Mitsubishi's No Compromise Sport Sedan
The 2003 Lancer Evolution

By Keith Burton

Before I had reached the first turn on the racetrack I knew this was no ordinary car. In less than a quarter mile, I had accelerated to just over a 100 mph and jabbed the brakes to make a sharp left hand turn, it was easy. It was more than easy, it was exhilarating. If you are looking for a serious high performance car, look no further than Mitsubishi's new Lancer Evolution.

Mitsubishi's cast care-into-the-wind PR department had bravely turned me, and a small number of other auto journalist loose to test the Lancer Evolution sports sedan at the No Problem Raceway Park in Belle Rose, Louisiana. I wasted no time at the track to, uh um, casually test the car. Let's just say, I wrung it out. The track was just icing on the cake after a brisk two hour drive through the Louisiana countryside from New Orleans where we had picked up the cars for our review.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Evolution, it is a direct offspring of the company's rally road racing car. Mitsubishi is among several manufacturers, including Subaru with their WRX, that participate in world class offroad racing. Though previous versions of the Evolution have been for sale in other countries, it is only with the success of the Subaru WRX, that Mitsubishi decided to bring the Lancer Evolution to our shores, albeit in limited numbers. If you want one, the line forms behind me.

With a sticker price of just over $29,500, you can purchase a car with a performance level on par with some of the most expensive sports cars in the world, and have enough room in the back seat to comfortably seat your wide-eyed and frightened mom and dad.

Some quick figures are needed here. How about 0 to 60 in the low 5 seconds range. Top speed is a governor-limited 155 mph, and the quarter mile in just over 14 seconds. This is a fast car. But it is more than that. This car handles and stops like a REAL race car, which it almost is. Put a roll bar in it and some safety gear, and you can take it to the track.

The Lancer Evolution is built from the same platform as the regular Lancer, but is beefed up for super duty use. It gets a 2-liter quick-spooling turbocharged engine producing 271 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, with 273 ft.lbs. of torque at a very useful 3,500 rpm.

This is a lot of motor in a small sedan, but that power finds its way to the ground by a slick all-wheel-drive system and a sophisticated suspension that literally glues the Evolution to the road. The all-wheel-drive system splits the torque equally  front and rear. Regular Lancers are front drivers.

The turbocharged engine doesn't seem like a turbo as there is very little turbo lag. And since the car is an all-wheel-driver, there is no torque steer to deal with. This is a easy point and shoot car. And in traffic, it can accelerate with such unbelievable quickness that passing on a two lane road is just a thought.

As you can see from the pictures, the Lancer Evolution has a much more aggressive appearance than the regular Lancer. The Evolution gets very cool front and rear fascias, discretely bulging fenders to accommodate much larger tires, and a functional hood scoop. The projector headlights are unique to the Evolution and the rear tail lights are the shiny clear European lights so popular with street racers. Through the front fascia you can easily see the car's intercooler, which helps increase the turbo's effectiveness. The car also comes with a button-controlled switch that sprays water onto the intercooler to help keep the power up in hot conditions. Needless to say, the Evolution stands out, regardless of the color.

Inside, the Evolution is much like the regular lancer, however large Recaro buckets replace the flabby standard seats, and the instrumentation is a racing red-black theme. You also get a leather covered MOMO steering wheel that fits the hand like a glove. Overall, the editorial eye likes the look of the car inside and out. And the changes really set the car apart from its humble roots.

Mitsubishi didn't stop with just the looks. The car is substantially beefed up structurally with additional weldpoints and bracing to make the body as stiff as possible. We detected absolutely no twisting in our testing on the track. The car felt like it was made of one piece of steel. But actually the front fenders and hood are aluminum to save weight. The tall rear wing is made of carbon fiber for the same reason. The wing actually helps stabilize the car at speeds over 85 mph.

Perhaps among the Evolution's best features are the brakes. Massive Brembo brakes are fitted front and rear. And in high performance  driving, the brakes are truly confidence inspiring. They do take more pedal pressure than you may first expect, however they have nearly a perfect feel, and don't fade under truly abusive use.

We were also impressed by the Evolution's transmission and shifter. Mitsubishi says the transmission and drivetrain are designed for the extreme use the vehicle was intended to see. The shifter is smooth, and gates are easy to find, which shows that Mitsubishi's engineers do listen to their race drivers. The shifter also felt extremely rugged. We like that, as there have been some cars, I won't name them, where the shifter has fallen apart in tests.

Some bad points? Not many if you like such cars. The ride is VERY firm, but the suspension does do a pretty good job at keeping bumps in the road from feeling like mini crashes. The aggressive and very sticky Yokohama P235/45R17 tires maximize the vehicle’s handling capabilities, but they generate quite a bit of road noise. That is easily forgiven as the tires are part of the reason the car handles so well. In fact, the tires were specially made by Yokohama for the Lancer Evolution. A Yokohama rep told me that the tires are unique and won't be offered as standard tires on other vehicles.

The Lancer Evolution is not a car for everyone. Its performance puts it in the realm of supercar status, but it is definitely one of the best performance deals you can buy.