Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff collection of impressions, jottings, and marginalia on whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Final Edition.
Most of these Critic's Notebooks are reviews of new cars. In this case, though, it's almost more appropriate to call it a used car review. Because good luck finding a new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution on a dealership lot anywhere in the United States, since Mitsubishi pulled the plug on the Evo's production line back in August, as one of the final chapters of the company's two-decade realignment from "fun alternative Japanese carmaker" to "boring crossover-and-EV company." Hence this, the final version of the final car to carry on the performance legacy of the 3000GT, the Eclipse, and so forth.
Don't think the Final Edition is one of those badges-and-floormats special editions, though. The Final Edition is the most potent stock Lancer Evolution ever to hit American streets, packing 303 horsepower and 305 lb-ft of torque. As is tradition for the Evo, it sends the power to all four wheels—in this case, exclusively through a five-speed manual transmission. Bilstein shocks, Eibach springs, and Brembo brakes up front round out the mechanical high points; dark chrome wheels, a blacked-out grille, and a black roof give it some exterior pizzaz, while red stitching on a black interior walks the line between menacing and mediocre.
Another reason this might as well be a used car: Since every journalist and his mother, presumably, wants one last tussle with the Evo before it goes to the big car-farm in the sky, the press fleet example sent my way has seen some miles. Specifically, just shy of 13,000 when it showed up at The Drive's doorstep. All those harsh, journo-driven (that is, typically, reckless to the point of sadistic) miles had taken their toll on some of the interior trim; the steering wheel, for example, had been worn down to a pleathery patina.
A third reason: This Mitsubishi doesn't feel much like any other car sold in 2016. The basic Lancer platform is a decade old, and the Evo still drives like a brand-new 10-year-old car—for better and worse.
The interior materials are as hard and cheap as you'd expect from a second-tier, Dubya-era Japanese compact; the head unit looks like it was a left over from a Circuit City closeout sale. Of course, the styling stems from an era when carmakers could still sell cheap cars on price alone.
Likewise, the seats are terrible for driving fast. Even on the highway at fairly sane velocities, I was sliding around like an air-hockey puck. I'm not one of those folks who demands Recaros on anything with a spoiler, but a little extra bolster would go a long way.
But there's plenty on the plus side. The power steering still has a delightful hydraulic rack, filled with nuance and fluid tension. It's heavy enough to have the appropriate amount of gravitas for a performance car, yet still sensitive. Gently rest the pads of your fingers on it, and you can feel when the wheels roll over the center line. It's divine.
There are other bonuses. The obsession with aerodynamics and safety that has led every modern sedan to wear the same basic shape—tall boxy hood, narrow greenhouse—post-dates the Evo by a couple years. Sitting inside it, then, feels like being in the Popemobile by modern standards. Likewise, dropping the windows does't result in the cacophony of wind noise and buffeting that modern cars make as their carefully-crafted aerodynamics are spoiled by the change in design. If you prefer the breeze to A/C at highway speeds, the Evo is a breath of . . . well, you know.
However, the relative lack of wind roar means you'll have to listen to the harsh buzz of the engine instead. In another sign of its age, the Final Edition Evo only comes with five forward cogs, and the transmission is geared like a race car's gearbox. In fifth, the engine is already turning at 3,000 rpm by 65 miles per hour, and there's little to do but grin and bear it. (God only knows why Mitsubishi gave the Final this gearbox instead of the six-speed stick in the MR.)
The engine, likewise, feels like a relic from an earlier era of forced induction. By the standards of modern turbocharged performance engines, like Porsche's new Carrera motors and AMG's V8s, it's practically a Ferrari F40. For the first couple thousand rpm, the car can barely get out of its own way. Then the turbo engages around 3,000 rpm—and when I say it "engages," I mean that in the way Captain Picard used to say it when ordering the Enterprise-D to warp speed. The boost kicks in like an afterburner, transforming this Lancer from economy car to sport sedan in a couple of heartbeats. Once the turbos are hot, though, the Evo feels every bit the performance car the world remembers, slicing and dicing up tarmac or dirt with precision and glee.
That goes double for when the road starts to curve. The all-wheel-drive keeps the Evo planted and pointed in whichever direction the driver wants it, assuming he or she knows how to handle an AWD car. The car's a playful thing, too. It wants to drift and slide even with the traction control enabled, giving the driver plenty of time to counter-steer and throttle-steer before it steps in. On a long course, a modern-day muscle car would reel it in too quickly—but on a short, technical track, I wouldn't be surprised if the Evo could still punch well above its weight (and price) class. Especially if there's slipperiness involved.
One last oddity: I couldn't find a USB or AUX jack, though the radio head unit display seemed to indicate the car had at least the latter, if not both. I wound up bringing along my old stack of CDs. It was a nice nostalgic touch—just like pretty much everything else about the Evo.
That's what the Final Edition really is: nostalgia. But it's honest nostalgia, not a retro remake, a genuine reminder of all that cheap performance was like back when Kim Kardashian was just some woman from a sex tape. Kudos to Mitsubishi for not whitewashing over the past, even if that was (very likely) more a function of them being unable to afford whitewash than a conscious.
And like so many great names in automotive performance before it—Camaro, RX, GTO, Challenger, GT—I have a feeling the Evo won't stay dead forever.
2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Final Edition
Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four, 303 horsepower, 305 lb-ft of torque; five-speed manual; AWD
0-60 mph: 4.4 seconds
Price (as tested): $38,805 ($40,485)
MPG: 17 city/ 23 highway
Tears Shed When the Final Edition Left: One