SCOTTSDALE, Arizona - Long before the first Evolution (Evo) model ever reached American shores, performance-car enthusiasts knew all about it. That's because the first generations of the Evo went on sale only in Japan (not the U.S.), but the news of their specifications and prowess reached American "buff books" in a hurry.
Mitsubishi never has hesitated to promote the fact that the Evos were descended from all-out rally racing cars. Not every purchaser intended to drive that Evo on a race course, of course; but most, if not all, sought the precise handling qualities and bold performance attributes that suggested it was possible to do so, should the occasion ever arise.
Finally, early in 2003, Mitsubishi sent the first batch of Evos to the U.S. market. That was Evo VIII, part of the third generation of this model. Evo I had debuted back in October 1992, to lead off the first generation. Evo IV was the first member of the second generation, in October 1996.
Now, for the 2008 model year, Mitsubishi is brandishing a brand-new Evo X. Two of them, in fact. Prior Evos were well known for harsh ride characteristics that, as one driver put it, could "shake out your fillings." It was a stripped-down model, too, with virtually no amenities.
For the fourth generation, Mitsubishi offers an Evo GSR that carries on the prior edition's rally-bred virtues, though with some refinements and accessories thrown in. Bryan Arnett, Mitsubishi's manager of product strategy, calls the Evo 10 the "hero of them all." Beneath its hood sits a new 291-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that whips out a 300 pound-feet wallop of torque.
Still, the big news is the Evo MR, a somewhat tamed rendition that's meant to attract a whole new group of buyers. Both Evos use the same engine. Manual shift is not available in the Evo MR, which comes only with a new Twin Clutch Sportronic automatic transmission. Built with six speeds, the Twin Clutch unit is almost like two separate three-speed transmissions, according to Mitsubishi: one for even-numbered gears, the other for odd-numbered ratios. Magnesium paddle shifters at the steering wheel can select gears manually (or a console lever may be used). A switch selects one of three modes, topped by a Super Sport setting that's intended for running on a racetrack.
Mitsubishi set out to make a more refined and tractable performance compact, without losing the vitality that defined earlier EVOs. With the Evo MR, they succeeded for the most part.
On good pavement, the Evo MR delivers a surprisingly satisfying ride. Now and then, a pavement separator or other obstruction can hit hard. But when that happens, it's only a momentary upset, corrected and immediately forgotten.
Acceleration is nothing short of startling most the time, but coming out of a corner in automatic mode, the Evo powertrain doesn't aways respond quite as handily as hoped. Shifts with the Twin Clutch transmission are among the quickest you're likely to find. Overall, the Evo MR delivers the goods in terms of exuberance and confidence.
Tested on a twisty race course just as heavy rain began, both the Evo MR and its more brutish manual-shift GSR counterpart behaved with amazing prowess. With Mitsubishi's all-wheel-drive system, the two performance sedans practically functioned as if the pavement were dry, not soaking wet.
Mitsubishi's principal rival is the Subaru WRX STI, which comes with all-wheel drive. No problem. Mitsubishi equips each of its Evos with new All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) to send power to all four wheels.
When it goes on sale in February 2008, the Evo GSR will carry a Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price of $34,000 (including destination charge). The Evo MR, on sale in the spring, will go for $5,000 more.
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