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Super Bowl Sunday Drive: When Millions are on the Couch, Start an Evolution - The Kiinote

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 2/12/2015 Ron Kiino

Along with more than 114 million Americans, I tuned in to watch Super Bowl XLIX. It marked my first game of the season, a coincidental overlap (I swear) with a business trip back to the U.S. My Thursday flight from Tokyo arrived early into San Diego, a sign, I hoped, of good things to come from the weekend ahead. Over the next two days, I learned about and drove the rambunctiously entertaining 292-horsepower, all-wheel-drive Volkswagen Golf R, the hottest Golf to ever come Stateside. Not a bad way to warm up for the Super Bowl. And then, Sunday -- game day -- the day I was most excited about. But not because of the Golf R. And not because of the big game.

No, my favorite part of Super Bowl Sunday is the hour before kickoff. While virtually every one of those 110 million-plus is nesting on the couch, munching on chips, chugging brew, and enjoying the pregame festivities, I'm belting into the driver's seat, hungry and thirsty for the solace and solitude of a clear, curvy road. As you can imagine, roads during this pregame period are about as empty as a politician's promise -- just man and machine and the asphalt and the breeze. If you fired up Google Maps, the highways and byways would look like rivers of sparkling emeralds. In other words, too good to be true.

2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR Picking a ride for this magical moment is easy. Just stick to this formula: a fun, rewarding powertrain and a sporty, confidence-inspiring chassis. Simple. For XLIX, I opted for the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR. Not only did the frenetic Evo X (for 10th iteration) live by that formula, but it also gave me context for evaluating the Golf R and the chance to say goodbye to one of my all-time favorite nameplates. After the 2015 model year, the Evolution, as we know it, will be over.

My first experience in an Evo came back in 2003, when the VIII made its U.S. debut. I have vivid recollections of that mind-blowing econocar-cum-rally rocket. The on-boost rush of its 271-horse 4G63 turbo I-4, the crispness of its five-speed gearbox, the body-hugging support of its Recaro buckets, the quickness and accuracy of its go-kart steering, the force of its Brembo brakes, the composure of its inverted-strut, track-tuned suspension, the grip of its Enkei wheels wrapped in near-slick Yokohama tires. The list goes on and on, from the bulging fenders to the carbon-fiber wing. Love it or hate it, the Evo changed the perception of what a $30,000 performance car was capable of.

2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR When the Evo X arrived in 2008, it had grown in size and heft, but it offset the added mass with more power from a new 4B11 engine and such fresh technology as a dual-clutch gearbox and (a first for the U.S.) Active Yaw Control. Seven years on, the X hasn't evolved much, making it a fitting example of good news/bad news. First, the bad: It still sucks down gas like it's firing on 10 cylinders, not four; per my $41,805 MR Touring tester, it ain't cheap; sans a backup camera and a USB input, it's showing its age; and without Recaros and a wing, is it really an Evo? Now the good: It still rockets to 60 (in 5.1 seconds) like it is firing on 10 cylinders; it grips the skidpad at an impressive 0.98 g; and it consumes curves with the grace, precision, and spine-tingling wonderfulness of a Cayman.

With Mitsu announcing the possible return of the legendary Montero, the thought of allowing the legendary Evo to fade into oblivion is saddening. If the Evo XI ever becomes a reality, chances are it'll be sporting an advanced hybrid setup, a less expensive approach to what we're witnessing in the Acura NSX and Porsche 918. Fingers crossed for the XI, I'm grateful for my thumbs-up goodbye in the X.

Photos by Jessica Walker

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