2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR. Click image to enlarge
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2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Ottawa, Ontario – Since Mitsubishi began selling its own cars and trucks in Canada in 2003, the company has brought two generations of its Lancer compact cars to us. The latest version, introduced last year as a 2008 model, was an improvement over the 2007 Lancer, but one thing was missing: the turbocharged, all-wheel drive Lancer Evolution.

Canada’s bumper performance rules meant the old Evo – as the car is known colloquially – couldn’t be sold here. But the 2008 clean-sheet redesign changed that. That’s good news for car enthusiasts, but bad news for Subaru, whose WRX STi had the Canadian market for 300-odd horsepower, four-door, all-wheel drive compacts all to itself.

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR. Click image to enlarge

My tester was the Evolution MR (that’s Mister Evo to you!) which differs from the lowlier GSR model primarily in its use of Mitsubishi’s Twin-Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission – also known by its more manageable acronym, TC-SST – in place of a conventional five-speed manual transmission.

The TC-SST is a lot like Volkswagen’s Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG): it’s a sequential manual transmission with automated shifting and dual clutches. Like the VW unit, smooth shifts are accomplished by engaging two gears at any time: the gear you’re driving in, and also the gear the car predicts you’re most likely to shift into next. Without getting too technical, the TC-SST is essentially two three-speed manual transmissions – one contains ratios for first, third and fifth gears, and the other the even-numbered ratios – each with its own clutch.

In common with the GSR, the Evo MR shares the same Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC) drive system, an all-wheel drive setup with an active centre differential, active rear differential with yaw control, active stability control and very strong anti-lock brakes.

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR. Click image to enlarge

The engine, a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, makes 291 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. It’s a lot of power, to be sure, but not much of it is available at low revs. In fact, flooring the gas from a stop is quite anti-climactic. It isn’t until the tach needle sweeps past 2,500 rpm that the turbo spools (you can hear it as well as feel it, which is very cool) and the fun begins. Mitsubishi pegs peak torque at 4,000 rpm, while max horsepower happens at 6,500 rpm, 500 revs shy of redline.

For more punch off the line, there’s a launch control feature that allows the closest thing you can get to revving the engine and dumping the clutch, as you might with a conventional manual transmission. Sadly, we couldn’t get it to work while we had the car (we realized what we were doing wrong after we gave the car back – D’oh!), and this isn’t the kind of thing that goes into the owner’s manual for easy reference.

Still, there is lots of fun to be had in this car. In normal driving, there’s useful power from just over 2,000 r.p.m., and left to its own devices, the transmission does a great job of keeping the motor in the meat of the powerband. In fact, I think I like this tranny better than VW’s DSG, although much of that could have to do with the fact that I haven’t driven a DSG-equipped car with close to 300 horsepower.

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR. Click image to enlarge

The TC-SST gearbox allows full manual control, and only interferes if a downshift would over-rev the engine or you try to shift into sixth gear at 30 km/h (or something equally silly).

There are three automatic modes, too. In “normal,” it behaves like a, well, normal automatic, shifting up and down according to road speed and throttle position. “sport” mode holds gears longer, and downshifts happen sooner. In “super-sport” mode, the transmission won’t upshift until the engine reaches redline, and it downshifts as soon as possible. During a week of driving, including a day of autocrossing, the gearbox pulled off consistently smooth, quick shifts that would put some of the smoothest automatics to shame.

The MR’s ride is firm, thanks to a suspension that favours handling over comfort. Still, things rarely got out of hand, even on Ottawa’s less-than-ideal roads. In fact, larger road surface undulations bring out the suspension’s soft side; the more the suspension is forced to move through its travel, the more the rebound damping seems to loosen up, in order to keep the ride reasonable.

Handling is superb, as CarTalkCanada Editor, James Bergeron and I discovered when we ran this car head-to-head with a WRX STi around the Motorsports Club of Ottawa’s (MCO) autocross course. Turn-in is razor sharp, the sticky stock tires hang on like leeches and the car will only understeer mid-turn on very aggressive throttle applications.

The steering is very quick, nicely weighted and transmits lots of road feel to the driver’s hands. The brakes are strong, but the pedal is surprisingly soft at the top of its travel, which is unnerving when you need to slow down quickly from the kind of speeds this car is capable of.

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR
2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR. Click image to enlarge

Inside, Recaro seats provide plenty of lateral support. The seats are comfortable too, but those drivers and passengers who are wider in the hips (as in, many of us) will find it tough to get truly settled between the pronounced side bolsters. The seats eschew any kind of height adjustment, so headroom-wise, it’s a case of you-fit-or-you-don’t, particularly if you choose the uplevel MR Premium, with its standard sunroof (my tester was the base MR).

Generally, interior space is as good as you’ll find in a standard Lancer, and the rear seats appear to be the same as in non-Evo models. Visibility is good too, except to the rear, where the showy spoiler provides a split-screen view of what’s behind you.

The trunk takes the biggest hit on the practicality front. For better weight distribution, the battery and windshield washer reservoir live behind the rear seats, which means two things: the trunk is significantly smaller than in a regular Lancer; and the rear seats are fixed in place, without so much as a centre pass through for skis and other lengthy items.

Another complaint about the interior is how similar it is to that in a base Lancer, considering you could buy two well-equipped Lancers for the Evo GSR’s $41,498 starting price; the MR comes in at $47,498 and the Premium is worth $51,498.

That’s a lot of money, but this is a heck of a car. For the right kind of driver, it’ll be worth every penny.

Pricing: 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR

Base price: $47,498
Options: None
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,245
Price as tested: $48,843
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

    Related articles on Autos
    First Drives
  • 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GSR, by Paul Williams
  • 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR, by James Bergeron
    Test Drives
  • 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution GSR, by Laurance Yap

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