You've experienced this before, I'll bet. You're cruising down an empty residential road in a reasonably nice suburban town, and all of a sudden you hear a yell, or maybe even see a bag of groceries or a FedEx package coming in your general direction. And there she is, the disgruntled housewife taking a break to grab the mail between nailing the pool boy and picking the kids up from judo practice. Something about you, be it the way you jumped off the last stop sign, the color or shape of your ride, or the noise it makes, just elevated your perceived threat level to somewhere between Jehovah's Witness and pedophile, and she's letting you know you're a terrible human being. It's infuriating — no one wants to receive driving lessons from someone else's mother. My first car, a red 1972 Chevy stepside with a crate motor and three-inch duals, was prone to this for a long list of reasons topped by its tendency to take 20-mph turns on its door handles. It was annoying to say the least. But now it's time for payback. And I think I've finally found a car that'll send the Stepford wives retreating behind their marble countertops.
See, these ladies have their limits and I'm not just talking about platinum cards. What you need to silence them is a car that both intimidates and surprises. One that isn't so loud that it gives a four-block warning shot, but one that's quick enough that it doesn't even give them time to think. And most importantly, it has to look mean. A 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR in "wicked white" fits the bill nicely, I think. Plus, since we've already reviewed the Evo's track prowess, the countless stop signs of suburban Chicago will give me a chance to work over Mitsu's tech-heavy twin-clutch transmission. To test its suburb-smacking abilities I've come to Wheaton, Illinois. Not only is it full of rich, white mommies, they're all of the ultra-sensitive, ultra-religious Evangelical type. Churches here are as common as three-car garages (it claims to have the most in the U.S., per capita) and at the town's heart is Wheaton College, where a 143-year ban on dancing (dancing!) was lifted just five years ago. Billy Graham has his own building there. Maybe my glowing white rally car will look like an angel coming down from heaven. It's a miracle!
The MR, of course, is Mitsubishi's top-level Evo. The HID headlights and giant wing that are optional on the GSR come standard here, along with MR-exclusive 18-inch BBS wheels, higher-grade material for the Recaro seats, and the company's new twin-clutch transmission. They're all compelling reasons to upgrade to the MR, but add on the $2550 navigation and $500 interior sport package of the car I'm driving and you'll have a $42,000 Evo, the equivalent of buying both a Lancer Ralliart and a base Lancer DE. But if you've always wanted a Lancer Evolution and can't drive stick, it's the only option — luckily, it's a good one.
Mitsubishi's TC-SST, or Twin-Clutch Sportronic-Shift Transmission, is similar in design to Audi/Volkswagen's DSG, the new BMW M3's M-DCT, Porsche's new PDK, and the Nissan GT-R's GR6 transaxle, but it gets Mitsu's own clever marketing abbreviation. It isn't exactly a manual, but while it will shift itself, it's far from a traditional automatic as well. Instead of a torque converter, the transmission uses a concentric set of two wet multi-plate clutches that are engaged by a series of electronic and hydraulic controls, rather than a foot-activated pedal (would you really want to deal with two clutch pedals, anyway?) Six forward gears are staggered between the two clutches with the evens on one and the odds on the other. The advantage of this is that two consecutive gears are always spinning, allowing gearshifts to slip by almost unnoticed. As one clutch disengages, the other does the opposite — that means a clutch is always engaged, so there's not need to cut throttle while shifting like with a traditional manual. That's especially handy with a turbocharged car like the Evo because there's never a chance for the turbo to unspool, taking a good number of the engine's 291 horses away in the process. An engine control module smoothes downshifts further by clipping the throttle to match revs, and launches are made softer by the electronics intentionally slipping the clutch.
If all the hidden electronics and hydraulics have your control-hungry ego freaking out, don't worry. Mitsubishi has left some decisions up to the driver, who can leave the little metal console shifter in full automatic mode or bump it to the left of "D" for manual control. Either way, three shift programs — Normal, Sport, and S-Sport — can be selected. Normal mode offers slower, smoother shifts and, in automatic mode, pops them off at lower rpms. Sport cranks the dial up, while S-Sport should be reserved for race tracks or showing off your sweet skills to friends. While the transmission is shared with the new Lancer Ralliart, that car won't get the sportiest mode for the sake of preserving the Evo's place atop the Mitsubishi performance range. Normal and sport mode can be toggled back and forth at any time, but S-mode must be engaged at a standstill and also requires a three-second hold of the selector switch. And you want to know a secret? If you engage S-Sport mode and fully-deactivate stability control (hold the button until you hear a beep) the computer nannies go on vacation, allowing 5000 rpm clutch drops by putting both pedals to the floor, then releasing the brakes. Try to powerbrake for a hard launch in Normal or Sport, and a rev limiter cuts in at 3000 rpm just a few seconds before a warning tells you you're overheating the transmission.
