The Lancer Evolution is a Strange, Mesmerizing Car, and That’s Why it Died

This weekend, something rare happened. Saturday approached and there was nothing broken on my Miata, meaning I suddenly had a plethora of free time on my hands. That’s when my friend Chris, the owner of a local tire shop Burning Rubber Tire and Speed threw us the keys to his 2014 Lancer Evolution GSR. The idea is this; the car is bone stock now and it’s getting loads of modifications soon. Later, we’ll be doing a ‘before and after’ featured build article.  In the meantime, after driving it for two hours I need to get this off my chest.  

The Lancer Evolution is a fucking weird car.  

This car is a Mitsubishi Lancer; let’s be absolutely clear about that. It’s got Lancer body, a tiny Lancer fuel tank, a Lancer shift knob and Lancer buttons and switches. I’m almost certain that when the Evo existed, it had the plainest interior of any car in this price range. Speaking of price range, these things were never cheap. In Canada, MSRP was $41,998.00, which put you easily over $50,000 after you include taxes and a few options. This is a very expensive Lancer.  

Underneath that Lancer however, is a magical drivetrain. It’s 2.0l turbocharged four-cylinder makes 291bhp at 6500rpm, while at 2000rpm, it feels like a Kia Forte. That’s not to say it’s slow; it has a peaky, boost happy power curve that builds and builds to a screaming 7000 rpm redline. What’s really special, is the way this car put’s it’s power to the floor. 

In most all-wheel-drive cars, you’ll pour into a corner and the car will contort itself; rotating around the front axis like a front-wheel-drive car. When traction control starts to detect understeer it’ll start sending power to the back., but at that point it’s too late; you’re already all bent out of the shape. What the Evo will do, is use yaw sensors to detect when you’re entering a corner, and it’ll send power to the back early and enter the corner more like a rear-wheel-drive car. More so, it’ll send power to the outside rear tire with the most grip. The result, is that you get this slight playful dab of oversteer on corner exit like a rear wheel drive car and get immediately flung out of the corner with all-wheel grip. It’s a feeling that difficult to put into words.

When people talk about electronic aids, it’s implied from the get-go that they’re intrusive. That’s not the case here. Rather than getting in the way, you feel the car subtly sending power around the car making you feel like a much better driver than you actually are. This isn’t a car that handles well in a traditional sports car way, but it makes up for its weight with this sort of telepathic management of torque. 

The question that lingered throughout the day was, who bought these cars? Because when you’re shopping for $50,000 all-wheel drive sport sedans, you’re probably looking for something somewhat luxurious and quiet, while still being fast and fun when hauling two kids around, and therein lies the problem. It’s not a quiet car, it’s not a particularly comfortable car, and it has an interior reminiscent of, you guessed it, a Lancer. The Subaru WRX STi has a nicer interior, a touch more horsepower, came with a six-speed manual instead of a five, it’s a touch lighter, has a reputation for greater reliability, and it’s cheaper.  

You get the impression that the Evolution was the thing that made Mitsubishi’s engineers’ heart quicken; the reason they came to work in the morning. That’s why they gave it a trick, torque vectoring electronic limited-slip rear differential, short gearing, and big power at a sky high 6,500 rpm. But when the car got to interior design, Mitsubishi was either too cheap or too broke to give half a shit. This is a car that lists “Floor Mats” and “Cabin Air Filter” on its list of standard equipment. 

When I asked Chris why he bought this car, I rudely implied in my question that he bought it because he wanted speed, but he also wanted to haul kids around. That assumption was completely wrong. He bought it because he wanted an Evo. He cross-shopped Corvette Z06s because they’ll probably be price comparable once the build is over. This car has a cult of personality surrounding it; we all grew up driving it in Gran Turismo and were glued to the television screen when Jeremey Clarkson famously put an Evo 8 up against a Lamborghini Murcielago. And when you drive it, it lives up to the hype; it makes you feel extraordinarily special. Unfortunately, the world has evolved since the Evo X was released in 2008. There’s the Focus RS, the Golf R, along with the constantly evolving Subaru WRX STi. Ironically, the Evolution stopped evolving because Mitsubishi stopped caring, and that’s why it died.