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The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution was originally developed in the early 1990s to compete in the World Rally Championship (WRC) racing series and abide by homologation rules. Packing a powerful turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive, the Lancer Evolution quickly became a successful rally car. Early road-going versions of the Evo were originally just meant for the Japanese home market, but this didn't stop the car from developing a cultlike following around the world. Finally, for the 2003 model year, Mitsubishi started importing official road-going Lancer Evolutions to the North American market.
The Evolution (or "Evo") is based on the Lancer compact sedan. The two cars don't have much in common beyond their body and interior design, however. Whereas the regular Lancer is a rather mundane economy car despite its edgy styling, the pumped-up, flared-fendered Evo is turbocharged, boisterous and ready to lay down rubber on a racetrack.
Despite its humble beginnings as an average economy car, the Evo can accelerate and corner with all but the fastest production cars on the market. Finding a well-kept used example may be tough, but is certainly worth the effort. If you're interested in a new Evo, then you'd better act quickly, because its days are likely numbered.
Used Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Models
The second-generation Lancer Evolution, the Evo X, debuted for the 2008 model year. Production was put on hiatus for 2009, in order to sell off the backlog of '08s. With the return to production in 2010, the Evo added the more luxurious MR Touring and more aggressive side sill extensions.
The first-generation U.S.-market Evo, sold from 2003-'06, was actually the eighth generation overall by Mitsubishi's count. Arriving on our shores in 2003, the Evo VIII was an extreme car with extreme ride characteristics. Its tightly tuned suspension was unforgiving over bumps and there was little cushion from the seats. The Evo VIII also had a decidedly sparse interior that betrayed its econocar roots. Nonetheless, our editors loved it. If you could put up with its shortcomings, it was more fun than just about any other car on the road.
The Evo VIII, rechristened "Evo IX" for 2006 based on a handful of revisions, was initially powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 271 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. Later years saw only incremental power increases, though for 2006 Mitsubishi added variable valve timing, which resulted in noticeable improvements to the engine's low end and midrange power delivery. An excellent five-speed manual transmission was mandatory on all Evos of this generation except the later MR model, which featured a six-speed unit.
Our reviews of the Evo VIII (and IX) were basically praise-fests -- we simply couldn't get enough of this car's hyperactive reflexes, sublime controls and explosive turbo power. Of course, the interior looked and felt cheap, and in profile this Evo looked too much like a Japanese taxi. Then there were the matters of its shock absorption, which was nonexistent, and its ginormous rear wing, which we'd remove post haste if we owned one. But as soon as we got behind the wheel and headed for our favorite canyon roads, all was forgiven. The Evo VIII/IX still stands as one of the all-time great driver's cars.
A number of running changes were made to this Evo generation. For 2003, only one trim level was available, but a decontented, track-ready RS model was added for the particularly hard-core consumer in '04. The MR model debuted for 2005, featuring a six-speed manual transmission and other performance upgrades; the all-wheel-drive system was also improved for all models. Slight styling modifications complemented the aforementioned addition of variable valve timing for 2006, among other minor revisions.
Buyers searching for a used Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution of this generation should wait for one that's clearly been well cared for. No one buys an Evo to drive it daintily, but some owners are more fastidious than others about the engine break-in period (particularly important for this car), regular oil changes and services, et cetera. If you insist on buying a well-maintained Evo with extensive records, you'll likely be rewarded with endless fun from the car's proven powertrain. Roll the dice with a more marginal example, however, and the repair bills could start to pile up.
If you are looking for newer years, visit our new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution page.