2002 Mitsubishi Lancer

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2003 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

This 2003 review is representative of model years 2002 to 2006.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

New rally-inspired model provides outstanding performance.
Pros:
  • Very fast
  • Superb handling
  • A blast to drive
Cons:
  • Occasionally choppy ride
  • Small gauges
  • Uncomfortable for long distances

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution sedan is a hot street version of a world rally championship car, which is saying a lot. It's based on the pleasant Lancer sedan, but has little in common with that model.

Championship rally cars are highly regarded in Europe and Japan. They're small all-wheel-drive coupes and sedans with potent turbocharged engines, powerful brakes and huge tires. They're designed to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible, no matter how bad the roads or how rotten the weather. Drivers go flat out, often getting almost sideways at insane speeds.

No wonder the Evolution I tested felt secure on rain-soaked, rough secondary roads outside New Orleans during a media preview of the car early this year.

For Fast And Furious Crowd
World Rally Championship cars from Japanese and European automakers are arguably the world's most versatile race cars. Most Americans aren't familiar with them. But many auto buffs know about them, as does the "fast and furious" crowd, which hops up small Japanese cars.

The young PlayStation generation is familiar with rally cars because such autos are featured in video games. Mitsubishi says the Evolution will be prominently featured in the upcoming sequel to the youth-oriented hit movie "The Fast and the Furious."

Subaru Opened Door
The popular rally-inspired Subaru Impreza WRX kicked open the door for U.S. road versions of World Rally Championship cars as an early 2002 model. It forced Mitsubishi to offer the Evolution here. Mitsubishi claims to have the youngest group of car buyers in this country and isn't about to let Subaru grab the fast sports compact sedan market.

The Japan-built Evolution costs $28,987, which is a very competitive price for such a car. It promises to be a good "image" or "halo" model for Mitsubishi, which plans to sell 4,500 Evolutions here annually—with capacity to make more. Many (mostly affluent male) buyers are expected to use it as their second or third car; it's not really suited for comfortable long-distance trips.

Highest Horsepower
Often just called the "Evo," the first Evolution was built for 1992 and there have been various versions made since then. It has 271-horsepower, while the WRX has only 227 horsepower—although a WRX with about 300 horsepower is said to be here by year's end.

It's like the 1960s American muscle car race scene, with one automaker continually trying to top another. Honda's 160-horsepower Civic Si and Ford's similar 170-horsepower Focus SVT rally-inspired cars aren't in the same ballpark—so far, anyway.

The Evolution has a turbocharged, intercooled 2.0-liter engine with four cylinders and such items as hollow camshafts and exhaust valve stems to improve responsiveness.

Road Rocket
The high-revving engine propels the Evolution from 0-60 mph in 5 seconds, and to 100 in 13.5 seconds. Claimed top speed is about 155 mph.

The engine is hooked to a slick short-throw 5-speed manual transmission, which works with a long-throw clutch that has a "springy" feel. No automatic transmission is offered, but a high-performance unit with race-car-style button shifters might become available if Mitsubishi dealers demand it.

Estimated fuel economy is pretty good for such a car, at 18 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway.

The Evolution uses a strengthened regular Lancer body so the car can take lots of pounding. Safety features include anti-lock brakes, but no side airbags are available.

The trunk is fairly large for a compact car body, but its opening is rather high and narrow.

Racy Appearance
The Evolution has a wild-looking front end, bulging wheelhouses to accommodate super-wide tires, a monochromatic look and a rear spoiler. There's decent seating for four 6-footers in the businesslike interior, which has rather small gauges and Recaro front bucket seats that grip like a vise in fast curves but are best suited to thin folks.

The Evolution is aimed at hard-core performance fans. But the custom height-adjustable Momo steering wheel is leather-wrapped, as are the parking brake lever and nicely shaped shift knob. Titanium trim accents are a nice touch, but interior plastics have an economy car look.

Standard Features
Standard are air conditioning and power mirrors, windows and door locks with a keyless entry system. The 140-watt AM/FM/CD audio system has six speakers and an in-dash 6-disc CD changer.

There also are remote hood, fuel door and trunk lid releases—and an electric rear-window defroster. Items such as the headlight leveling knob and automatic/manual water spray switch for the power-boosting engine intercooler aren't found in common cars.

Options include a $750 powered slide-and-tilt sunroof and a $480 full-size color-keyed rear spoiler with a black carbon-fiber airfoil.

There's decent low- and mid-range punch, but the engine doesn't really come alive until about 3000 rpm, That means lots of shifting is needed to get the best performance when traffic gets fairly heavy. Also, the Evolution is unhappy if you try to drive in town in fifth gear.

Superb Roadability
The Evolution has quick power rack-and-pinion steering and razor-sharp handling, with custom 45-series Yokohama tires on 17-inch Enkei wheels and the sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, which has a viscous coupling unit.

The firm all-independent suspension is supple, but still can give a choppy ride on certain roads and allows some road flaws to be transmitted to occupants.

The Brembo brakes—found on exotic sports cars—are powerful, with strong resistance to fading, and electronic brake distribution provides surer stops.

The Lancer Evolution clearly isn't for everyone. But it must seem like a gift from the gods for those who love rally-inspired cars.

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BB05 - 7/26/2014 10:26:20 AM