All of these settings might seem like a bunch of marketing nonsense, but the difference between modes is noticeable and our Mitsubishi press release is right — S-Sport is best left for competitive driving. The shifts are harsher and, in automatic mode, the engine's constantly turning over 4000 rpm. To test the difference in acceleration I did two sets of runs: one in Normal mode with one foot flat down on the gas and another in full banzai mode with a two-foot clutch dump. My best time, uncorrected for weather, was 5.2 seconds. Launching like a normal person would from a stop, I couldn't break six seconds.
Some of that difference can be blamed on turbo lag. While it contributes to the peakiness that makes the Evo so entertaining, it's also the most common complaint made by the Evo opposition. With the MR's twin-clutch, the problem is compounded in two ways: Without a clutch, there's no way to drop in a few extra revs before the transmission hooks up, and when the clutch does engage, it seems to do so slowly as if its protecting the transmission. Mitsubishi was making last-minute adjustments to the new unit right up until the first cars were loaded on delivery trucks, so I wouldn't be surprised if there's still a bit of room for improvement. Looking back at my 0-60 mph figures, the car could obviously use a more aggressive launch sequence.
The full second of delay certainly isn't helping my mission of upsetting the desperate housewives, or at least the ones who live near stop signs. But after a while, I learn that rolling stops — just the slightest, almost-stopped kind — keep the transmission from disengaging, and the problem goes away. So there you go: If you buy an Evo MR, never — ever — fully stop. You'll love it.
Once moving, the MR makes a good case for ditching the third pedal. Many of Wheaton's newer residential areas use roads that wind for no other reasons than to look nicer and to inspire the local youth to turn neighborhoods into personal racetracks. I dive into a low-speed right-hander and nail the right shifter paddle to jump into second. Mid-corner shifts in this car are a complete non-issue — wide cracks in the street do more to upset the chassis than a shift ever could. The MR stays flat for downshifts, too, and the quick throttle blips indicate that the clutch swaps take less time than in VWs or Audis I've driven with dual-clutch boxes.
Manual shifts can be performed two ways, and they're both enjoyable. Two tall, thin, magnesium paddles live behind the steering wheel, where they're mounted to the steering column. Sticking the paddles to the back of the wheel has its advantage that it promotes two-handed driving, but I prefer the column-mounted setup for the sake of each paddle being in the same place all the time. They have a quick, firm action, but they don't capture the rally spirit quite like the console shifter. If you've ever watched in-car World Rally footage, you've seen the tall black lever that seems to move back an forth just an inch or so for quick shifts — the MR's is shorter, with a look that could easily be mistaken for a manual (and in fact, the same shifter ball from the Evo IX MR sits atop the lever). The action is as quick as it looks on TV, which means each shift is awesome for living out rally star fantasies.
After a half-hour of buzzing around, I'm striking out rather than inciting rage. Perhaps it was a poor choice of timing on my part, but no moms are out gardening — is there a Monday afternoon church service I don't know about? But also, I blame the car. With the MR, the Evo has truly grown up. The soft, relaxed starts, the quick and gentle shifts, and its smoother handling movements mean that is doesn't make the obnoxious noises or dance around like its predecessor. And even with the boy-racer wing, the new car looks more mature, especially in white. No one looks at it with the same distaste shown for the Evo VIII and IX.
It feels more grown up inside, too, where the sad panel gaps and low-rent switchgear have all been tossed in the dumpster. Most of all, though, it feels much bigger, despite outer dimensions that show it's just 1.6 inches wider, 1.2 inches taller, and 1.5 inches shorter in length. The steering isn't quite so go kart-like, which is a shame, but the car rides better and has modern features like cruise control. No matter what the purists have to say, those are good things — the Evo's a better, more accessible car that will give enthusiasts the same track thrills as always without the daily sacrifices.
Coming to terms with the fact that I won't be causing a fuss today, I slap the shifter into automatic mode and switch the shift program back to normal. Heading home along Roosevelt Road, the area's main artery, I forget that I'm driving something as special as the Evo. There're no brutal shifts, no meetings of suspension arms and bump stops, and minimal cabin noise. The MR's new twin-clutch transmission adds a new dimension to Mitsubishi's devil child, an ability to turn off its inner athlete and graze with the sheep. It's eerily BMW-like.
The Wheaton Exorcist Society — I hope that's a real thing — would've banished the old Evolution from town, but I've managed to sneak in and out under the radar of Motive's conservative next-door neighbor with this new MR. Damn.