There's nothing like a hot car to elevate one's mood. And the Mitsubishi Evolution most certainly qualifies as hot.
It has a 291-hp. turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive, a sport suspension, crisp steering and a superfast, no-nonsense, automated manual transmission that offers the advantages in vehicle control of a conventional manual without the need for clutching.
For 2010, Mitsubishi has added a more upscale MR Touring version of the Evolution, which gave me an excuse to take a fresh look at this special car.
Listing for almost $44,000 as I sampled it, with a $2,000 navigation package, the MR is an expensive ride, especially considering its roots as a compact economy car, the Lancer, which starts under $15,000 - and that Mitsubishi is a troubled brand, with sagging sales and market share.
And, while the MR is well equipped for that money, there are two glaring omissions. One is full adjustability of the Recaro front bucket seats. There's no way to raise or lower them, to adjust the lumbar support or to modify the angle of the bottom cushion - features available in cars costing half the price. The driver's seat is a bad place to cheap out in a serious driver's car. Second, the steering wheel tilts but does not telescope, as do those in many cheaper cars.
Another thing to keep in mind: This is a performance sedan, so lots of engine, driveline and tire noise get into its cabin. Expect fuel economy averaging only in the high teens on most trips.
If you're comfortable behind the wheel, you will love driving this car and will find those Recaros pleasantly firm and supportive. Zero to 60 miles per hour is said to take about five seconds.
Mitsubishi suggests swapping all-season or winter tires for the standard 245/40R18 Yokohama ADVAN rubber. I sampled this car during winter and can tell you from firsthand experience that the standard tires are poor performers on snow.
The Lancer has a warrantee for three years or 36,000 miles, with five years/60,000 miles on the powertrain. It gets an almost perfect rating from the federal government for protection of occupants in crashes - five stars for the driver in a frontal or side crash but four for the passenger. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calls it "good" in frontal and side protection.
Consumer Reports publishes no reliability ratings for the Lancer, but J.D. Power and Associates calls its quality and reliability below average.
Three Lancer Evolution models are available - all with the same engine and with all-wheel drive. Cheapest is a GSR starting at $34,335, with a five-speed stick shift. An MR has the same six-speed twin clutch automated manual I sampled, along with Bilstein shocks and Eibach springs, two-piece front brake rotors for better heat dissipation, BBS forged-alloy wheels, high intensity discharge headlamps and additional interior features.
Vehicle tested: 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR Touring
Engine: 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged 291 hp.
Fuel: Premium required
Safety: Seven air bags including driver knee; 4-wheel Brembo disc brakes
Place of assembly: Mizushima, Japan
Trunk: 6.9 cubic feet
EPA fuel economy estimates: 17 mpg, city; 22 highway
Price as driven: $43,959 with freight
Bottom line: A lotta money for a Mitsubishi - even a hot one.