2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

(Jun 18, 2009) - I saw the kid on the bike circling in as I pulled up to park.

(Jun 18, 2009)

I saw the kid on the bike circling in as I pulled up to park.

And I knew what was coming.

Madonna and I are getting used to the adulation. The stopping. The staring. The fans coming forward with questions and requests. Of course, in my case, it was only the car I was driving that had earned celebrity status.

"Hey," the kid said as he stopped. "I just had to tell you. I love your car."

Can't say I blamed him. I kind of liked it myself. The detailers seemed to have buffed a glow into the Rally Red Metallic coat of paint that went beyond luminescence. The sum total of this car's elements, the play of light shimmering along the contours and edges of its style and design, it all made you want to stop and look back at the car every time you parked and started to walk away from it.

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but I doubt anyone could behold a compact car handsomer than the Mitsubishi Lancer. I don't know if it's evidence of past links between Mitsubishi and Chrysler and I wouldn't claim the Lancer to be just a scaled down copy of another vehicle. But I also wouldn't be surprised to find a poster of a Dodge Charger on the cubicle wall of the Lancer's chief designer. The similarities are striking.

From its shark nosed front end and gaping "jet fighter air intake" grille opening, the Lancer's body line flows smoothly into a wedge-shaped profile. In this particular case, my tester's street wise persona was pushed to the limit by an integral air scoop and engine heat outlets, boxed fenders, 18-inch alloy wheels with Brembo brakes and a bad boy spoiler.

Actually, all these add-ons are a clue to the car's real identity. And as I waited for it to sink in, the kid's eyes grew wide as he read the rear badge and realized just what he was looking at. "Oh, man," he said. "It's an Evolution."

There are pretenders out there. Street rods with aftermarket air dams. Big spoilers bolted on. But there are really only two cars in this class – the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and the Subaru Impreza STi.

Both cars have humble origins. Both come from a stock lineup that starts at the bottom rung of basic economy. And both culminate in manufacturer-built, rally style, race-ready performance trim.

The Lancer Evolution, or "Evo" as it's sometimes referred to, is the latest addition to this select and elite class of high performance compact sport sedans.

"Think of it as a $15,000 car with $40,000 worth of racing equipment added on," a friend once said.

A good analogy because you can still find econo car traces, but the EVO is a world away from the base Lancer. And that $40,000 worth of racing equipment starts with a 4B11 intercooled-turbocharged 2.0-litre DOHC, 16 valve, MIVEC, inline 4-cylinder engine. I know that's a mouthful but, most importantly, this latest gen engine makes 291 hp at 6,500 rpm and 300 lb-ft of peak torque at 4,400 rpm.

There are two street versions of the EVO and two ways of harnessing that power – the Evolution GSR uses a five-speed manual while the Evolution MR offers more content and a six-speed Twin-Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission (TC-SST) with console shifter and magnesium paddles on the steering wheel. (I'm ignoring the new RS model, stripped of air conditioning and other non-essentials because it is geared strictly towards racing.)

I tried both of the streetable flavours – the GSR in white, the MR in red.

The five-speed GSR offers the old school thrill of rowing through the gears. It could use a sixth gear even though a tall fifth offered a reasonable 9km/100km on the highway. Fuel consumption is acceptable if you're not constantly hammering the go pedal. But if you're worried about it, let me redirect you to the Lancer economy car aisle.

Move up to the MR and you get the six-speed Twin Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission (TC-SST), an automated manual transmission capable of executing lightning quick upshifts with no drop off in engine power. The TC-SST offers three drive modes – Normal, Sport and S-Sport – and within each, the driver can choose automatic or manual shifting.

Normal is fine for around town. Sport mode uses higher shift points (in automatic mode) and its roaring, early downshifts and automatic throttle-blipping can make a chimp sound like Michael Schumacher. The screaming rev S-Sport mode is best saved for actual track events or for giving your mother a nervous breakdown.

Rounding out the slate of technologies is the Super All-Wheel Control system (S-AWC) that is designed to keep all that power and performance on the road where it belongs. This all-wheel-drive dynamic control network regulates torque at each wheel by controlling technologies that include: Active Center Differential (ACD) 4-wheel drive; Active Yaw Control (AYC) rear differential; Active Stability Control (ASC); and Sports ABS brakes. An award winner in its own right, Mitsubishi's Super All-Wheel Control was named this year's best new technology winner by the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

I haven't even touched on the enhanced chassis and suspension dynamics, other safety technologies or the long list of standard and packaged amenities available for study at Mitsu's website and designed to make this almost-race car easier to live with.

But, then again, if you're an Evo fan, you don't mind climbing over Recaro racing seats, not seeing much in the mirror past the rear wing or splashing your double-double coffee onto your crotch to the jiggle of a racing suspension.

Earlier, I talked about the Lancer Evolution's celebrity status, more of a cult status really, with the video-game crowd. There are critics who will pooh-pooh that audience, the kid on the bike and the adulation this car has garnered with an up and coming generation.

"Who needs customers without cash?" they will argue. "What good is a fan base without the money to buy the car?"

Well, judging from sales, it seems that some of those fans have grown up and achieved their dream cars. As for the others, well, they'll get there.

And having a halo car like the Lancer Evolution that epitomizes the aspirational goal of a whole new generation in your lineup, well, that sounds to me like a position a lot of other car manufacturers would just love to be in.



BODY STYLE: four-door high performance compact sports sedan.

DRIVE METHOD: front engine, all-wheel-drive.

ENGINE: 2.0-litre DOHC, intercooled-turbocharged 16 valve, MIVEC, inline 4-cylinder (291 hp/300 lb-ft)

FUEL ECONOMY: manual – 12.9/9.0L/100km (city/hwy); auto SST – 12.2/9.1L/100km (city/hwy)

PRICEs: 2009 Lancer Evolution GSR – $41,4982009 Evolution MR – $47,498

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