2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR Road Test

The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR is fun, but is it good?

What It Is
Compact, unforgiving, go-fast sedan on every boy- and girl-racer's wish list.

Best Thing
Razor-sharp, all-wheel drive and firm suspension means the Evo MR practically adheres to any surface.

Worst Thing
Burn, baby, burn! (Fuel, that is.)

Snap Judgment
Tatted-up boy racer dresses for the prom, spikes the punch, dances to prom king victory; still an unforgiving jerk.


The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR is like the prom king quarterback who, despite being a total jerk, is a complete badass. And he knows it. No one cares that he didn't do well in school, or that he humiliated the band nerds. As long as he threw touchdowns, he was the darling untouchable to faculty and jocks everywhere. Just like how every nerd wanted to be the star quarterback, every Mitsubishi, among others, wants to be the Lancer Evolution, an arrogant, unapologetic, singularly-purposed beast on the racetrack and little else. But is this an accurate assessment of Mitsubishi's only relevant car?

We didn't drive the Lancer Evolution MR on a racetrack (though it would've been fun). And we only flung it down one of the many notable canyons along the California coast for a photo op. In fact, we had a much different goal, and that was to find out whether it perhaps has been given an unfair bad rap. After all, this model, the tenth variant in the Evolution line, represents a significant and premium upgrade over 2007's ninth generation. Though it easily passes the coolness factor, we wanted to know whether it could acceptably pass as weekly commuter and grocery getter in addition to weekend trackster.

What We Drove

There are several model variations of the Mitsubishi Lancer, a run-of-the-mill compact sedan that begins at a pedestrian price point of $15,695. But for the current model, there are only two versions of the range-topping Lancer Evolution (affectionately known as Evo): the $34,495, manual-transmission equipped GSR, and our test car, the $37,695 MR.

Our $44,935 (including $795 for destination and handling) as-tested Evo was fitted with an only-available-on-the-MR six-speed, twin-clutch automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters; a massive Brembo brake system; a specially-tuned Bilstein and Eibach sport suspension, among other aero and handling pieces; and handsome 18-inch, forged-aluminum wheels by renowned wheel maker, BBS. If those exterior pieces don't scream racetrack, the dual-front Recaro race-worthy leather bucket seats included in the $2150 touring package will.

In addition to the performance features, our tester came equipped with the $2000 premium package, which adds a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system, Sirius/XM satellite radio, a fast key entry system, and the aforementioned aero trim bits. We also sampled the $2295 Navigation package, featuring a 40GB hard drive and navigation system with real time traffic updates.

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Of course, the Lancer Evolution MR is chock full of the latest safety features like dual-front airbags, and seat-mounted side and side-curtain airbags, as well as a driver's side-knee airbag. In the back, there are three LATCH points for infant and child seats and adjustable rear headsets. Elsewhere, the Evo has the federally mandated tire pressure monitoring system and traction control, plus active stability control, and not to the mention, yet again, class-leading all-wheel drive.

The Commute

This is not the part where we wax poetic on the Lancer Evolution's racetrack ability. But, there is a great feeling to be had while pulling away from slower traffic after a lane change or while merging onto the freeway. The Evo MR is nimble, quick, and can stop almost telepathically. And it's great fun doing so, unless fuel economy means something to your wallet. Drive like the rest of the drones on the freeway then, and you're likely to barely push 20 on the mpg scale, slightly worse than what we averaged with a 470-hp V-8 in the Dodge Charger SRT8.

That's not the only commuter concern, though. The selectable drive modes begin at unforgiving and end somewhere near unacceptable, unless of course, you're under 30 years old and weigh less than 150 pounds. And though I very recently was those two things, and though I personally favor sport over economy, even I have to admit that cruising the 405 into Los Angeles takes some effort. And ice for the bruising.

The Recaro leather bucket seats feel like nothing on the road today. They keep your butt planted so your eyes and hands can focus on...the brake lights in front of you. And that's the compromise with this car. These seats are so radically designed for the race course that it defeats any other practical purpose for them. On a 200-mile round trip drive from Orange County to San Diego and back, you'll beg for something softer before returning home. The suspension, too, is so rock solid, that only a boy "racer" and a real racer could appreciate it.

