type of car where the driver can leave it in third gear and just keep building power. Instead, it’s lots of power – clean, tight shift to higher gear – more power unleashed – relatively short throw to next gear – sweet!! more power – all the way up through sixth gear. However, be aware that the last cog in the tranny can be hard to find, especially when speed-shifting, and drivers may often find themselves mistakenly downshifting into fourth rather than up to sixth. In any case, choreographing this dance with a tight gearbox, a light clutch, and an unrelenting engine goes on until the driver either runs out of road or the speedo reaches about 150-160 mph.
Making top-speed runs is not the way to extract the most thrills out of the 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR. Twisty roads with room for bursts of speed and requiring a constant grip of the aluminum shift knob are where smiles are measured in feet, not miles. There is no play with the Momo steering wheel – the slightest movement of the wheel, say in reaction to a sneeze, takes the Evo MR off the straight and narrow – it’s that exact. The rack and pinion steering setup is well weighted, providing consistent feedback and resistance at all speeds. The one downside is the large turning radius.
While that might be a problem in cul-de-sacs, that turning circle isn’t an issue on curvy back roads. And that’s where the Evo MR exhibits almost no body roll, and proves capable of taking sharp corners at very high speeds. This car sticks, and actually requires some effort to make the tail end break free. To test the rally car nature of the 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR, we took some high-velocity runs on the dusty dirt roads of California’s desert country, only to discover handling capability that suffers little, despite the lack of pavement. Thankfully, the four-wheel antilock braking system is very responsive, with only a short distance between the first touch of the pedal and full braking power. Though pedal travel is short, the stoppers are well modulated, so it’s easy to gauge how much pedal pressure is required.
Given all of the focus on handling and power, both drivers and passengers will likely be surprised by the Evo MR’s inviting interior. While stiff, the Evo MR’s ride is fairly comfortable, improved by supportive, sharply bolstered Recaro seats up front and a soft bench in back. After several hundred miles of mixed driving, none of our drivers reported any pains, aches, or discomfort. Also surprising was the acceptable interior noise level. True, there is lots of tire noise and a fair amount of wind noise, but we’ve heard worse, and even after miles of test car abuse, the Evo MR was free of squeaks and rattles. Since the Evo MR is based on the mainstream Mitsubishi Lancer compact sedan, visibility is good. However, while the large rear wing allows the driver to see a car in the rearview mirror, it makes it hard to tell if it’s a Crown Vic with a red and blue light bar on top. For the driver of the 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR, that’s must know information.
Anyone who enjoys (or enjoyed) driving owes it to themselves to seek out some seat time in the 2005 Mitsubishi Evolution MR. At $36,000 with turbo power and gluestick handling, it’s a relative bargain that puts the enjoyment and the thrill back into driving. The Evo MR is the type of vehicle that will make owners seek out new roads, even if they have to muddle through hours of traffic to get there. Make no mistake, white knuckles and the occasional profanity will be well worth the ride.
And that glowing endorsement leads to one final thought for executives at struggling Mitsubishi – if your engineers can do this well with one car, just imagine where Mitsubishi would be if every one of your cars shared some Evo DNA.
Test Vehicle: 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR
Price as Tested: $35,594 (includes $595 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder
Engine Horsepower: 276 at 6,500 rpm
Engine Torque: 286 at 3,500 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Curb weight, lbs.: 3,263 lbs.
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 19/26 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 19.8 mpg
Length: 178.5 inches
Width: 69.7 inches
Wheelbase: 103.3 inches
Height: 57.1 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 43.0/36.6 inches
Head room (front/rear): 39.9/36.7 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: 5
Max. Cargo Volume: 10.2 cubic feet
Nothing mixes business with pleasure quite like a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Here you have an unassuming four-door economy sedan, festooned with a body kit that could elicit envy from Pamela Anderson and that behaves like a caged tiger that hasn’t yet met a tranquilizer dart, able to ferry the kids off to school each morning right before ripping the paint stripes off a favorite twisty road. Incredible.
Rev it to about 3,500 rpm, dump the clutch, and you might as well be strapped into a NHRA dragster. Telepathic steering that is seemingly hard-wired to your nervous system allows you to place the Evo exactly where you want it, when you want it, but watch the boost, because a deep dip into the throttle at the wrong time can widen the Evo’s arc and rapidly add unexpected velocity. Brembo brakes respond to each nuance of input exactly as desired, and with 17-inch Yokohama tires combined with AWD the Evolution grips tighter than a sumo wrestler amped on a triple-shot Caramel Macchiato with a Chantico chaser.
Yet in traffic, where the Evolution is likely to spend plenty of time, the car is docile, easy to drive, and doesn’t beat you up with a rough ride. The steering hunts annoyingly over rough patches at low speeds as the steamroller performance tires are tugged to and fro, and I wished for a height adjuster for the outstanding Recaro sport seats, but otherwise, the Evolution serves as a terrific daily driver if you don’t mind fuel economy in the teens. Pop open the rear doors, and a wide, featureless bench seat provides accommodations for two adults, and under that ridiculous rear wing is a good-sized trunk that can easily handle a week-long road trip’s worth of luggage. It’s not even that loud inside.
Thankfully, our Evolution MR test car was painted dark gray with dark gray wheels, making it as invisible as an Evo can be to both radar guns and law enforcement retinas. Still, I don’t understand how any Mitsubishi Evolution owner manages to keep a driver’s license. Each corner becomes the carousel at the Nurburgring, every intersection the staging light at Irwindale, every urban grid the circuit at Monaco. With the Evo, it is far too easy to succumb to temptation. You don’t want another ticket. You don’t need another ticket. And yet, as soon as a hole opens in traffic, the clutch goes in, the revs get matched, a lower gear gets selected, and you’re off like Sierra BlitzKing bullet.
Seriously, the Evolution is to sedans what the annual Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas is to conventions. If self-control is not in your repertoire, avoid this raging Mitsu or you’ll be taking the bus within a year. – Christian Wardlaw
Photos courtesy of Erik Hanson