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First Drive: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Review by Feann Torr - 10/July/2008

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution : Review

Dark clouds obscure the horizon, rain is bucketing down and the race track is soaked.

In any other situation you would probably watch from the sidelines, marvelling at the foolhardy drivers.

But not in the new generation Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.

On sale this month, the Evo exhibits the kind of aggressive tenacity that can only come from a four-wheel drive rally-bred car, capable of delivering velcro-like grip even in soaking conditions, and enough surging turbo acceleration to make you grin like a kid in a candy store.

With more all-wheel drive gubbins and traction trickery than ever before, the new generation Evolution has arrived in Australia, and yes, it lives up to the hype.

It's got a more advanced, light weight, all aluminium 2.0-litre turbo engine, a fancy 4WD torque distribution and traction control system controlled by a new super-computer brain, and a brand new twin clutch automatic transmission to ensure rapid power delivery, all of which contributes to one of the most satisfying and drivable performance cars ever made.

Put simply, one of the best just got better.

And the icing on the cake? This is the first time an Evo has been offered with a 10-inch sub woofer. Rock on!

Make: Mitsubishi
Model: Lancer Evolution
Price: $59,490 - $71,690
Transmissions: 6-speed SST auto, 5-speed manual
Engine: 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbo petrol
Seats: 5
Car Supplier: Mitsubishi Motors Australia


Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution : Review

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution : Review

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution : Review

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution : Review

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution : Review

Driving around Winton Raceway in the soaking
wet showed how well engineered the new Evo is

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution : Review

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution : Review

Switches, Buttons & Rumours

While the Subaru WRX STI is festooned with a range of initially confusing torque distribution and throttle controls, the Evolution keeps it simple. There are three options to control how the central differential apportions torque front to rear - tarmac, gravel, snow.

We used the gravel setting on the wet racetrack because it offers a more balanced torque split, and on the road (when it dried up) we used the tarmac setting which delivers a more dynamic feel.

There are also a couple of options on the twin clutch SST, including the normal mode which is good for long distance touring, and the sports and tiptronic modes, which are suited to hardcore, at-the-limit driving.

Rumours: The behind the scenes talk centred on the Ralliart brand in Australia, which will grow to include the Lancer Ralliart priced at around $40,000 to rival the Subaru Impreza WRX, the Lancer Sportback Ralliart, and an updated Colt Ralliart by the end of the year. Ralliart also hopes to expand its performance parts and merchandising areas in the near future.

There will be a new 2.4-litre 'luxury' Lancer released soon, and talk also turned to a new Triton-based SUV and the possibility of a diesel-powered Outlander with the dual clutch SST.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Pricing:

 Lancer Evolution: $59,490 (manual)
 Lancer Evolution: $64,490 (auto)
 Lancer Evolution MR: $71,690 (auto)

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution : Review

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution : Review

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution : Review

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is
one of the best drivers cars ever built

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution : Review

First there was rain, then snow on the alps, but
in both dry and wet, the Evo lived up to its name

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution : Review

The interior has a come a long way, from being a
plastic-fantastic rattle box to this - a quality cabin

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (it's only known as the Evolution X in Japan) is arguably the boldest update of Mitsubishi's most famous model since it first emerged in the early 1990s.

It's still got an insane 4-cylinder turbo engine that gives the car the sort of acceleration usually only experienced in 8-cylinder sports cars, it's still got mad levels of AWD grip and cornering tenacity, but it's demeanour has changed somewhat.

It's a much easier (or should I say less painful) car to drive day to day.

Chris Maxted, the product strategy manager for Mitsubishi Motors Australia, talked about moving the car in a premium position. The new Evolution is about "not just raw performance, but livable performance," said Maxted.

The Evo's shift from raw to regal is already having an effect: of the more than 100 pre-orders for the car, 80 per cent of these were for the $70,000+ fancy pantsMR model, and 95% of all pre-orders have been ordered with the SST (sport shift transmission).

Indeed, one of the biggest changes for the new Evolution is the SST dual clutch gearbox, which now gives the Lancer Evolution a 6-speed automatic with which to entice drivers. 

Together with a slightly more compliant ride, the range of luxury enhancements includes a thumping stereo, high resolution touch-screen sat nav and iPod connectivity, smart key system, Bluetooth phone connectivity with voice recognition, rain sensing wipers, seven airbags, and for the first time on an Evolution model cruise control.

Mitsubishi Motors Australia was very clear and quietly confident when it said it wanted to attract a broader range of buyers, the kind of drivers who would normally opt for vehicles like the Nissan 350Z, Mazda RX-8 and Volkswagen Golf R32.

It's a much nicer and more refined car to cruise around in thanks to a more tractable engine with more low end shunt (but still keeps its banzai 7000rpm+ character), and it's not as rattly and raw as it used to be which will displease the die-hards but will benefit Mitsubishi in the long run.