Elsewhere about the cabin, there are soft, leathery touches and an impressive array of technological do-goodery, like a Rockford Fosgate audio system, Bluetooth capability, and a well-lit and sharply defined navigation system. None of which are useful on a racetrack, and despite the thumpin' stereo power, can hardly overmatch the droning exhaust note, which brings me back to commuting: the kids who can appreciate the Evo MR's non-sensibilities likely cannot afford its sticker price, and are not likely to be commuting anyway.

The Grocery Run

There are two types of grocery runs: the weekly/monthly load-up-the-entire-trunk-and-car kind, and the throw-on-some-flips-flops-and-a-faded-t-shirt-for-a-beer-and-barbeque-run kind. Depending on your situation, the Lancer Evolution MR is either passable or awesome. I say awesome, because the Evo can take an absolute thrashing around town, and while it isn't particularly easy to get in and out of, the grocery store usually isn't a long enough drive to get annoyed by the seats and suspension. So, if you don't like grocery runs, the Evo is fun enough to take out the dull. Just don't spill the milk on the way home.

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This is golden if the Evo is your second car. But--and god help you--if it's your main mode of transportation and stuff-getting, then it is hardly any more special than all the other buzzy, compact sedans. The trunk is wide, though not very deep, and some of that space is taken up by the optional subwoofer. While this may make a Costco run a little cramped, there is more than enough room, including the backseat foot wells if you're flying solo, for a week or two's worth of brown-bagged groceries. In cramped parking lots, the all-wheel drive and sporty steering ratio provide easy turn in, but--and you guessed it--those high-walled door sills and rear window pillars impede rearward vision. Get the backup sensors ($350).

The Weekend Fun

As previously mentioned, we didn't track the Lancer Evolution, and we don't care about spouting off quarter-mile times, land-speed record runs, and road holding scores. There are plenty of other publications who have been doing that for a number of years. But a more simple question for us is whether the Evolution MR is as easy and pleasing to drive for someone like my mother as it is for a world rally cross driver. The answer to that questions depends, however, on how many of its quirks you are willing to put up with.

Whether or not you're a glutton for punishment, the Lancer Evolution MR is about the most fun you can have on four wheels. And, if you don't know what you're doing, but you want to look cool, just leave the gearbox in fully automatic mode and stomp the pedal. That 291-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder will slam your head into the seatback about as fast as any car on the market. And you will grin and do it again. But if you're the more discerning type, slip the transmission into sports mode and you can tap your own gear selection with the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. If you get it right, the race-derived technology will allow you to shift quicker than any manually-equipped car on the road, which means more time in the power and less time off the gas.

Of course, the Evo MR does more than just go fast in a straight line. I've already browbeat you with "stiff suspension" talk without mentioning that our tester was equipped with world-class Bilstein dampers and Eibach springs. And with the Super-All Wheel Control all-wheel drive system and meaty Yokohama Advan tires, and a premium Brembo sport brake system, the MR has more grip and braking force than an F1 car. OK, not really, but that's what it feels like.

Summary

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR is a furious and irresistible delight that we cannot recommend enough, if you don't mind the suspension and the seats and the fuel economy. For our money, though, we'd opt for the Lancer Evolution GSR and forego the expensive navigation, audio, and luxury packages for just about $35,000 total. But that gets you into a five-speed manual transmission only. If you want the auto, you'll have to fork up the close to $38,000 base price for the MR. And at that price, you might consider a Lexus IS350, or a Hyundai Genesis 5.0 GT, or a host of other cars that are softer, larger, more fuel efficient, and just as fun.

Spec Box

Price as-tested: $44,935
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 17 mpg
EPA Highway: 22 mpg
EPA Combined: 19 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 319 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Poor (2011 model)

Notebook Quotes

"This car's performance is addicting!" - Matt Askari, Associate Editor
"The steering is damn near telepathic, but the engine noise is pretty atrocious." - Blake Rong, Associate Editor
"The Evo's eagerness to perform is its greatest strength, and its biggest drawback. If it fits your lifestyle, it's worth it and you'll love it. If not, you'll hate it." - Keith Buglewicz, News Director

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

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