It's a real pocket rocket, carrying a 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a sixspeed manual tranny. Hit the gas with the car in second gear and you feel like you are headed for orbital speeds. This is a lot of fun at the top of on-ramps, as you leave the rest of traffic in your dust. The 276-hp DOHC engine pushes the little sedan from 0-to-60 in less than 5 sec. In tests the car has covered the quarter mile in under 14 sec, finishing at about 105 mph.

Mitsubishi only makes about 6,000 Lancers annually and the car has attracted a cult following. We ran across two Evo owners in our short time with the test vehicle. Their eyes lit up when they talked about their cars. It was like meeting someone with whom you share a secret.

The Evo also looks hot. The effect is amplified by race-style front grillwork, 17-in forged alloy wheels, and clear jewel-styled tail lamps. These cars sport all-wheel drive as well. A center differential employs an electrohydraulic clutch that distributes power to the rear wheels at the direction of various sensors for wheel speed, throttle position, steering wheel angle, and braking. The system has preset levels for dry, wet, and snowy surface conditions. (Though running on the stiff high-performance tires our test vehicle carried, I would not want to be on snowy surfaces even with AWD.)

Evo rides like a race car, in other words, firm bordering on harsh. Suffice to say it would not be your choice for bumpy country roads. The MR carries Bilstein struts in the front and stabilizer bars front and rear. These components, combined with a quick-ratio rack-and-pinion steering, make the car respond well and give it a viselike grip through corners. The smooth mechanism of the manual tranny is another strong point. We never missed a shift.

The front seats of the Evo are like the suspension: firm. The Evo carries a specially bolstered sport seat that grips you around the sides. There is good visibility out the sides and a respectable amount of headroom even for taller drivers. Tilt steering is standard and backseat occupants get more legroom than you might expect for a small car. There are some nice standard features that include AC, a tach, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and CD player (though most buyers of cars like the Evo will likely spring for classier aftermarket audio systems).

The Evo's weak points include a lot of wind and road noise, even at low speeds. The rear spoiler sits smack in the middle of the driver's view out the rear. And some might say the car is a little pricey. Our test vehicle carried an $800 MR package that included aluminum interior trim, boost gauge, and wheel locks. Though connoisseurs of driving will appreciate this car, they may wince at its total price, which came in at $35,594.

— Lee Teschler