There are two models: Evolution ($59,490) and Evolution MR ($71,690). The entry-level Evolution comes with 18-inch Enkei wheels, Brembo brakes, the storming 217kW 2.0-litre turbo engine, seven airbags, 6-speaker CD/MP3 stereo, proximity 'smart' key, cruise control, rain sensing wipers, Bluetooth and voice recognition and a 5-speed manual transmission. The 6-speed SST dual clutch automatic is a $5,000 option.

The Evolution MR costs about $10,000 more but adds the SST dual clutch gearbox, two-piece front brake rotors and BBS wheels that together shave off about 6kg of weight, Bilstein shocks, Eibach springs, the fancy touch-screen system, HID headlamps, heated leather Recaro seats plus external chrome accents and a Rockford Fosgate audio system with 10-inch sub woofer.

Mitsubishi will also offer a "performance pack" for those who want to stay with the 5-speed manual but want the improved chassis. It costs $5,500 and adds the two piece brake rotors, Bilstein shockers and Eibach springs plus the lighter 18-inch forged aluminium BBS wheels.

On The Track

It's been raining cats and dogs, it's bitterly cold, and the race track doesn't look very inviting. But we were eager to drive the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.

As it turned out, the slippery track allowed us to test the various electronic AWD and traction systems rather intensively.

After settling into the tight-fitting Recaro racing seats - an Evolution staple - and being waved on by the track marshals, it became clear that the Evo spirit endures. Though the Evolution has grown up in a lot of ways, the fundamentals are still there: direct steering, rigid chassis, storming engine and excellent communication.

The engine generates huge amounts of torque - 366Nm @ 3500rpm - and the turbo rush that typified Evo's of yore returns. The car is super quick, but for myriad reasons (mainly reduced noise, vibration, and harshness levels) you never feel as though you're going quite as fast, which is testament to the improved chassis because in reality you will be lapping just as quickly, if not moreso, than past Evolution models.

The 4B11 T/C engine replaces the outgoing 4G63 T/C mill and is the first all-new engine since the Evo VI came to Australia. Because it replaces the cast iron engine block with an aluminium one it's 12kg lighter and a new turbocharger developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries adds around 20% more poke at low revs.Here are the vitals:

 217kW @ 6500rpm
 366Nm @ 3500rpm

As Mitsubishi explained, the various scoops and vents on the bonnet, the large rear wing and diffuser are not just for boy-racer aesthetics: they actually help increase thermal efficiency in the engine bay and improve high speed stability respectively.

We took the first few laps fairly gingerly but after a couple of circuits it was as if there was almost no water on the track. The new Evolution develops unparalleled levels of grip thanks to generous 245/40 R18 tyres and the extra-clever S-AWC, or super all-wheel control system, which conjures traction magic and makes the 217kW power hit eminently manageable.

Hideyuki Iwata, Project manager for the Lancer Evolution and the technical director of Mitsubishi's Dakar Rally team was flown out from Japan to be at the Australian launch and summed it up nicely saying the vehicle provides "speed with control".

No argument there.

Iwata san explained that "After improving cornering performance, we beefed up the performance of the AYC [active yaw control] system, which helps to alleviate tyre scrub, and also developed a new Active Stability Control (ASC) system that constantly monitors and operates to stabilise vehicle body attitude."

Simply put, the 'beefed up' active yaw control system splits engine torque between the left and right rear wheels, essentially eliminating understeer and giving the car a hugely positive cornering attitude.

It changes direction very keenly, aggressively even, which is helped by the engine mounting which is 10mm lower, a 40 per cent increase in torsional rigidity and a 60 per cent increase inbending rigidity.

The all-new suspension delivers 23% more lateral stiffness at the front of the car compared to Evo IX and you can feel this as the car turns in - it feels more direct and eager.

The stability control is also very clever, and rather useful in wet conditions. It allows a lot of scope for drivers try different lines and approaches to various types of corners without too much fear of completely losing control. The 4WD trickery allowed us to push the car a bit further each lap and by the end of the session we were confidently drifting deep into corners under brakes and powering out with the odd fish tail. Colin McRae would have been proud.

Not only fast, the new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is a remarkably involving car to drive and hugely enjoyable to steer - especially in the wet.

The two most impressive things I discovered about the Evo on a circuit with no speed limits and no traffic, were the communication - you can clearly feel how much grip either the front or rear end has left and when it's about to let go - and the brakes. 

With 30mm larger rotors front and rear (350mm and 330mm diameters respectively) compared to the Evo IX, and clamped by Brembo calipers, the new generation Lancer Evolution has staggering stopping power. Even in the wet the thing generates huge G-forces under brakes, and they truly are one of the best aspects of the Evolution.

There does seem to be slightly more body roll than on previous models, but it is still tracks resolutely through corners with a firm, flat attitude thanks to the rigid chassis which makes the car eminently controllable - even in shite weather.

