Of all the impressive stats you'll find on the spec sheet for the Mitsubishi Evo IX MR, perhaps the most eye-catching is the 0-62mph time. Argue as much as you like over the relevance of standing-start acceleration times to real world performance, you can't deny that they're the measure most people use to judge just how rapid a car is. And the Evo is very, very quick: get the launch just right and you'll dispatch the benchmark sprint in a whisker under four seconds.
More accelerative machinery is thin on the ground. BMWs, Audis, Jaguars, Bentleys and Maseratis are not nearly quick enough. Only the fastest Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis can keep up. Short of a mega-money supercar or a lightweight roadster like Caterham's CSR, the only other competitors are a 7.0-litre Corvette and a Dodge SRT-10. Factor in four-door convenience and a price well short of £36,000 and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX MR FQ-360 – to use its full, cumbersome moniker – has a niche pretty much to itself.
The Evo's shattering off-the-line urge – and the ability to go on to a top speed of 157mph – is generated by a familiar-looking engine. It's the final version of the 4G63 in-line four which dates back to 1987, and has powered every Evo since 1992. New for the MR is a revised turbo with titanium/aluminium alloy fins and a smaller compressor inlet diameter, which is said to improve engine response throughout the rev range. On UK-bound cars an HKS tuning kit adds freer-flowing induction pipes and a 'Super Dragger' exhaust system with a sports cat, which together with a remapped engine-management ECU boost power from the Japanese-market 276bhp to no less than 360bhp, at 6887rpm. But Paul Brigden of Ralliart, Mitsubishi's in-house tuning division, is keen to point out that maximum power wasn't the end of the tuning brief. "We wanted to deliver the best possible driving experience, rather than concentrating on a headline-grabbing power output," Brigden says. "We've worked hard to optimise the FQ-360's drivability."
As a result the 363lbft torque peak (8lbft more than the special-edition FQ-400 of 2004) is delivered at a surprisingly low 3200rpm. Just don't let that fool you into thinking this is an easy-going, flexible motor. In town you'll need to do plenty of work with the gearlever.
Less than 2000rpm the Evo drops off-boost and off-cam, and you'll often be left frustrated with your foot to the floor while black cabs zoom past and fully-laden artics maintain an impatient vigil four inches behind the unsubtle carbon wing on the boot lid. Keep the revs up using shorter gears and you have the opposite problem. With anything over 3000rpm on the clock a tickle of throttle sees the Mitsubishi bound forward like a terrier after a rabbit, and that can be an embarrassment in busy streets. In town the useful rev range is little more than 1000rpm.
None of that matters once you get the Evo away from the broken blacktop of the city and out onto open roads. Closely-stacked gear ratios and hair-trigger throttle response make it easy to keep the engine in the top half of the rev range, where acceleration is never less than explosive. Squeeze on more throttle through a tight bend and you can feel the active rear diff feed more power to the outer rear wheel to kill understeer, and the Evo simply rockets out of every corner. When you do find the limit – and such is the chassis' capability that you rarely can on a public road – the high-geared steering helps you collect it all together. On a twisty road the Evo is as quick and entertaining a way to travel as you could imagine.
But not every road suits it. The MR gets Eibach springs which are stiffer than before, and a fraction lower front and rear. Recent Evos have been slightly softer and better able to cope with typically badly-maintained British roads: show the MR potholes, cambers and joints in the tarmac and you'll have trouble guessing which way it'll jump next.
Other drawbacks? Well, the trade-off for the monster power output is epic fuel consumption: the official combined figure is a smidge under 20mpg, and our test suggests that few enthusiastic drivers will manage even that. You'll be lucky to get much more than 200 miles from a tank of fuel, and there's a second blow to long-distance potential in the form of oppressive cabin noise. Both threaten to reduce the Evo's status from ultimate all-weather, all-use bargain supercar to simply an irrelevant trackday tearaway.
If neither the fuel consumption nor the cabin noise bothers you, there's plenty to celebrate. Performance and handling are not in question. There's plenty of space, and the basically low-rent cabin is lifted with a Momo steering wheel and supportive Recaro seats trimmed in leather and Alcantara. Outside you get a new carbon fibre lip at the front and a 'shark tooth' vortex generator over the rear window (said to kill drag and boost rear downforce) together with 17-inch Speedline wheels, though only a dedicated Evo-spotter will notice the differences.
The best news is that none of the extras cost you anything because each one of the 200 Evo IX MRs will carry the same price tag as the previous special-edition FQ-360, at £35,539 (and you can delete the leather trim to shave the price down by £1k).
There are plenty of more sensible, more mature ways to spend the money and plenty of cars which offer a more even spread of abilities. But if you want to go very, very fast in a straight line and around (smooth) corners, this Evo is in a class of its own.