The Faster Master Meets Fast Bastard You can try to come up with reasons why these cars shouldn't be compared, but they'll all be too late because we already did. By Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor Date posted: 12-07-2008 We're playing follow-the-leader in the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR and the 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP. At the word "go," the heavy-lidded gaze of the G8's front fascia suddenly swells up in the Evo's rearview mirror. The sound of a rip-snorting V8 gains urgency before crowding and then finally overwhelming the Evo's tepid turbocharged whoosh as the G8 elbows its way past the Mitsubishi on the road. It's a troubling moment for the Evo. Here's an icon that has earned a reputation for slaying giants and it's getting smoked by a Pontiac, of all things. A freakin' Pontiac. Evolution, indeed — it needs to mutate into something that has another 85 horsepower if it is to stand a chance against this GXP right now. A New Flavor of Alphabet Soup Our long-term Evo MR was pressed into duty for this comparison test and came out on top. The G8 GXP is one of the most well-rounded performance cars GM has ever made. What was that? A comparison test involving an Evo and the other car isn't a Subaru? Life's full of surprises. Get a helmet. Forget about the Evo's natural rival, the Subaru WRX STI. Pontiac's V8-powered rear-wheel-drive GXP boasts not a single scrap of rally breeding, yet shares its mission of versatile performance with the Evo in a way the STI cannot. For example, both the G8 GXP and the Lancer Evolution MR are very high-performance cars that can be had with some kind of automatically shifting gearbox. Here's your comparison: These are simply the most user-friendly overachieving sedans available for $40 grand. The Lowdown This turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 is building the kind of following that guys raised on V8s might not fully comprehend. Nothing like a woofly 6.2-liter pushrod V8 to get the attention of every red-blooded American male within earshot. Consider for a moment that the G8 GXP is the most powerful Pontiac ever built, including all those Firebirds with halitosis-spewing poultry on their hoods. Don't burn your Burt Reynolds posters, though. This four-door sedan promises to continue the Trans Am's legacy of high performance. For starters, the Corvette's 6.2-liter LS3 pushrod V8 is stuffed into the GXP's engine bay, and it generates 415 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque, an amount just slightly less stonking than in the Chevy. A six-speed automatic transmission comes as standard equipment. Yes, you pay more for the optional six-speed stick. The original Bandit had a slushbox, too. Coincidence? Options are few for the GXP. Aside from the manual gearbox (which this car lacks), there's a $900 sunroof (which this car wears). Otherwise, it's no different from the stick-equipped GXP we recently tested, from the suspension upgrades to its limited-slip differential. The GXP's final price is yet to be announced, but hints from the Pontiac peeps have us pretty confident in our $40,895 estimate, including destination. The Lancer Evolution MR is powered by the same 291-horsepower turbocharged inline-4 found in all Evos. Its six-speed TC-SST dual-clutch automated gearbox is the sole transmission choice in the MR, and our test car (plucked from our fleet of long-term test cars) has been optioned with fancy Phantom Black paint and the Technology package, which includes navigation, premium audio and satellite radio. Its price with destination totals $41,785. Technology Can Bite Forged BBS wheels look fantastic, and the two-piece Brembo brakes offer plenty of staying power; the GXP pips the Evo's stopping distance, though. Time has been kind to our long-term Evo, because even with 6,000 miles on the clock, it's quicker than when we first tested it in July. It now tackles 60 mph in 5.4 seconds (5.