While the 5-speed manual transmission offers short, sharp shifts and feels quicker (and louder) than the 6-speed automatic versions, the SST is probably the pick of the two, offering lightning quick shifts that can be left to the car to figure out (which it does well), or controlled by the driver via paddle shifts or the +/- on the gear lever.

On The Road

While the Evo is bona fide track day tool, it's also an incredible road car. For the asking price of around $60,000, it makes bad drivers look good, and good drivers look amazing.

The traction control system came across as more refined than on previous Lancer Evolution cars on some of the damp roads we drove through in the Victorian alps, keeping the rear of the car on the straight and narrow. Though there was the odd case of understeer when we went into corners with too much heat, on the whole the Evo package is remarkably well sorted.

It tips into corners very nicely and tracks through corners with aplomb, the active yaw control diverting torque to the outside rear wheel to reduce the effects of understeer. It's less concerned with mid-corner bumps and cracks in the road too, as the subtle increase in suspension compliancy allows the Mitsubishi to better absorb rough patches.

On dry roads it's simply superb. As mentioned, the new Lancer Evolution is one of the most communicative cars you can buy. Period.

It feels very stable thanks to a 30mm increase in track width, and the battery and washer fluid container have been moved to the boot which reduces cargo space sllightly but improves the Lancer Evolution's balance.

The engine is revvy little thing, happy to spin up well past 7000rpm and even when you're banging on the rev limiter it doesn't feel strained or stretched.

It charges forward with the kind of pace that is usually only found in more exotic cars, and though there is an unofficial benchmark time of 5.7 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint, it feels more like a 5.5 second car.

The small tiller delivers ultra direct steering, meaning you don't need much input to turn the car. Even riding shotgun you can feel exactly what the car underneath you is doing, such is it's talkative chassis; when it's nearing it's grip limit; when one of the rear wheels wants to spin; or whether it's going to understeer on turbo boosted full throttle corner exits.

The 350mm front and 330mm rear brake rotors, clamped by 4-pot Brembo calipers up front and Brembo 2-potters at the rear, are one of the best aspects of the performance package, giving the car the ability to strike deeper and more confidently into corners than almost any other car I've tested. 

It's quite stunning how deep you can push the new generation Evolution into corners before you have to jump the brake pedal: it washes off speed like a windscreen wiper washes off water.

Mitsubishi has kept the Evolution's jaw-dropping performance levels intact, but by adding a range of comfort and luxury features to the package and including things like an automatic transmission and cruise control, it's well and truly up there with cars like the VW R32 in terms of refinement and ease of use.

Keen to attract a wider audience to the new model, which is larger in every respect than its predecessor and therefore roomier, Mitsubishi now offers a complete luxury package with the range-topping Evolution MR.

In the past it was a brave driver who used the rally-bred Mitsubishi Evolution as a daily driver, but not anymore. Somewhere along the way the Evolution has learned the meaning of civility, and that Mitsubishi has managed to do this without diluting its berserker attitude is astonishing.

While the car is still very stiffly sprung - you still feel most bumps in the road - it has a smoother, more compliant ride than previously and everything feels far more sophisticated. The cockpit looks better, the materials are of a higher quality, and thank Zeus someone had the foresight to include cruise control.

If you opt for the Evolution MR, you'll be surrounded by leather and suede as you call up maps on the high resolution touch-screen display, but both models have the heavily bolstered Recaro sports seats that do a great job of keeping your body immobile as you spear through high-G corners.

On the road the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution has more civility than before, particularly when paired with the dual clutch SST, but loses none of its tractive tenacity nor its blazing acceleration.

I really want to wax textual for hours about how good this car is, how far it has come in this last generation, how scintillating it is to drive, how rewarding it is to power out of corners on full turbo boost, how good the dual clutch gearbox is,and how intriguing the match-up against it's arch-rival the Subaru WRX STI will be.

But that will have wait for our full week-long test drive...

Conclusion

As one of the most famous Japanese performance cars of the last two decades, the Evolution is back in its most potent form yet.

Mitsubishi's engineers and designers wanted to improve two aspects of the Lancer Evolution - the pleasure of driving and the satisfaction of ownership. 

It has succeeded in both, creating a more complete car.

At times the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution doesn't feel as fast or as raw as its precursor, which will appeal to those looking for day-to-day car as well as a high performance automobile. But in reality the Evo's speed and agility are somewhat masked by the improved refinement and compliancy, and it's not until you look at the speedometer or the lap timer that you realise how fast it can be.

It took 300,000 man hours to develop, but takes only a few corners to appreciate. It's one of the best driver's cars ever created, with a huge amount of power and the levels of grip and mammoth stopping power totally blew me away. The way it holds fast through corners - even in the wet - has to be experienced to be believed.

The best Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution ever made? You bet your bottom dollar it is.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Turbo Engine
  • Ride & Handling
  • SST Gearbox
  • S-AWC & High Grip Levels
  • Driver Involvement
  • No Reach Adjust On Steering Wheel
  • Limited Boot Space

Comments on the review? The Car? Your Car? Email us.

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