The pocket rocket has matured. The 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is loaded with performance features, but it also can be fitted out with the sort of creature comforts common to Grandpa’s Cadillac DTS.
The Evo is based on the Lancer, a compact four-door sedan renowned for its reliability and competence, that few would call sporty. It competes with the likes of the Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla and Chevrolet Cruze. But add a turbocharged 291-horsepower engine, all-wheel drive, performance engineering, and advanced suspension designs and electronics, and you have a Lancer that has become all it can be.
Our 2013 Evolution was quite unlike the first stock pocket rocket we ever drove, a Subaru STi. The 300-horsepower, Impreza-based STi was almost shockingly Spartan; it didn’t even have a radio. The message from Subaru was unmistakable: If you drive this car, you’d better pay attention because it will get away from you.
Our Evo, by contrast, had a navigation system, satellite radio, 710-watt premium stereo with controls on the steering wheel, heated seats, cruise control, rain-sensing windshield wipers and even sound dampening enhancement. The sticker price for the Evo starts in the mid-to-high $30s; equipped as ours was, the bottom line was more than $45,000. Obviously, the youthful car guys who created the pocket-rocket genre aren’t exactly the target market for today’s Evo.
Consumer Reports magazine says the Evo “excels on the track, but it is too frenetic to use as a daily driver.” Well, we used ours as a commuter car, never got within 50 miles of a track … and never got a ticket. Still, we get CU’s point. The Evo wants to go faster than the road designs and lurking police officers would allow.
Our Evo was equipped with the Twin Clutch Sportronic Shift transmission, the same unit that came with the Lancer Ralliart we test-drove a few months ago. Purists will prefer the 5-speed manual shifter, though most would agree a 6-speed would be better. The twin-clutch unit felt more at home in the Evo than in the Ralliart, possibly because the Evo’s 54-horsepower advantage obscured the transmission’s worst traits. We found ourselves using the paddle shifters almost constantly in the Ralliart, less often in the Evo.
Competitors include Subaru’s STi, the BMW 1-Series and the MazdaSpeed3.
Compared with the Ralliart and conventional Lancer, the Evo has a stiffer ride, vastly more power and far superior handling. Otherwise, it has many of the same desirable qualities the Lancer has, aside from its lower fuel economy and significantly smaller trunk. Additionally, while the Lancer has been designated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the heavier Ralliart and Evo fell short. They earned an Acceptable rating, rather than Good, because they didn’t perform as well in the roof-strength test.
You might say the stylish, well-equipped, premium-priced Evo is today’s pocket rocket, all grown up.
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged Four, 291 horsepower, 300 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: Twin Clutch Sportronic with paddle shifters
Weight: 3,572 lb.
Suspension: 4-wheel independent, modified MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 18×8.5-inch alloy
Tires: 245/40R18 93Y performance
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 6.9 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons
Fuel economy: 17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
Fuel type: Premium unleaded