Mitsubish Lancer Evolution – 2008 First Drive: Since 1992, Lancer Evolutions have withstood the rigors of rally racing, the joys and punishment inflicted by legions of fans, and most recently, the rigors of the American market, where the Evolution VIII and IX did battle with the Subaru WRX STi for the past several years.
Yet owners of Evos had to pay the piper, and we don’t mean the monthly checks to the bank. No, this car took its pound of flesh in the form of tinnitus and bruised kidneys for those who dared to drive it every day, because on the street the Evo never let you forget that it wanted to be on the track. This was a car made for hard driving, not for prancing to and from work. Oh, sure, it was capable of commuting, but when subjected to daily duties it punished its driver with a harsh, pounding suspension, an engine that constantly hollered at you, and steering so quick and nervous that simple freeway lane changes induced cold sweats.
So now we have the newest Evolution, based on the newest Lancer, which itself is a world platform intended for multiple vehicles and markets. The newest Evolution brings to the table a host of new technologies that enhance the driving experience, numerous feature upgrades, a lot more safety equipment, more power and torque, a significant weight gain, and something that the Evo has lacked until now: Civility. Yet this newfound capability and comfort comes at a price, with the “base” Evolution GSR starting somewhere around $34,000, and the MR starting around $39,000. Will people be willing to fork over that much for what is in many respects just a really fast Lancer? That kind of punishment may be too much for some.
Lancers have been rallying long before they were called Evos, starting in 1982 with that year’s rear-drive model. Mitsubishi has remained a force in rallying ever since, even though it hasn’t fielded a factory team in years, and if you’re going to hit the dirt, snow, mud, rocks, rain, sleet and occasional stray goats encountered on a rally circuit, an Evo – any Evo – has been a good place to start.
The street version of the Lancer Evolution was initially developed to meet homologation requirements for the World Rally Championship. That is, in order to participate in the series, Mitsubishi had to actually build all-wheel drive turbocharged versions of its economy car and sell them to whoever wanted one. The popularity of the street version outlived the company’s rally ambitions, and today the Lancer Evolution is a model lineup unto itself.
Let’s hear it for homologation rules!
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The Basics: Model Mix
The 2008 Lancer Evolution comes in GSR and MR flavors; the stripped and race-ready RS has been dropped. Both cars come with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that produces 291 horsepower and an even 300 lb.-ft. of torque. However, Evo fans already know that this is an all-new engine, and not another variation of the tried-and-true 4G63 engine that has powered Evos since 1992. Instead, this is the 4B11, an aluminum block engine related to the one in the standard Lancer, but developed specifically for high-performance duty in the Evolution.
Both cars also feature Active Center Differential four-wheel drive, an Active Yaw Control rear differential, Active Stability Control and anti-lock brakes. Mitsubishi bundles all this under one roof called Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC), and it is one of the key differences between this Evolution and previous versions.
Despite the similarities, there are significant differences between the GSR an MR, starting with the transmissions. The GSR offers up a five-speed manual transmission, complete with a clutch pedal on the floor and row-your-own shifter mounted between the seats in the traditional spot. We’re a little puzzled that it’s a five speed, especially considering the Evo IX MR came with an excellent six-speed. Still, it’s nothing remarkable and certainly not revolutionary. The new version of the MR gets Mitsubishi’s new Twin-Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission, or TC-SST. This is a paddle-shifted automated manual transmission, similar in concept to the Volkswagen/Audi DSG, and it offers three shift programs: Normal, Sport and S-Sport. Other MR-exclusive standard features include Bilstein shock absorbers and Eibach springs, two-piece Brembo brake rotors (the GSR gets one-piece rotors), BBS forged alloy wheels, HID headlights and Bluetooth capability.
Final pricing hasn’t been announced, but Mitsubishi did talk some numbers: $34,000 for the GSR and $39,000 for the MR. That’s before options, but with destination. After observing the number of dropped jaws (that’s roughly $5,000 more than the outgoing versions), a little bird with three red diamonds on its chest mentioned that those are conservative pricing targets, not firm numbers, and that they may come down before the final prices are announced. We sure hope so.