Marc K. Stengel, Fri, 20 Jun 2008 08:00:00 PDT
Remember, way back when, how cocky and fun it was to play the BMOC (Big Man On Campus)? Biceps like camels' humps; pecs rippling under letter-sweaters. Remember how great that was; how it made you feel; how it made the runts scatter and the chicks swoon?
Not any more: BMOC might as well mean "Big Mistake, Of Course" for all it'll get you in our present climate of post-post-materialist Puritanism. And as for the BMOCs of the highway muscle cars, that is well, let's just say it's probably better to be unseen and unheard. According to the blogosphere, after all, the toxic brew of high horsepower and low fuel economy ranks as a crime against humanity. And don't you dare admit that this anti-social automotive profligacy is anything like a fun indulgence.
Secretly, however, there are some of us who sheepishly admire the likes of Dodge and Mitsubishi for holding their corporate heads high while crowing about the fun-factor of high-horsepower. They may be terrified that their modern-day muscle cars won't meet sales projections in an era of cap-and-trade carbon offsets and four-dollar gasoline. But when it comes to pounding asphalt with heavy-metal hotrods, they ain't skeered.
Among all the amazing attributes of the newest-generation Lancer "Evo" from Mitsubishi two in particular stand out: On the one hand, its tiny 2.0-liter engine manages to produce almost 300 giant-killer horsepower thanks to twin-scroll turbocharging and computerized variable valve control. On the other hand, this tiny 2.0-liter engine scarcely manages to eke out 16 miles-per-gallon/city, 22 mpg/highway using premium fuel no less.
So, when you also factor in the Evo's as-tested price tag of $35,615, you could say that Mitsubishi's got a bit of an uphill battle on its hands right now trying to sanitize the sinfulness of its magisterial sports sedan.
And magisterial it is indeed. The Lancer Evo is but a thinly disguised version of Mitsubishi's all-wheel-drive world rally car contender. Accordingly, it boasts enough thrilling horsepower to achieve zero-to-60 mph sprints in under five seconds. Weighing in at 3,500 pounds, the Evo handles like a rocket-powered skateboard; and thanks to computerized Super-All Wheel Control (S-AWC) a driver can balance and bias the proportion of driving traction at all four wheels by means of a console-mounted knob. In other words, for grippy asphalt, there's one ideal setting; for sandy or gravelly fire roads there's another; and yet a third for rain-slick, even icy conditions. If "hangin' tail" is your idea of performance-driving fun (assuming you're even up to the task), the Lancer Evo is essentially a recreational tool for drifting sideways to and from the office as fast as possible.
Even the interior is purpose-built. Wraparound front seats are great for countering sideways g-loads; just make sure you're not prone to claustrophobia. The GSR model's five-speed shifter throws short and sweet gear changes (or, for about $5,000 extra, you can opt for a paddle-shifting sequential automatic in the MR model). Either way, however, the rest of the Evo comes across spare and Spartan. The back seat is a torture chamber for anyone forced to endure a twisty backroad back there. The 7 cubic-foot trunk is miniscule. And the tinny sheetmetal and ever-present road noise are byproducts of Mitsbishi's weight-saving fetish.
But as a motorcycle on four wheels, the latest Lancer Evo is a boy-toy extraordinaire that lives up to the hype. What's more, for the enthusiast determined to have one whatever the short- and long-term consequences, the Evo is virtually assured to be the rare gem of the neighborhood.
It seemed like a good idea at the time: Baby-boomers in their fifties were said to be lusting for the muscle-cars they couldn't afford in the '60s. Meantime, automotive technology in the last four decades has actually managed to increase horsepower and improve fuel economy simultaneously, so that a 5.7-liter "Hemi" V8 from Dodge achieves double the mileage of its namesake from yesteryear.
Indeed, thanks to "multi-displacement" technology, the Hemi runs on either four or eight cylinders as conditions require; so 15 mpg/city and 23 mpg/highway positively trump the 8 mpg or thereabouts of the original Dodge Charger.
Meanwhile, Honda Civics are buzzing around at 45-plus mpg. The moral is, then, change can be great; but rate-of-change may be greater yet.
Of course Civic-minded Honda owners wouldn't dare race for pink slips with the 2008 Dodge Charger R/T. With its 340 maximum horsepower, this new-old led-sled is a fire-breathing dragon by comparison. And it really is a feat of engineering, when you consider that the 21st-century Charger incorporates a raft of technologies that weren't even conceivable back in the '60s: four-wheel independent suspension; four-wheel disc brakes with ABS; six-way airbags; traction and stability control; GPS navigation; and so forth.
The muscle cars of yore, by contrast, had one mode of operation only: straight-ahead speed. Trying to corner one at speed, however, was better understood as a self-inflicted tutorial in off-roading.
Today's "millennium" Charger is, of course, based upon Chrysler's elegant and ingenious 300-series sedan. But Dodge's designers have shrewdly recaptured the gritty bravado of the old Charger, in particular with the design of the snout and flanks of the car. The roomy interior is plenty spacious; and although a bit plasticky, it's a far cry from the "naugahyde" heyday of old.
Time was when this much performance for $30-grand was at least reasonable. But times have, tragically perhaps, changed. Now, when a $30,000 base price reaches $40,000 after add-ons; when filling up the 19-gallon tank costs the far side of $80; when high fuel economy is lots more fun than smokey burnouts, the new Dodge Charger is become a poignant museum piece.