The Car Connection Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution / Ralliart Overview
Fans of fast small cars and the rally racing set rallied for years for Mitsubishi to bring its rally-race-tuned Evolution (commonly called Evo) to the U.S. market, and finally for 2003—after Subaru brought its WRX—Mitsubishi did. The Evo initially arrived with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, making 271 horsepower and hooked up to a five-speed manual transmission. The quick-ratio steering was about as direct as it gets, and the suspension rock-hard and unforgiving, lending a very serious but go-kart-like feel to the whole package. Grip was phenomenal, and the all-wheel-drive system smartly sent power to the right wheels to take best advantage of it. A modestly improved version for 2006 (the Evo IX) brought better low-end torque and throttle response, while an MR model got a six-speed manual. Overall, any of these Evolution models are a thrill to drive fast, and one of the most critically praised models ever for enthusiasts, but their touchy powertrain response, rough ride, and noisy interior are obvious tradeoffs. The interior also left lots to be desired—it felt cheap and flimsy and exposed the model's budget Lancer roots.
For 2008, the Lancer Evolution was completely redesigned and gained a 291-horsepower version of the turbocharged 2.0-liter four. A new S-AWC (super all-wheel control) system was an improvement on the former all-wheel-drive setup, and an excellent six-speed dual-clutch gearbox allows incredibly fast upshifts and downshifts without upsetting the Evo's excellent poise in corners—though it's a little lurchy at times in gentle driving. A five-speed manual is standard, but the flagship performance model, the MR, is new for 2010 and gets a six-speed manual. The MR also upgrades to the twin-clutch gearbox, a slightly more compliant suspension, upgraded wheels, HID headlamps, and a lot of other extra equipment.
Overall these latest Evolution models are slightly less harsh, which most owners will like, though some enthusiasts lament that they aren't quite as edgy as their predecessors. The superb Recaro seats that are optional come highly recommended. Both the Lancer Ralliart and Evolution have vastly upgraded safety versus previous versions and now include electronic stability control, side bags, and a driver knee bag.
First introduced for 2009, the Lancer Ralliart model bridges the gap between the base Lancer econocars and the supercar-like Evolution, and provides a head-on rival for the Subaru WRX. The Ralliart gets a lower-boost, 237-hp version of the Evo's engine, and in normal driving we've come to like this engine a bit better because of its smoother power delivery and more responsive nature in the low to mid revs. However the Ralliart is a bit heavier and doesn't handle quite as perfectly; while both the Evo and Ralliart closely resemble the Lancer GTS, the Evo has its own exclusive structure, with some of the steel panels replaced with lightweight aluminum.
For 2010, a completely loaded (and even more boldly detailed) MR Touring model was added to the Evolution lineup, while a new Sportback five-door hatchback body style of the Ralliart was also new. It adds a little extra cargo flexibility, though road noise is more accentuated. Mitsubishi added a few more soft-touch surfaces, as well as gloss-black instrument-panel trim, for 2012.