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and runs the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds at 99.7 mph. These results better its earlier performance by a few tenths, suggesting perhaps that its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine benefits from a few thousand miles of hard driving. For all the ballyhoo about automated manual transmissions, the MR's TC-SST gearbox really hamstrings the Evo when it comes to catapulting forward from a standstill. Revs are limited by the engine controller to only 3,200 rpm when you're two-pedaling it on the starting line, which are too few revs to fully exploit the massive traction of the car's all-wheel-drive system. What's more, if you do a few launches using this two-pedal technique, brake-torquing the car, the clutch pack soaks up enough heat to make the Evo belch up an electronic white flag, and it goes into self-protection mode until things can cool off. A Pro Stock drag car it is not. Shattering Preconceptions Know what a 415-hp Vette engine can do to a sedan's attitude? Of course you do. The G8 GXP, on the other hand, could do burnouts all day. Sure, its six-speed autobox doesn't have the sophistication of the Evo's dual-clutch affair, but the flip side is that it is also simpler. Heat doesn't enter the equation unless we're talking about the pavement that's liquefying beneath the rear meats during the GXP's 4.9-second sprint to 60 mph (4.6 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). And although the Pontiac out-flabs the Evo by nearly 400 pounds when you compare curb weight (4,049 pounds for the GXP and 3,658 pounds for the Evo MR), the big American sedan kills the quarter-mile some 0.7 second quicker than the all-wheel-drive upstart, blasting the 1320 in 13.1 seconds at 107.6 mph. Bye, bye, Evo. When you lay into the throttle in the GXP, you don't get whacked in the chest by the force of acceleration, yet the speedo needle swings across the dial as if propelled by an irresistible magnetic force and the transmission's tall gearing makes the sensation seem endless. When we got the keys to the GXP, the Pontiac guys casually mentioned that a GXP equipped with the automatic will out-accelerate the version with a manual transmission. Something about launching better, but we were too distracted by the GXP's good looks to remember the particulars. Sure enough, this performance by the autobox-equipped GXP trumps even the manual-transmission version we tested. But don't go thinking the GXP is some one-dimensional muscle car. Our testing shows the G8 GXP's best stop from 60 mph to be 108 feet, compared to 113 feet in the Evo. What's more, the G8 offers superior practicality. Its trunk volume is positively huge compared to the Evo's puny offering, and while rear-seat passengers fit well in the Evo, there's much more legroom in the G8. The Evo's cabin has shed the dime-store furnishings of previous iterations and now has a bit more style than even the G8. Still, the Mitsubishi's cabin echoes with a hollow boom on the road compared to the G8's interior, and the driving position is really hurting for a telescoping steering wheel. Measured on the respective merits of these cars so far, things aren't looking so good for the Mitsubishi. And Then the Road Curves The Evo MR gives up 124 hp to the G8, but makes up for it with handling precision the G8 can't hope to match. Once the road straightens out, the G8 GXP develops an appetite for wings. The G8 has breezed ahead of the Evo at this point. But since we're not the kind to give up easily, we're still hard on the gas in the Evo as we chase the G8 GXP. Then the first series of turns approaches. From turn-in to midcorner to track-out, the Evo claws back big chunks of ground from the Pontiac's lead. Quickly the realization settles in that it's not just the Evo's heroic mechanical grip that plays to its favor. You also have a terrific sense of what the Mitsu's chassis is up to, since the steering is immediate and unfiltered in its communication. In no time you are slithering the Evo at its limits in full command of its cornering trajectory. Now that we're away from the drag strip, the dual-clutch transmission's brilliance emerges. It snaps off gearchanges with decidedly more finesse and responsiveness than the GXP's six-speed automatic, and further offers multiple shift strategies in both automatic and manual modes. The GXP's traditional slushbox is a stone axe in comparison. Leveraging Its Assets It's not a one-string banjo, this GXP. A few turns later, the Evo noses past the G8. Open tarmac lies ahead, revealing a sequence of switchbacks. As we approach, the Evo's torque-transfer all-wheel-drive magic enhances the car's playfulness and promotes a neutral balance in the corners that can be adjusted with the throttle or a dab of left-foot braking. It's easy to place the Evo where you want it, and the traction of the all-wheel-drive system lets you reapply the