2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GSR Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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When it comes to factory performance cars, Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution is the genuine article. Originally introduced in order to meet homologation requirements for Mitsubishi's World Rally Circuit campaign, the Lancer Evolution (or "Evo," as it is colloquially known) has lost very little of its race car edge in the transition to production car status.

It also has surprisingly little in common with the bread-and-butter Lancer on which it's based. Sure, the styling and overall body shape are the same, but from the bodyshell to the suspension to the drivetrain, everything else has been either entirely changed or at least substantially tweaked in the name of performance.

For the technically-minded, some of the major changes include a weight-saving aluminum roof, aluminum hood and aluminum front fenders, with heavy-duty bracing between the rear shock towers to increase body stiffness, and fat fender flares to accommodate big 18-inch racing wheels and tires. Under the hood, there's an Evo-specific turbocharged 2.0-litre engine that delivers a phenomenal 291 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque, and it's hooked up to either a 5-speed manual transmission in GSR trim or a 6-speed dual clutch sequential automated transmission in MR trim. Underpinning it all, there's a modified suspension with forged aluminum control arms, a beefy front strut brace and big Brembo brakes, while inside the car there are supportive Recaro racing seats to keep you in place while the suspension works its magic.

For the less technically minded, what all this translates into is simple: blistering, jaw-dropping performance, and a certain rawness of character. My test car was perhaps the rawest possible Evo, as it was fitted out in the somewhat purer GSR trim (which includes the manual transmission and a big rear wing) and Mitsubishi had also equipped it with a $3,000 handling package that adds Bilstein shock absorbers and Eibach coil springs, forged BBS wheels instead of cast Enkei wheels, two-piece front brake rotors and an even larger wing than normal. In MR trim, the beast is slightly tamed with luxury touches including leather-trimmed seating, a power glass moonroof (which costs you the aluminum roof panel), GPS navigation with a 7-inch display (which allows you to play DVDs), 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate audio with satellite radio, a fast-key system, and HID headlights. The MR trim also includes the Bilstein shock absorbers, Eibach coil springs, BBS wheels and two-piece rotors that form the GSR's handling package.

On the road the Lancer Evolution is a delight for the driver, with well-placed controls and extremely direct responses that make the car feel like it's plugged right into your brain's synapses. Mash the accelerator and the turbo quickly spools up to offer explosive acceleration, while the S-AWC (super all-wheel control) all-wheel drive system works together with the big wheels and tires, dynamically controlling engine torque and braking force at each wheel to offer tenacious levels of grip. To optimize the S-AWC system for various conditions there's a switch to select between tarmac, gravel and snow settings.

I was able to take the Evo for a run along some lightly travelled back roads festooned with rough pavement, stomach-churning hills and dips, and sharp, poorly cambered corners. It's the sort of road that doesn't even bother with speed limit signs because it's generally impossible to go fast enough to warrant any, but the Evo gobbled it all up with ease and with no apparent regard for the laws of physics. The car grips the road like a cat on carpet, brakes with eyeball-popping authority, and offers the kind of perfect cornering balance that lets you place it just where you want it and, if you get it wrong, use the steering and throttle to nudge it back into line. For fast driving, it's simply sublime.

Around town - or from the passengers seat, for that matter - it's a somewhat different story. As might be expected, the ride is not just firm but downright hard, and the big tires generate plenty of road noise at speed. Slow down and the exhaust noise takes over, generating a deep thrum at lower revs that reverberates throughout the cabin. I'm all for a nice raspy exhaust note, but at low revs the Evo's is something else entirely. I was also informed by my significant other that the wonderfully supportive Recaro seats are uncomfortably restrictive for the half of the population that has hips of any sort.

What the Evo gives in terms of performance it also takes in terms of practicality: The bracing between the rear shock towers makes for a robustly stiff structure but gobbles up a good deal of trunk space and eliminates the pass-though and 60/40 folding seats included in the standard Lancer. The BBS wheels, while beautiful, stick out proud of the tire sidewalls and so are prone to scratching against curbs. The turning circle, at 11.8 metres, is almost 20 percent wider than the turning circle of the standard Lancer. The big turbocharger sometimes "burps" at low speeds, causing the car to accelerate with a lurch. And I found that my test car's beefy 5-speed gearbox, while pleasantly notchy and quick-shifting once warmed up, could be a bit balky when cold.

Then there are the economic considerations: The Lancer Evolution is not an inexpensive car to either purchase or operate. The suggested retail price of the GSR version starts at $41,998 and the MR version starts at $51,998. With its $3,000 handling package and the $1,350 in destination charges my GSR test car priced out at $46,348. It also showed a tremendous thirst for fuel. Admittedly this was partly because I was driving it like a fiendish jackrabbit, but even the ever-optimistic Transport Canada city/highway ratings show the Evo at 12.4 / 8.7 L/100km in GSR trim and 12.6 / 8.9 in MR trim. Keep in mind it wants premium fuel too. Ouch!

All that said, depending on how you measure it the Lancer Evolution is either shockingly expensive, or possibly one of the best bargains in the automotive world. If your ruler is calibrated to measure performance against status and luxury, the Evo will likely come up woefully short as it offers neither status nor luxury, at least not in great measure. Inside, even in MR trim, it is essentially the same car as the basic $15,998 Lancer DE. Sure, there are the Recaro seats, some chrome trim rings on the heater controls and some Evo-specific trim pieces (piano black in the MR, and a sort of M.C. Escher-esque geometric trim in the GSR that looks vaguely like carbon fibre), but it's still a pretty basic interior, rather than one that whispers "money" like, say, a BMW M3 does. Same goes for the exterior: the Evo is marvelously aggressive looking, but not substantially different from the $23,998 Lancer GT.

None of this matters, however, if your ruler is calibrated to measure raw performance and grins-per-high-speed kilometre. Because if that's your measure, then the Evo delivers spectacular value. It will run with pedigreed sports cars costing much, much more, making average drivers look good and good drivers appear heroic, all while putting an ear-to-ear smile on your face. And that, as they say, is priceless. 
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sport Sedan, Mitsubishi, 2012, Lancer Evolution X GSR, $40,000 - $49,999, Compact,

Organizations: Mitsubishi

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