These days the Evo is one of the most respected cars on the road. In stock form it is one of the ultimate rally bred, point-to-point missiles money can buy, and Evos that are modified easily have the potential to give Ferrari owner something to worry about. Yet despite their hardcore performance they are also just normal Japanese sedans on the surface, making an Evo one of the best overall daily drivers out there. Obviously all of this makes these things quite a hot commodity on the secondhand market, so lets look at the details.
We are going to focus on the American market here, although it must be acknowledged that markets in Europe and Japan have a far greater selection of used Evos because they have had them for longer. Here in the US, we first got the Evo 8 for the 2003 model year. It was a 280bhp, awd, rally monster for the street. From the showroom it would go 0-60 in the high 4 second range, knock off the ¼ mile in 13 seconds, and clock 157mph flat out. Hardly lacking in the performance realm, but keep in mind that 2003 was still in the midst of The Fast & The Furious craze, modification was a must.
Evo 8/9, with their 4G63 motors, are capable of gaining quite a bit of power with just basic modifications. With full bolt on setups (Turboback exhaust, intake, intercooler, piping, a boost controller, and maybe a light cam) Evo 8/9s are capable of 320-360whp, around 100whp over stock. Then a bigger turbo is needed and power can be upped to 450-475whp before forged pistons are needed. After the motor is built the sky is the limit as far as power is concerned, and it is not all that uncommon to see well built evos sporting 600, 700, or even 800whp being driven on public roads. The only thing to really watch out for is the transmissions, which are not really that solid, but once they are built up there should be few issues. Evos have a reputation for being able to handle high power better than most other cars in their range.
Power is just one side of the Evo’s coin though. On the other side drivers will find that the handling is absolutely phenomenal. The car drives razor sharp with extremely quick, go-kart like steering, and a chassis that responds instantly. Cornering is very precise and neutral all the way up to the car’s stratospheric limit where it will eventually understeer just a bit. The Evo’s high tech all wheel drive system shifts torque side to side to wherever the grip is, and has unique settings for gravel, tarmac, and snow. It is a vastly good all-round performance car, and will remain so as long as you don’t go too crazy with the power mods.
The interiors of the Evo 8/9s got progressively a bit better over the years, but the quality was never what I would call good until the Evo X came out. The Evo 8 had a sub rental car quality to it on the inside, and the Evo 9 was improved at least to the point where it wasn’t quite as insulting. One good thing about the interiors though was the presence of Recaro racing seats that hug the driver well through hard corners.
Then there is the issue of buying an Evo used. Because of the car’s high performance reputation it is very hard to find one that has not been beat up, especially in the lower price range which can dip to around $12,000 at this point. There are many modified examples out there that may seem like a bargain at first, but will prove a reliability nightmare if they were not built correctly. I urge those looking at used Evos to be extremely cautious, and to absolutely have every car they look at checked out by a third party mechanic before any money changes hands. And, of course, always test drive the car yourself to check for problems.
As far as differences between the Evo 8 and Evo 9 go, the Evo 9 got variable valve timing (MIVEC, like Honda’s VTEC), and they made a few slightly different models of the Evo. The “top model”, and the most desirable on paper is the Evo MR, but in practice their 6 speed transmissions have proven far weaker than the normal 5 speeds, and buyers will be paying a premium for things like special shocks and “vortex generators” that they will likely wind up modifying anyway. When it comes to Evos the best advice is to find the best standard example you can find in the best condition possible, and then make it exactly how you like as you go with modifications. Any extra performance bits on the MR vs the GSR are completely pointless when each car has a 35R setup and an aftermarket coilover suspension. Keep things simple.
At the end of the day Evos are very racecar like. Every bit of effort that went into these cars went into making them fast. They are all very good to drive, but are probably a little too hardcore for many tastes in a lot of real world situations. Potholes will break your back, and racing seats are not the best for longer journeys. So those of you who want a bit more on road refinement should consider a Subaru. Having said that though, the Evo remains very functional with seating for 5, and its all wheel drive durability in bad weather. Evos offer insane performance at a very nice price, and are surely one of the best bargains to be had if you can find one in good shape.
Here is what a 903awhp evo looks like when it takes off on the highway (NSFW language):