throttle early and deeply as you hit the apex. The Evo's 69.7-mph slalom run handily stuffs the GXP's 63-mph performance, and could have been better if its all-wheel-drive system had faster reflexes. In these circumstances, more of the Evo's performance envelope can be used more of the time, so one turn seems to flow naturally into the next. The Mitsubishi is simply faster and more engaging in these conditions than the GXP. And it's not as though the GXP can't find its way through a chicane. Despite its size and weight, this G8 is a genuine sport sedan. Grip at the front is surprisingly tenacious, and the car's long wheelbase ensures that rotation toward the corner's apex is progressive. The chassis is terrifically solid — think BMW, not Buick. It's obvious that a lot of engineering sweat went into making this car hide its weight so well when driven in anger yet ride with such comfortable fluidity. But the GXP's steering is deaf and mute compared to the Evo's, and its steering wheel is too large and pockmarked with odd tumors around its rim. The automatic transmission is also all wrong for this kind of open-road driving. And grip? At 0.95g for the Evo to the GXP's 0.87g, it's game, set and match. The tighter the road, the farther ahead the Evo pulls. Sealing the Deal The Evo's interior is somewhat less drab than the GXP's, and more logically laid out besides. Surprisingly, the Evo MR is the better-equipped of these two cars, overturning the notion that rally replicas are for masochists. In addition to the aforementioned all-wheel-drive and the automated manual gearbox, the Evo offers a navigation system with a 30GB hard drive as well as keyless ignition. The Evo's seats are a hundred times more supportive than the GXP's wider-is-better affairs, and the Mitsubishi's shift paddles on the steering column are made for full-throttle driving. Details like this make the Evo even more convincing as a driver's car. As a result, the Evo MR has a substantial edge over the GXP in this portion of our test scoring. And it turns out that this edge is enough to seal the deal. The Pontiac G8 GXP does more than politely ask to be invited into the sport sedan mixer; it kicks the door in. Sure, it lays waste to the Evo in any contest of acceleration, but it's more than simply quick. Instead the G8 GXP is well-rounded in a way that carves out a special spot in the hierarchy of drivers' cars. Of course, even though the G8 GXP is quicker and cheaper with an automatic transmission than it is with a manual, you should still get the stick, as the auto just shaves too much man-burger from the LS3 V8's hairy chest in terms of driving satisfaction. That it takes a car as good as the Evo to best the G8 GXP is a testament to what GM has accomplished with this Pontiac. The Evo MR is a car that has a high level of technological sophistication, and while an artificial test-track environment proves frustrating, a more complex driving environment like an imperfect road course reveals the Evo's organic approach to performance. The bits harmonize into a cohesive whole to decisive effect. Not only is the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo MR the more capable handler here, it has precision and tactility that the 2009 Pontiac G8 XP can't touch. The Evo MR isn't about the numbers. It's about an amply equipped package which delivers a complete driving experience that's accessible to everyone. And that's why the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR wins this comparison test. Behold the most amazing seats in the motoring world. These hold you like a mother holds a child — with comfort and supportive care. The GXP's seats are too wide and too flat for enthusiastic driving. 1ST PLACE - Mitsubishi Evo MR - Precise, capable and rewarding. Though the fully equipped Evo MR might be grown-up, it still excites 2ND PLACE - Pontiac G8 GXP - Acceleration is like a drug, and the GXP deals. Get the optional manual gearbox for optimal dosing. Second Opinion Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton says: Rumble or whoosh. That's essentially what it boils down to for me. There was a time when I would've sold my girlfriend for the 415-horsepower Pontiac G8 GXP...back in 1984, when I was driving a 1969 AMC Javelin SST with the "Go Package." (For those who care about such things, it was the lowly "343" and not the stonking "390," but it was still a pretty stout performer.) Don't get me wrong. I like the G8, especially this