Reviewing and driving the Lancer Evolution Final Edition for a week was a more bittersweet experience than I anticipated. All of those years of watching Jackie Chan blast around in modified Mitsubishis had left me overly excited about this review; this is one of the most iconic all-wheel drive cars of all time, and I have known plenty of people who have loved them.
But just as the Japanese automaker began to get grilled over a fuel efficiency rigging scandal, I also started to recall the complaints I have heard about these cars over the years. Guys who love Evos really love Evos. Yet still, they seem to gripe about them, and after spending several hours driving one, I can see why: As amazing as an Evo is to drive, these cars have a surplus of downsides.
Nevertheless, Mitsubishi’s last stab at making an AWD monster is quite outstanding. I found myself taking late night drives and early morning expeditions just to get more windshield time with it. The Final Edition has a few niceties that make the drive enjoyable, and I totally dig the fact that this collector’s edition is a commodity for Evo enthusiasts.
But eventually I came to the conclusion that Mitsubishi either ran out of funding or got tired of trying. Like an under-cooked steak at a hibachi grill, it’s rare, a bit gimmicky, and not very unique in its approach and delivery. This is a half-baked attempt that panders to enthusiasts and, in many ways, serves as a reflection of what has happened to the brand as a whole ever since the DSM deal went belly-up.
One of the first things you’ll notice about this car is that it has some extreme aero. With the addition of its limited-edition 18-by-8.5-inch dark chrome Enkei alloy wheels and black roof, there’s no ignoring it even when at a standstill. But as recognizable and as sharp it may be, it’s still an old design. The aero kit, brake air guides, and spoiler extension have to be added on for a fee. So it’s not a complete package unless you want to drop an additional $1,500 for the aerodynamic upgrades, which we feel should have been included from the get-go.
Exterior pros and cons
+ It might be an old design, but it’s a good one. Sharp and purposeful, you won’t confuse an Evo for the pedestrian Lancer.
+ Sharply styled air dams, rear diffuser, dual port exhaust, vented hood, front fascia, black roof, and Final Edition badging.
+ Great ride height for daily driving. This way the lower aero additions clear most speed bumps, potholes, and driveway curbs.
– All that aero is not included in the asking price, even though it seems like it would be due to this being a Final Edition package and all.
– The rubberized front air dam lower lip is loosely attached, and will come off if you aren’t careful since plastic clips hold it on.
– The exhaust piping almost emerges from the tips, which cheapens the look of the exhaust.
This is where the Evo gains some serious cool points. With 303 horsepower and even more torque, the Final Edition is the most powerful Evo ever made. It may not be that much more than a regular version, but never did I find myself complaining much when the throttle opened up. This car piles on boost faster than you can shovel bacon onto a plate at IHOP, and the way in which it translates this power to the pavement is sensational.
You buy a car like this because you enjoy driving, not because you need a reliable, super comfortable daily commuter. Remember, this is a sedan that was originally bred with rally-cross in mind, and in return it rewards you with the ability to toggle between tarmac, gravel, and snow settings with the flip of a switch.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ This car pulls hard once you get over first gear’s turbo lag, and having a front-mounted intercooler means that it is not as prone to power-robbing issues like heat soak.
+ While I didn’t take this rare edition off-road to test out its gravel settings, I remained impressed with how effectively the S-AWC system kicked the power to the pavement and always kept me in control.
+ Both the car battery and washer reservoir are in the trunk, keeping the snazzy engine bay free of clutter.
– A 17/23 mile per gallon rating is what Mitsubishi claims this thing gets, but take it with a grain of salt in a drivers’ car: I noted a 15 MPG average.
– No sixth gear for better fuel economy, and as good as it is, the transmission is a bit clunky, with jerky shift points and transmission noise.
– That sharp looking red engine bay costs $695 more, and that just gets you some red intercooler piping and a strut tower bar.
