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AUTO REVIEW: Compact, super-tuned Evo has some ordinary features

As Americans begin to reconsider small cars, the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR rockets out of a videogame and onto the highway to show us just how exciting a compact sedan can be.

As Americans begin to reconsider small cars, the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR rockets out of a videogame and onto the highway to show us just how exciting a compact sedan can be.

The Lancer Evolution MR _ known simply as the Evo to the legion of compact racers and videogamers captivated by its performance _ also drives home the message that small does not necessarily equal inexpensive or fuel efficient, however.

The new Evo bristles with technology, from an amazingly powerful 291-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine to the smoothest and best operating dual-clutch transmission I've tested.

The Evo is a maxed-out version of Mitsubishi's Lancer compact. The Lancer is a pleasant and comfortable little car that competes with the likes of the Chevrolet Cobalt, Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. A base Lancer costs $14,190 and comes with a 152-horsepower version of the same 2.0-liter engine that powers the Evo.

Thanks to solid engineering and good planning, the Lancer's platform also can support the world-class mechanical systems that turn the Evo into a compact super sedan. The steering, suspension, brakes and key chassis pieces are exclusive to the Evo, complementing the high-powered engine and sporty transmission with stability and stopping power that turn the mild Lancer into a beast. The Evo is a mainstay for street-racing video games and a car compact tuners dream about.


This all comes at a price. A base Evo MR goes for $38,290. An Evo GSR _ the same car, but with a conventional five-speed manual transmission instead of the slick six-speed dual-clutch gearbox _ will run you $32,990.

I tested an MR with the optional technology package and a $40,840 sticker price. All prices exclude destination charges.

The Evo MR doesn't really have any competition. Much like the Chevrolet Corvette or Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500, there is no alternative if this is the car you want. In terms of price and power, however, the Evo lives in the same neighborhood as other super-tuned compact cars like the $34,995 Subaru WRX STI and $32,990 Volkswagen R32.

Realistically, though, a new Evo's only competition is the Evo that precedes it.

By that standard, the all-new 2008 Evo MR is largely a success.

The engine provides vast and immediate power for blistering acceleration at all speeds. The sophisticated all-wheel drive system and sport suspension keep the Evo nailed to the road through fast corners and quick maneuvers. The suspension absorbs bumps considerably better than the previous Evo.

The brakes have firm pedal feel and excellent stopping power, and the quick-ratio steering is precise and responsive.

The dual-clutch transmission works brilliantly, allowing you to rev the engine to the redline in manual mode and providing smooth shifts in its automated mode. A dual-clutch transmission is essentially a manual transmission without a clutch pedal. Instead, the gearbox uses automated controls to work a pair of clutches. Ideally, a dual clutch provides the efficiency and responsiveness of a manual with the ease of driving an automatic.


Mitsubishi's unit is the best dual-clutch I've tested yet, perfectly suited to the Evo MR's high-revving, hard-cornering style.

Mitsubishi put most of its effort and investment into the Evo's running gear, and that shows up in the interior. Other than high-bolstered Recaro sport seats, the interior materials look and feel basic. The controls for the optional navigation and sound system in the Evo I tested were very poorly executed.

Despite the Evo's exciting performance and advanced technology, the car's price is a stumbling block.

No one who wants an Evo would consider these alternatives, but think about this: You can get a Cadillac CTS or BMW 335i -- two of the world's great sport sedans -- for less than an MR.

The comparison with larger sporty cars becomes more appropriate when you consider the Evo's other big shortcoming: fuel economy. The EPA rates the Evo MR at 17 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway, and the car requires premium gasoline. The fuel economy is worse than the all-wheel drive CTS, which runs on regular, and the rear-drive 335i.

The Evo is a technical showpiece with devoted followers who will probably believe it is perfect. It's not, but it is a blast, and other automakers should use it as an example -- of things done brilliantly and things that should be better -- as they craft a new generation of small cars for America.

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