PHOENIX - It practically drove itself. That's what one of the reporters here said about the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - Evo for short.
Most of the everyday driving public has never heard of the Mitsubishi Evolution but this car is a legendary world class Rally Car. In fact, the 2008 version of the car is the 9th generation of the Mitsubishi Evo which has been around since 1992.
In an effort to expand the Evo's very narrow customer base in America, Mitsubishi has refined the four-passenger sedan. First, horsepower has been bumped up to 291 and torque has been increased to 300 pound-feet. It is generated by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
In the past, the only transmission available in the Evo was a five-speed manual which is still available. But to attract a few more female buyers the 2008 Evo can be equipped with what Mitsubishi calls a Twin Clutch Supertonic Shift Transmission. In layman's terms it was a dual clutch six speed manual transmission that shifted automatically.
Between its two clutches the tranny always has a gear engaged and it takes about two tenths of a second to down or up shift to the next gear. On a fairly easy slalom course and on the track at the Firebird International Raceway here, the Evo made us seem like a skillful professional driver.
The twin clutch transmission could be set on normal, sport and super sport. In normal, its task was to get to sixth gear as soon as possible to save fuel. In sport, it held the gear longer, building horsepower and torque for more speed as it shifted to the next gear. Super sport held the Mitsubishi Evo in gear even longer and was only for use on a race track.
The 2008 Evo now has active yaw control so even under very hard and sharp cornering it stayed relatively flat. It also had all-wheel-drive which regulated the torque at each wheel. Ride control had three settings: tarmac, snow and gravel.
What's more, the car's all-wheel-drive system could send torque from side to side in addition to front to rear or vice versa.
The 2008 Evo had a distinct face inspired by a jet fighter, a wedge profile, a sizable spoiler on the deck and 18-inch wheels. The Evo is a serious performance machine and it looked like one of those street racers in the movies.
As with most serious performance cars, the Evo's interior was simple and straight to the point. The front seats were deep alcantra covered buckets that kept us in place during hard maneuvering. Those seats were comfortable, provided plenty of lower back support and they had side bladders that kept us squarely in the middle of the seat.
A touch navigation screen sat atop the Evo's center stack and here too Mitsubishi displayed its formidable technological skills. The navigation system can be programmed to route the driver on car pool lanes, many of which have their own exits. Mitsubishi told us that the feature is an industry first.
Other equipment included a 30 gigabyte hard drive, a premium audio system with trunk mounted subwoofer, satellite radio, Bluetooth that turns compatible cell phones into hands free car phones and magnesium paddle shifters for those who'd rather shift the dual clutch transmission themselves.
We also got the opportunity to drive the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution on the surface streets here and found it fun and sure treaded. The Evo set us apart from those driving ordinary cars. Indeed the Evo was special and made us feel that way because we were driving it.
The GSR model with the manual transmission will go on sale in February. It will be followed by the Twin Clutch MR that goes on sale one month later. Specific prices had not been announced when we tested the 2008 Evo. But expect starting stickers around $34,000 for the GSR and $39,000 for the MR.