2005 Mitsubishi Evolution MR

Once only the stuff of PlayStation-induced daydreaming, the Evo is here, in the U.S. And so is the Subaru WRX and even the STi. It’s still a little hard for us rally-car enthusiasts to believe, after we were told for years that they would be too hard to federalize, or that there just wasn’t a market for them here.

Entering its second full year in the U.S. , our version of the Evo is already getting a host of improvements, most of them under the Evo’s skin. A new version, termed the MR Edition, brings together all of these changes, along with a few more equipment tweaks aimed at making the Evolution an even better drive. Although U.S. buyers won’t recognize the ‘MR’ moniker, Mitsubishi in Japan used to use the term, for Mitsubishi Racing, on its limited-run sporty cars decades ago, dating back to the 1970 Galant GTO MR (insert your favorite GTO joke here). But really, the new MR means business.

Getting the good stuff

2005 Mitsubishi Evolution MRWhile the Evolution was brought to the U.S. with a different, purely mechanical differential system, we now get the good stuff, too. Well, sort of. The active center differential (ACD) unit, first used several years ago on the Japanese-market Evo VII, is now standard on all U.S. Evolution (VIII) models, including the MR, for 2005. With ACD, the front-to-rear torque split is quite precisely managed with a multi-plate hydraulic clutch, interfaced with the engine control computer (ECU). The torque distribution depends on a number of different sensor inputs, some of which are steering angle, throttle position, wheel speed, and longitudinal and lateral acceleration. In all driving conditions, the system starts with 50/50 front/back but can go to almost 100 percent front. The system can’t direct any more than 50 percent of torque to the back, however.

The new active system has three driver-selectable modes — snow, gravel, and tarmac — which are simply managed by different electronic mapping modes between the sensors, the ECU, and the clutch pack. Although we only had the chance to drive the Evo aggressively on a solid track surface, switching to the gravel mode (also of use on wet or sandy surfaces) gave noticeably more understeer and ‘plow’ into the corners.

The Evo now gets a helical limited-slip differential in front, which in straight-ahead driving splits power evenly between the wheels but in cornering directs more power toward the outside wheel, usually the one with the most traction. Now here’s why we said sort of about the drive system: We still don’t get the electronically controlled rear differential that the (albeit pricier) home Japanese-market cars get, but a simple rear limited-slip differential is now standard on all models to help aid the all-wheel drive system.

The engine itself, a 2.0-liter inline four, is essentially unchanged, highly tuned and overbuilt to handle all the power, but thanks to some slight tweaks with the turbo — specifically, a new nozzle with a seven-percent-larger diameter and also a wastegate design that’s round rather than ovular, with peak boost at an otherwise-gasket-blowing 19 psi — engine output is now up slightly. Peak power is up by five, to 276 hp, while peak torque is up 13 to 286 lb- ft. Peak torque is at 3500, but the torque curve itself is fatter, with the “meat” of the torque curve coming on at 2500 rpm, versus 3000 before.

With these powertrain improvements, there’s still quite a pronounced rubber-band effect to throttle response, with the power coming on a sometimes-long moment after you thrust the accelerator down. My co-driver, who has owned and driven his share of quirky 1960s European sports cars, started pulling out from a roadside stop in first gear, letting the clutch out at about 1500 rpm — which still happens to be in the engine’s rather lifeless range. The Evo sluggishly crept forward for a moment, then suddenly the power came on abruptly, chirping tires roaring ahead with neck-snapping urgency.

No big problem, though. The Evo just isn’t a car you can get right into and expect to drive smoothly. Getting over the learning curve just requires figuring out the torque curve. Stomp down on the throttle if you’re much below 3000 rpm (especially below 2500), and the Evo flies forward like a bat out of hell a moment after you needed it. Keep the revs up to make sure the big twin-scroll turbo is primed, and the Evo scoots with authority when you need it.