You would think that the Evolution would go out with a bang, with a mess of interior upgrades to make this the ultimate version to own — but nope. It’s pretty bare bones, and in true Evo fashion, is pretty flimsy. All of the red stitching is nice, the numbered plaques are cool, the floor mats are branded and well-made, and the soft touch leather door inserts are snazzy, but that’s about it; almost everything else inside this car feels cheap, and it has the rattles and creaks to prove it.
Interior pros and cons
+ The leather door inserts and red stitching are classy touches.
+ While they may not be bolstered like one would expect from a pseudo-rally car, those seats are pretty comfy.
+ Grippy metal sport pedals and a set of branded Final Edition mats make everything more attractive.
– No fancy bucket seats, no track-ready steering wheel, no sunroof, no weighted shift knob… the list of missing goes on for a while.
– Cheap plastic is everywhere, and if the dated looking buttons don’t feel clunky, the numerous empty spaces where there should be some make you wonder why the Final Edition didn’t come loaded.
– Having the washer reservoir and battery in the back may help alleviate weight bias, but it takes away trunk space.
Tech and safety
Much like the interior, the tech and safety end doesn’t leave much to be desired. While the version I had did have add-ons like the noise emitting rear parking sensors, the overall lack of technological refinement was notable especially since it is a top of the line model.
Tech pros and cons
+ Voice recognition, keyless entry, 6.1-inch audio touchscreen, automatic climate control, and hands-free Bluetooth connectivity.
+ Outstanding stability, traction, and brake force distribution controls for added safety.
+ Brembo’s big brake kit is nothing short of sensational.
– Dated MID, only one USB plug, and only one 12-volt charging port.
– No back-up camera, just beeping audio warnings when in reverse. Better than nothing, but short of the competition.
– No push button start, and tinny audio components that are powered by a tiny, 140-watt amp. The latter we can forgive — the Evo’s exhaust note is all you’ll need.
For all of its shortcomings and cheap plastic rattles, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution remains an outstanding car to drive if you enjoy the task of rowing your own gears. It’s an irreverent, overly exuberant upstart of an automobile, and with over 300 horsepower on tap, it’s still a driver’s dream. The boost builds quickly once second gear is selected, there’s a surefooted feeling from the traction controls and helical limited slip differential, and the brakes are magnificent.
Hitting gears quickly and smoothly isn’t always possible though, as the gearbox can be choppy and temperamental, and not having a sixth gear for highway cruising damages your fuel gains and adds additional exhaust/engine noise. I also had difficulty with the Evo’s rear visibility, as the addition of the wing extension puts the large aero option directly in your rear line of sight and tends to attract the attention of the reversing driver.
As far the Bilstein shock/Eibach spring setup: That was a much more balanced combo than I expected. While bumps could be felt regardless of vehicle speed, it was a very nice combination of sharp and smooth suspension tuning. Body roll was marginal to non-existent, the sedan remained planted even under severe braking, and the piece of mind associated with knowing that I had sturdy forged control arms beneath me was a definite bonus.
Wrap up and review
This is a point-it-and-shoot kind of driving experience. Even if you aren’t an import enthusiast, I strongly encourage you to take an Evo for a spin at least once in your life. All you have to do is turn the eager steering wheel a certain direction, build some revs, release the clutch, and off you go. It’s a bare bones roller coaster of a ride, and even if it isn’t the most potent car out there, it’s ridiculously fun to hit corners in as you clamber up mountain passes.
But as far as opting to buy the Final Edition with its laughable interior upgrades, black roof, and hefty $38,000 starting point, that really depends on how hardcore of a Lancer fanatic you are. Many Evo buyers modify their cars anyways, so by opting for a base Evo X you can take that extra dough and spend it on aftermarket upgrades that will yield more power, aero, and wheel options than the Final.
Though this was a wildly satisfying car to drive, I really had issue justifying its hefty price tag and minimal standard upgrades. But no worries; even in its current state, Mitsubishi shouldn’t have any issue moving 1,600 of these things, because regardless of how little it delivers in comparison to other models, the minute you make something a collectible item, everyone is going to want one.