Discussion Starter · #1 ·
First Drive: 2008 Mitsubishi Evo X
At 9:30 a.m., the sun began to punch holes through the rain clouds that have hung for days over the Sonoran Desert, thrilling the locals and filling my head with dread visions of standing water, driving rain and people in yellow rain slickers telling me to slow down. Instead, rolling up to Firebird International Raceway outside Phoenix, I was met with a glistening 1.6-mile track and a row of glistening 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolutions. It promised to be a very good day.
Last sold as a 2006, the Lancer Evolution has been completely reengineered and is now the Evolution X (that's 10, as in 10th generation, not X as in Racer). The new one won't hit dealers until February with the MR coming later this spring. As before, it's equipped with a 2.0-liter turbo four, but it's a new one that mates to a new five-speed manual or twin-clutch six-speed automatic with sequential paddle shifting capability. An automated manual rather than a conventional automatic transmission, the Twin-Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission weighs less, is more efficient and is designed to shift faster than any driver could.
Foregoing the autocross course, I first took to the streets for the important livability test, where the Evo X proved itself to be a different animal than the IX. Specifically, it's less of an animal in normal driving, and there's nothing wrong with that. Though it has improved over the years, the previous generations never let you forget that you were in a scrappy, rally-bred beast. This one is quieter and more refined, and the ride is reasonable over decent pavement.
This MR version had the twin-clutch six-speed, which I'm glad I got to experiment with early on, because the racetrack later proved to be no place for ruminating over transmission modes. The Normal mode, selected via the toggle switch at the base of the gear selector, delivered unobtrusive operation — upshifting quickly and holding high gears while I braked to a stop. In passing maneuvers, it downshifted quickly enough. Pulling either shift paddle engaged a temporary manual mode that reverts to automatic Drive mode when you pull the + (upshift) paddle and hold it there for a few seconds. For a transmission without a torque converter, it has a pretty seamless, though not especially fast, launch.
The Sport mode holds each gear into higher rpm before upshifting, and it definitely shifts as fast as the Volkswagen Direct Shift Gearbox, which is the only other dual -clutch I've driven. The new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder packs 291 hp at 6,500 rpm and 300 pounds-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm, which is a bump of 5 hp and 11 pounds-feet. This generation has gained a few hundred pounds, though. It doesn't feel quicker to me, but it still has that rush of power once the turbo starts flying, and it seems like the torque curve is broader. In the past the small displacement has always resulted in turbo lag worse than in the Subaru WRX STi, which uses a 2.5-liter, but there's a tangible improvement in this model.
The Sport mode also downshifts through the gears as you coast or brake to a stop, throttle-blipping and rev-matching all the way. Even on the 75-mph I-10, Sport mode never saw fit to shift into 6th gear. By stopping, standing on the brake and holding the toggle switch, you engage Super Sport mode. The Mitsubishi guy told me it's possible to cure the soft launch by staying on the brake, standing on the gas and revving it up before letting off the brake — an actual feature, not an ill-advised strain on the clutch. I did not test this, because I'm fond of my driver's license.
Super Sport keeps you in ridiculously low gears — all the time — and is meant for performance driving only. Trust me, on the street all you're doing is buzzing around and feeling like a moron who can't find 3rd gear.
Once the Evo passed the daily-driver test, I spent a delirious 30 minutes flogging a manual GSR and automatic MR on the main Firebird track, and it was a blast and a half. As for the five-speed, I suppose it does the job, but I'll need some time on the street before I can form an impression of it. As I've said for years, though, I don't see how a 6th gear would hurt. As always, I liked the manual overall and was uninspired by paddle-shifting, but I'm damn impressed with the twin-clutch unit's automatic Sport mode. It's very responsive and telepathic, and I trusted it enough to leave it on and concentrate on blasting around the track as fast as I could.
The roadholding is terrific, thanks in part to the new electronically controlled all-wheel drive, called Super All-Wheel Control, which communicates with the transmission and apportions torque forward and back, left and right, in ways few such systems — Mitsubishi would say no such systems — can. The center differential throws enough torque to the rear wheels that you can snap the rear end around and transition into a nice, smooth exit — or just drift around all day if that's your thing. I look forward to detailing how the driveline works, and a whole bunch of other elaboration, in a more detailed review later on.
Everyone on the track today said the Evolution X made them look like better drivers than they are. To be honest, I always feel like a little part of me dies when digital technology makes performance driving easier — moving away from skill and closer to the likes of a video game. But I can't make that conclusion about the Evolution X. You see, I need more track time. Yes, that's it. I'm going to have to do this several more times until I'm really, really sure.