GXP version and the big motor (but with the manny-tranny). It makes all the right sounds, looks the part and, in my universe, represents what would've been the natural progression of the quintessential American Muscle Sedan. Had it not been for the unfortunate automotive landscape in the 1970s and 1980s, this car would've, could've and should've arrived here in 1990. The headlines would've read, "Best sedan in the world, bar none!" Check the calendar, my friends, and this American car owes its existence to the GM boys Down Under. Good on ya, mates. But the Evo MR is unquestionably the more sophisticated piece of engineering. "More to go wrong," you say. "Nay," I say. This car owes its existence to the World Rally Championship. Ever seen the Rally of Acropolis (dirt and rocks), Monaco (narrow tarmac streets) and Finland (snow)? It's designed to do it all, and withstand it all. The computerized all-wheel-drive Evo is fast, nimble, tough, and it's this generation's muscle sedan. The rumble of the V8 has been replaced by the whoosh of a twin-scroll turbo in my heart. Still, it was nice to visit my adolescence and listen to the GXP's V8 and "Men Without Hats" on satellite radio. Performance 0 - 30 (sec): 2.1 0 - 45 (sec): 3.6 0 - 60 (sec): 5.4 0 - 75 (sec): 8.0 1/4 Mile (sec @ mph): 13.8 @ 99.7 0-60 with 1-ft Rollout (sec): 5.1 30 - 0 (ft): 29 60 - 0 (ft): 113 Braking Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Very Good Slalom (mph): 69.7 Skid Pad Lateral acceleration (g): 0.95 Handling Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Excellent Db @ Idle: 46.7 Db @ Full Throttle: 77.1 Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 69.9 Acceleration Comments: The launches were all less than optimal since I had to cool the transmission every other run. It would go into its "SLOW-DOWN" self protection mode where it disengages the transmission when being held against the brakes. Also, it'd only allow a 3,200-rpm (and no higher) launch, unlike before where it'd tach up to ˜5,500 rpm. Handling Comments: Skid pad: I love how the Evo can hang the rear end out all the way around the skid pad. Virtually no change in steering angle is required; only throttle manipulation is needed to alter course. Too cool. Slalom: Crazy-quick turn-in takes some getting used to -- I whacked a bunch of cones on the first two attempts. I still feel the AYC is a half-beat too slow to react in the slalom as it's still providing rotation for cone #3 as cone #4 approaches, and so on. All is forgiven, however, as it does a WOT exit like the rally-bred car that it is. Braking Comments: Highly fade-resistant braking runs, all tightly grouped around 113-114 feet. Good initial bite and firm pedal from start to finish. 0 - 30 (sec): 2.1 0 - 45 (sec): 3.4 0 - 60 (sec): 4.9 0 - 75 (sec): 7.0 1/4 Mile (sec @ mph): 13.1 @ 107.6 0-60 with 1-ft Rollout (sec): 4.6 30 - 0 (ft): 28 60 - 0 (ft): 108 Braking Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Very Good Slalom (mph): 63.0 Skid Pad Lateral acceleration (g): 0.87 Handling Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Average Db @ Idle: 50.4 Db @ Full Throttle: 80.8 Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 69.4 Acceleration Comments: A pretty well-sorted traction control system allows for some tire chatter in default Drive mode with ESP/traction control on. However, it was fairly easy to improve on the times with ESP/traction control off. Brake-torquing to 1,500 rpm and releasing produced a little more wheelspin that proved useful. First to 2nd, and 2nd to 3rd upshifts were far quicker than 3rd-4th, which felt like a hole in the gear spacing. Handling Comments: Skid pad: Impressive front-end grip but little info from the steering itself. Could almost get the rear end to step out slightly but not quite. Rather large disparity between clockwise and counterclockwise runs (0.85 vs 0.89g). Would be easy to drift if we were allowed to do so here. Slalom: As with every G8 we've tested, this one requires the slow-in, fast-out technique to keep the pendulum of oversteer at bay. I like having ample power and decent front grip to save the day at the end of a wild run. Braking Comments: Good, not great brakes. So-so initial bite, but once ABS was fully engaged, the G8 slowed rapidly. Moderate fade resistance and moderate pedal effort. Strange transmission calibration felt as if it was still in 3rd gear after the stop and I began to drive away. Not so in Sport Drive, however.