2004: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
“There is an undeniable yet welcome coarseness to this car, a sharpness that hasn’t been dulled by the inevitable regulatory processes and focus groups that break the spirit of an automobile. The Evo has survived with its rallying essence intact. There are few competition-bred cars – even production-based ones – that have made the transition from the rally stage to the road as seamlessly as the Evo. Only the aborted Le Mans racer now known as the Porsche Carrera GT and the stealth F1 car called the Ferrari Enzo lay their cubic-dollar racing technology on the street with the same authority. The big difference is that the Mitsubishi is affordable and usable once it gets there.
“That Mitsubishi makes such a car may seem bewildering to those of us who haven’t spent the last few years sautéing our brains in front of Sony PlayStation consoles. To most car enthusiasts, Mitsubishi is primarily a manufacturer of television sets. How has it come to crank out this solo of purest speed metal amid the elevator music of its current lineup? And if the Evo is just a happy fluke of Mitsu’s rally program, why are we giving it our most grandiose prize?
“The Automobile of the Year award honors, variously, the most significant, the most groundbreaking, or simply the most fun-to-drive vehicle of a given model year. Even the craftiest PR flack would have a hard time arguing that the Evo is significant for anyone other than Mitsubishi and the several thousand enthusiasts per year who will buy one. It isn’t all that groundbreaking, either. In fact, Subaru showed far more chutzpah in bringing the rally-born WRX here two years ago than did Mitsubishi, which waited. The Evo’s importance and its daring are contained in its driving dynamics. Indeed, all debate about its significance is silenced by a well-laid piece of road, a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, and a good driver at the controls.”