One solemn, steely-eyed young man looked over my test Evolution MR. He said, "You have a very fast car."
I replied: "Yes. Yes, I do."
Unfortunately for Mitsubishi, he was the cashier at the local Taco Bell drive-through, and unless he's working the late-night shift as a hobby, I doubt that he can afford the $35,594 price tag. He and I, then, are in the same boat: We like the Evo MR a lot, but we can't afford it.
This is not to say the Evo MR is overpriced, because for what it is, and what it can do, the price is in the ballpark. It's an all-wheel-drive rocket ship that Mitsubishi has created from the modest Lancer econo-sedan, thanks to a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that pumps out 276 horsepower, and a host of name-brand bits and pieces that add dramatically to the car's credibility.
You might not appreciate it when I tell you that the 17-inch forged alloy wheels are from BBS, the high-performance tires are Yokohama, the seats are from Recaro, the shock absorbers are made by Bilstein, the brakes are ventilated Brembos, the steering wheel is from Momo, and the enormous, cartoonish rear wing is made from genuine carbon fiber. But rest assured these are ultra-premium brands, and this is the sort of equipment performance-minded buyers tend to add to their cars. Mitsubishi has done it for you already.
The price does not, however, include side air bags, cruise control or a sunroof.
This also calls for a Parent Alert: Your teen can find a nice, moderately boring Mitsubishi Lancer with a 2.0-liter, 120-horsepower engine for about $14,500. Before you co-sign for the loan, you might want to make sure that the brochure is not for a Lancer Evolution instead of a sensible-shoes ES, because if it is, go ahead and put some extra money aside for deservedly astronomical insurance rates. And bail. This is a serious car.
There are several models of the Evolution, with the MR being the king, as the $800 MR package adds a six-speed manual transmission instead of the five-speed, plus several other, lesser features, including some amusing little "vortex generator" fins at the top of the rear window that supposedly channel air to the big rear spoiler. The six-speed is a nice thing to have, as it maximizes the engine's considerable potential. Despite the power, fuel mileage is a not-terrible 19 mpg in the city, 26 mpg in the highway. ("See, Mom and Dad? It gets 26 miles to the gallon!")
Inside, there's no hiding the fact that the Evo MR starts life as an economy car, but the trim, gauges and switchgear are all nicely done. One disappointment was the six-speaker stereo: It just sounded tinny. The Recaro buckets seats are superb.
As you might anticipate, handling is race-carlike, but the ride, though stiff, isn't uncomfortable. This little engine loves to rev, and the slick-shifting gearbox encourages it. This is a very nicely executed car, less frantic than the comparable Subaru Impreza WRX STi. The Subaru is a little faster, but daily, I'd rather live with the Evo.
Look for one parked outside your neighborhood Taco Bell, and inside, look for a very weary young man working double shifts to afford it. The Evo is that kind of car.
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smith's TV reports air Wednesdays on Central Florida News 13.