Sadly, our long-term 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX MR has taken its leave of our Level G3 garage and is headed back home to Mitsubishi headquarters after over a year of service in the MT fleet.
It's always hard to give back the keys to a car as capable and inspiring as the Evo IX. The Evo wouldn't be my top choice as a daily commuter by virtue of its lack-luster fuel economy, unforgiving ride quality, and the feeling you get that the Evo just isn't happy unless it is being driven as quickly as possible. Though I personally never had the chance to hit the track with the Evo, it probably wouldn't be my pick for a day on the tarmac either -- give me a two-door, rear-drive sports car for that job (a Honda S2000 would do nicely). The Evo as a long-distance tourer? Nope: sixth gear is too short for relaxed high-speed cruising and the steering is just too touchy and nervous for eating up the miles.
So what is the Evo good for? Well... all of those things. Combined. Because really, the Evo isn't about doing any one task perfectly, but doing many tasks very well. The truth is that you can use the Evo as your daily driver, track car, grocery getter, and touring machine. It's perfectly capable of showing Corvettes and 911s a hard time on your favorite loop of twisty backroads, of picking up a few friends for lunch, moving boxes stuffed with things you don't remember buying out of your old apartment, hitting the occasional track day, driving back and forth to work, cruising 100 miles down the coast on a sunny day, and yes -- even transporting a Christmas tree home from a nearby lot, as I did last weekend.
The Evo was also a reassuring car. A recent drive home on a stormy evening instilled me with a safe, secure feeling, knowing the Evo's all-wheel-drive and superb traction control system was on my side -- always keeping an eye out for my next boneheaded throttle application or misguided turn of the steering wheel.
So even if the Evo jarred my bones a bit on my local pothole-ridden streets, demanded a gallon of premium every 18 miles or so, teased me with rocket-like acceleration I could seldom use, and required me to always be on alert in order to avoid following road grooves into a neighboring lane, I could still forgive it because it made no excuses for what it really was -- a car for the enthusiast. And a car with that vital component so lacking from most vehicles you'll find in showrooms today: Soul.
So long, Evo. You'll be missed.