Test Driven: 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 (8/10)

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8

The Evo 8 was the first version of the famed Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution to hit US shores back in 2003, following the success of Subaru’s WRX Imprezas in years prior. The Evo was a different sort of animal though, offering 271hp to the WRX’s 227hp as well as a higher level of technology in its all wheel drive system. The Evo became the car to beat in 2003, so much so that Subaru decided to bring its WRX STi to the US for 2004. The Evo offers a simple but effective package; on the surface it is just a tweaked version of a Japanese economy sedan, but in its day it could also rival many serious performance cars like Porsche’s, M3s, and Corvettes. My friend Pete, has a 2005 Evo 8, and every so often he lets me get behind the wheel, so after a recent drive I finally felt like I had enough to put pen to paper on the car.   

I wouldn’t quite call the Evo a wolf in sheep’s clothing because it is a very aggressive looking car. However, it is the definition of the term “boy racer” with its huge rear wing and big vents and intakes, so many people who don’t know Evos may put it in the rice burner camp. Those who do know Evos though, know that big wing and the intakes are all 100% functional for performance. In practice I would say the Evo is more of a wolf pretending to be a sheep that is pretending to be a wolf. It is a predator in disguise, but it is not your typical sleeper.

On the inside it is very clear what the Evo’s intended purpose is, performance. It has Recaro racing seats, and a smaller diameter Momo Steering wheel, both very high quality parts, but the rest of the interior was clearly an afterthought that was basically just thrown together. Overall interior quality was on the lower end of “rental car” back in 2003, so in 2012 you can bet it seems pretty dated. That is beside the point of this car though; it is about driving and everything that matters for performance is done quite well. All other features you want like radio and heating controls are all there and accounted for, but if you want any sort of fit and finish you will find none. The Evo is still an economy sedan in structure though, so there is seating for 5 and a good amount of trunk space available. Despite its focused performance setup the Evo is definitely still as practical as any other sedan its size.

While driving you are held very snugly by the racing seats, and the car has a very hard-edged feel to it in all regards. The steering is extremely sharp and the car responds instantly to even small inputs. It is very go-kart like with loads of connected road feel, and it actually reminds me a lot of the steering in the Lotus Evora; a great thing for fun, spirited driving. The clutch is pretty heavy and really feels well connected to the car. The gearbox gets a bit of criticism though because while it was precise in its operation, felt rather flimsy and disconnected compared to the rest of the car; a bit removed from the mechanics of it all.

The car handled very well with the stock suspension but Pete recently fitted the Evo with BC coilovers. This increased the responsiveness of the car a good amount over the already incredible stock level, and the car now corners amazingly flat with really no body roll at all. The BCs also made the ride quality a black and white affair. On smooth pavement with only minor bumps and dips the car rides very well, but rough the ground up to any decent degree and it will shatter your spine; there really is no in between. The ride height has also been lowered to the point where great care is needed to pull into driveways, go over bumps, and park near curbs. The BCs are great for the road or track, and the cornering is definitely improved a good bit on an already well handling car. On the flipside though, the car has basically been rendered useless for blasting down tight winding back roads with lots of elevation changes and varied pavement (one of my favorite pastimes). Given that the Evo is a rally car at heart, I would say that is a serious detriment, but Pete does not really drive the same types of roads I do so it is less of an issue for him than me. Overall though, the Evo corners like it is on rails, especially with its new Starspec tires fitted, unbelievable grip is the name of the game here. It would certainly be difficult to find a better cornering transport for 5 people, even amongst newer cars.

The Evo is also blisteringly quick when your right foot gets heavy. 80 or 90mph comes up without even trying on a 3rd or 4th gear pull, so passing, merging, or just having a little fun is very easy in this car. Pete hasn’t done too much to it either, just an electronic boost controller and a tune at Pampena Motorsports on an otherwise mechanically stock car have gotten him to 280whp over the stock 230-240whp level. Obviously a lot more can be done with an Evo than this if more power is desired, but this amount is already more than quick enough for the real world. The gears are pretty tight, meant for quickness over all out speed. There is one thing that really bugs me though, and that is how the power just falls off in 5th gear. Being used to a 6 speed, the 5 speed in the evo just kind of annoys me because it is tight until 5th gear and then it is just sluggish, but not to the point where the RPMs are low enough to justify it with better fuel mileage. I have heard that this becomes less of an issue as power levels go up, but at 280whp I still notice. As is, this evo has a lot of room for improvement on performance with big gains available from even a basic exhaust system. Even so, the car is still faster than 99% of cars on the road with its current setup. It is quick enough with 280whp, and it certainly puts a smile on your face.

As it sits I would say this Evo is an ideal trackday car. It is very handling biased at this point, but would still be quick enough on the straights. Also, being mechanically stock, it should stay reliable under hard driving, so you could drive it to the track, do laps, and then drive it home. This would be a great car to learn racing on, and in the right experienced hands I could see it embarrassing more average drivers in Ferraris and Porsches on a road course.

The Evo offers a level of versatility that few other cars can match. My only big criticism of the car is the gearbox, in both its feel and its execution it just is sub par for a car like this. Another, smaller thing is that while the Evo’s hardcore nature is great for performance, living with it every day would get old for most people. In my opinion it is a great car to take out for fun times, but in a traffic jam on a daily commute, I personally would want a little more refinement. There are many people, like Pete, who don’t mind living with the hardcore stuff all the time though, and those are the people who buy these cars. Overall Pete’s Evo is quite a performance package. It’s lightly modded 280whp tune makes it very quick and responsive, its BC coilovers and Starspec tires allow it to corner at speeds that question physics, its Brembo brakes will keep it out of trouble in traffic as well as giving a braking advantage on the track, and its cabin is fully setup for race style driving. All of this performance in a practical five seat sedan that will average 20mpg or so and won’t be encumbered by rain, snow, or ice because of its all wheel drive. This is an overall package that few other cars can match. In fact there is really only one rival out there, the Subaru STi, the car I drive. Obviously there is a huge rivalry between these two similar cars, and Pete and I have wound up on separate sides of it. That argument is for another time though, and the Evo has shown all of its strengths to me in a glorious fashion. Plain and simple: it is a phenomenal automobile.

WoM Score: Mitsubishi Evo 8

Primary Function: Performance: 2
Secondary Functions: Practicality(2), MPG(1): 1.5
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 0.5…… rental quality of its day
Value for Money: 2

Final Score: 8/10

Special thanks to Peter Plumeri for letting letting me review his car.

-Nick Walker

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