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Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Lancer - Evo VIII sedan

Our Opinion

We like
New styling, new yaw control, reduced noise, vibration and harshness, enhanced practicality, price
Room for improvement
Drop in power, torque and therefore performance, still lacks fuel range

23 Jun 2004

RIGHT from the start it’s apparent the latest Evo is a more refined, more civilised proposition than the harder-core (and harder to live with) Evo VI that preceded it on sale here in 2001.

A quieter cabin with less road and engine noise, better (but still undeniably firm) ride quality and superior driveability thanks to a fatter torque curve add up to a more mature, more user-friendly package this time round.

For these reasons, however, it’s fair to say this Evo has also lost some of its more raw predecessor’s animal magnetism. Throw in a slightly less powerful engine than before, thanks to our poor fuel quality, and there’s no escaping Evo has lost some of its pace.

Down to 195kW at 6000rpm (from 206kW at 6500rpm for Evo VI) and 355Nm at 3500rpm (from 373Nm at 3000rpm), Evo VIII is now lineball with STi for power and betters it for torque by 12Nm.

So while Evo remains a good performance match for STi, the resulting performance drop from Evo VIII is backed up by the factory’s own figures, which claim 0-100km/h acceleration in 6.1 seconds (up almost half a second from 5.7), while standing 400-metre sprint time drops a similar amount to 14.5 seconds.

Mind you, top speed remains a healthy 245km/h and with exceptionally frugal (PULP) fuel economy of just 10.9L/100km, the slightly larger 54-litre tank will improve one of Evo VI’s major bugbears: poor fuel range.

But the relative lack of performance is not all that apparent from behind the wheel. Evo still idles with a gnashing-teeth kind of rumble before blasting through the rev range with impressive athleticism, spinning up to redline faster than you can reach for second and even third gears in the close-ratio five-speed via the short-throw leather shifter.

The turbo rush is addictive as ever, and one never seems to tire of the kick-in-the-pants fury that follows just a whiff of turbo lag in the lower gears, or the solid wall of torque that greets even mild throttle inputs at higher speeds in higher gears.

If performance has been diluted, it’s not by much in the real world - although the lower noise, vibration and harshness levels can contribute to the impression it has.

It’s around corners that Evo has always been the turbo AWD benchmark, however, and handling is even better with Evo VIII.

Improvements to the trick Active Yaw Control limited-slip diff system (now called Super-AYC) seem to have made rear-drive-style power oversteer even more predictable and readily available, while changes to the active centre differential are said to make the front/rear torque distribution more efficient on a wider variety of surfaces. And there’s an interior switch to manually select between tarmac, gravel and snow traction programs.

Like the button between the seats that sprays the throttle body with water to lower induction temperatures manually (it’s also automatic), we’re sure the tarmac-gravel-snow switch works - but it also offers unrivalled bench racing points that STi owners can’t boast.

Elsewhere, Evo VIII continues on its evolutionary path: slightly lighter wheels save weight, styling of the front-end, bonnet and ironing board-style fixed rear wing is distinctively edgier and will be immediately obvious to most rally fans, and the blue-look interior seems classier and more European.

And the Recaro sports buckets – in either standard cloth trim or optional leather – are simply superb. But they do inhibit entry/exit.

We also sampled the optional (even firmer) suspension package, which seemed diabolically unsuited to the bumpy, broken roads sampled on the launch around the Barrington national park area near Cessnock in NSW.

But gearing seemed sensibly spaced and it’s good to know a racetrack suspension option is available for those so inclined, just as a host of new Evo accessories will be welcomed by the turbo AWD brigade.

Yes, Evo VIII’s performance has been dulled and there are the usual turbo AWD issues with premium fuel and security.

Beyond that, however, the latest four-door Evo is more practical, more refined and cheaper than ever, and is a logical new alternative to the all-conquering STi with ready-made cult status.

At this price, Evo VIII also makes an interesting AWD turbo alternative to growing choice of sub-$60,000-ish performance cars like 350Z, RX-8 and hot locals like Commodore SS, HSV ClubSport, XR6T, XR8 and FPV GT.

Only problem is, there are not enough of them.

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