The new six-speed gearbox has gear ratios similar to the five-speed, but with a slightly taller top gear for relaxed cruising. The ratios are close and nicely spaced to stay in the engine’s powerband, and shifting it is a delight. Throws are very short and each gear snicks deliberately into place.

Several other tweaks aim to give the MR a little more gear-change refinement. For instance, a wide-angle damper is used for the clutch — which now somehow feels softer yet more precise — and the shift gates get different, tighter bushings for a more precise feel and less “shake.”

The steering ratio is very quick, and with the sticky 235/45R17 Yokohama ADVAN tires, responses can often be likened to a go-kart, though it’s never twitchy. The steering is about as precise as you’ll find in any production road car, but some of the feel of the road gets lost in translation for some reason or another, lacking the sort of fine surface feedback you’d experience with, for instance, a Mazda3 or BMW 3-Series. One big thumbs-down: The turning radius remains unimpressive, at 38.7 feet, so U-turns and tight parking situations aren’t quite the expected breeze.

With new softer Bilstein shocks (exclusive to the MR), engineers actually claim better performance and handling because the tires are more likely to keep in full contact with the road surface on anything but a perfect surface. The damping force itself is reduced by about 30 percent, so they’re noticeably softer. With no significant changes to the springs, the ride is more compliant over bumps, and the new shocks, of a different design, also provide quicker responses to surface irregularities. A softer calibration usually means less control and dulled responses, but here it’s actually better.

Road raging

2005 Mitsubishi Evolution MROn the road, the MR drives much like the regular Evolution, with slightly lessened impact harshness due to the Bilsteins and just a bit less engine noise due to a slightly taller sixth gear. Refined isn’t really a word that should be used to describe the Evo — which would be bum-busting, coffee-spilling commuter on choppy Rust Belt freeways — but the suspension tweaks make the MR more tolerable in a daily-driver sense.

The roof of the MR is aluminum, assembled separately off the normal assembly line with a special adhesive and self-piercing rivets. The total weight savings from the process is only 8.8 pounds, but every little bit counts. A thinner decklid also saves some weight, and aluminum impact beams save another eight pounds versus steel, and nearly three pounds per wheel are saved on the new forged-aluminum BBS finned wheel design.

The MR introduces various other extra-equipment features, some of them quite useful and others falling squarely into the mildly functional engineering geekdom category. Speaking of the latter, eight small “vortex generator” fins have been added to the back edge of the roof. At first glance, you wouldn’t think they have anything to do with aerodynamics, but they actually increase the functionality of the rear wind spoiler and add downforce. A Mitsubishi engineer from Japan said the effective downforce of the system’s flow, combined with the rear wing, helps to effectively reducing lift by 35 percent at 160 mph, which is the Evo’s approximate top speed.

Another of the extras included in the MR Edition is a sport meter gauge kit, with three gauges that show boost, voltage, and oil pressure. Unfortunately, this ends up looking like a cheap aftermarket installation, they’re awfully low in the line of sight for use during high-performance driving, and the backlighting doesn’t match the rest of the dash gauges.

This leads us to the interior, which is for the most part an afterthought in the Evolution. With the exception of the shift knob, and some special trim here and there, it’s pretty much the same as you’d get in the base-model Lancer. With the hard ride, we noticed some prominent panel rattles in each of the test cars we sampled. The amazing Recaro sport seats that are included in front are an exception to this spartan interior, though. They seemed to fit a wide range of driver sizes without needing much adjustment, and keep you snugly in place during high performance track driving.

Tenacious on the track

2005 Mitsubishi Evolution MRThe real story for the MR Edition is there on the track, where all of these rather subtle changes combine to make a more noticeable change in driving demeanor versus the standard Evo, and versus last year’s model.

Driving the Evolution on the track is immensely enjoyable because it’s so docile and predictable. Despite all the power, keeping the right amount of it dialed up at any given moment is the most challenging part, but once you adapt to that the Evo will make you look good out there, even if you haven’t had any formal training. Although the all-wheel-drive system will put up with most sorts of idiotic driving, the powertrain demands finesse and attention. Easing into the throttle is important, as when you get to a particular throttle/rev point the turbo reaches its spool point and suddenly there’s MUCH more power. Driving the Evo in a jerky, on-off manner won’t cause you to get in trouble and spin as in some other cars, but it will scrub off a lot of speed and bring lap times way down. We found ourselves playing games with the powertrain, either gently feathering the throttle with the revs way up, or intentionally using the higher gear and full throttle, anticipating the turbo’s boost coming out of the corner.

The active center differential system makes the Evo very, very balanced and capable with this amount of power. It distributes the power to the pavement so well that composure is maintained even when you’re recklessly pushing the limits of traction. In trying to find those limits, we learned the Evo isn’t nearly as tail-happy as the Subaru STi, and maintaining drift on a tarmac surface (like the star driver you are on-screen) was nearly impossible because of the system’s inability to put more than 50 percent to the back.

Stability is pretty amazing when you nail the brakes, too. A new ‘Sports’ anti-lock system is standard on Evolution and MR models. The system uses steering wheel, lateral acceleration, and vehicle speed sensors to individually brake each of the four wheels with the optimal force. Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, as offered on many other models, helps supplement the system by balancing the braking force from front to back depending on overall brake force and vehicle load. The big Brembo brakes seemed plenty strong for the track as well.

A note for people thinking of weekend-racing their Evo: After a couple of hours of thrashing the Evolution on a road coarse, they were almost ready for new sets of tires. We were so lucky that the Yokohama support truck and personnel happened to be in the area and gracious enough to provide fresh tires. As much as you’re tempted to try it, we suspect those Yokohama folks won’t just show up for you in real life, and besides, those wonderful sticky tires are pricey! On the subject of tires, with a set of winter tires and a requisite different set of wheels, the Evo probably won’t be a bad snowy weather car provided you keep your right foot light.

To clarify the lineup for ’05, the Evo now comes in three variants: the lean race-oriented RS, which adds a rear crossbar, weight savings from various aluminum pieces, special gauges, and aluminum trim, but deletes a lot of the comfort features and does away with ABS; the standard Evolution, which comes very well equipped and has most of the new features we’ve talked about; and the new MR, which adds the new Bilstein shocks and the six-speed. All Evolutions this year get the new active center differential and powertrain tweaks for a little more power. Gone from all U.S. models is the manual intercooler water-spray switch.

With Mitsubishi facing some serious financial obstacles, the Lancer remains a bright light in the lineup (see the news archives if you’re curious). If only the rest of the Mitsubishi lineup could generate interest like the Evolution.

While it’s easy to justify the Evolution as a playtoy, does it make sense as a daily driver? Despite the various improvements make a better car, the Evo is still a highly tuned, hard-riding little sport sedan that might be a bit too edgy for some to live with. Others — including caffeinated TCC-reading speed-junky enthusiasts like us — will love it and be willing to live with a few quirks. If you’re still looking for high-performance alternatives, the standard Subaru WRX costs a few grand less and is significantly more comfortable as a daily driver, and the $30k Volkswagen R32 delivers performance similar to the WRX with even more refinement and drivability — though without the high-boost thrills.

The Evolution will stay priced at around $30,000, but the MR Edition will have a limited run of 800 units for 2005 and be closer to $35k. You know they’ll go fast.

2005 Mitsubishi Evolution MR
est. $35,000
Engine: 2.0-liter in-line four; 276 hp, 286 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Six-speed manual transmission, all-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 178.5 x 69.7 x 57.1 in
Wheelbase: 103.3 in
Curb weight: 3263 lb
EPA (city/hwy): 18/26 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, ‘Sport’ anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution, fog lamps.
Major standard equipment: Air conditioning, keyless entry, HID headlamps, rear defroster, tilt steering wheel, 6-speaker CD audio, aluminum sport pedals and shift knob, Recaro front sport seats, MOMO steering wheel, BBS forged aluminum wheels, W-rated tires.
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles; five years/60,000 miles powertrain

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