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Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Lancer - Evolution X sedan

Launch Story

Mitsubishi logo10 Jul 2008

By JAMES STANFORD

MITSUBISHI'S iconic Lancer Evolution has evolved even further, with more power, more complicated all-wheel-drive technology, better handling and a new twin-clutch automatic option.

Unfortunately, it is 90kg heavier than the previous model, but there is an up-side to the extra pork – the Evo is far more comfortable to live with everyday because, whereas the previous spartan interior suggested Mitsubishi had spent all its money on the drivetrain and had none left for anything else, it has loaded in far more gear this time.

The new Evolution is ready to take on its arch-rival Subaru WRX STi and can make an average driver feel like a champion.

The pace at which the new Evo attacked corners at Winton in teeming rain at this week’s launch was simply astounding.

A skid pan showcased its amazing potential and I was shocked when my co-pilot from Mitsubishi said the speedo was showing a constant 90km/h as we maintained a wonderful four-wheel drift around the circle with ease.

This car is so good that in the wet at Winton most drivers would be able to hold big slides in the slower turns of the quality that would earn plenty of points at a drift competition.

It proved that the Evolution is such an advanced car that anyone buying one should take it to the track at least once to see what it can do.

Its super-complex all-wheel-drive system, especially with the electronic stability control system switched on, would allow the most novice driver to keep up an impressive pace.

You can turn the ESC off for a bit of sideways fun, but the active yaw control will continue to shift power across the rear axle to maintain a degree of assistance.

The advanced ability of the system in treacherous conditions can also give drivers a false sense of security, as one journalist on the launch discovered when he clipped a kerb and slammed into a concrete barrier, writing off the car but thankfully not the occupants.

The Evolution is a very fast car and needs to be treated with respect, as was also evident on the wet roads of the Victorian high country, where the Evolution was also able to demonstrate its incredible grip.

On these bumpy, twisting and slippery surfaces, the Evo was able to show remarkable competence that is likely to see it demoralise the opposition at events like Targa Tasmania. It might be heavier, but that doesn’t seem to spoil the way it runs through corners.

On these types of roads, the ESC is best left on. It is not intrusive and far from over-active. If it comes on, chances are you need it.

The agility of the Evo is quite remarkable and there is hardly any body roll.

Its steering feels solid and well-weighted and you feel a lot through it, but a slight glitch did appear on the launch, with the steering rack rattling on one or two very bumpy corners.

True enthusiasts are likely to pick the performance pack for the Eibach springs and Bilstein shocks, as well as the better brake discs and nice wheels.

The suspension mods create a sharper feel and are likely to be the best bet if you want to hit the track, but they do negatively affect the ride. The new models do not ride as firmly and uncomfortably as the previous Evo on the road, but that’s not saying much.

The MR and performance pack models are still uncomfortably firm on uneven surfaces. Whether you will be able to put up with this in daily driving will largely be determined by how keen you are when it comes to the sharper chassis tune and also the tolerance of your passengers.

If the car is only going to be used for road use, my own preference would be the slightly softer set-up of the base car because the chassis is so good that it is still a handling champion in this guise and the ride is considerably better.

The manual gearbox is good – the ample supply of torque on tap means you are unlikely to miss the sixth cog of the previous model – and the clutch is quite light.

Mitsubishi’s TC-SST automatic is a good alternative for those who like to be able to control the shifts but tire of having to do so all day every day. It is quite civilised when left in auto mode, and the changes are quite quick and smooth.

Things get a bit more rapid in Sport, while the Super Sport mode is really only for very enthusiastic driving as it will slam the gears through so there is quite a slap when the clutch is released. In Sport mode the shifts are still quite quick.

What is a shame is the $5000 premium for this auto. That is a lot of money, even for those who can afford a $60,000 car.

The engine has a very linear torque delivery, so you end up going a lot faster than it feels.

Compared to the hardcore Tommi Makinen Evo VI, it feels a bit soft perhaps because that engine, and many earlier Subaru STIs, didn’t have much go down low before the turbo would trigger a mighty explosion of power mid-range that would suddenly sling you forward with brute force.

Perhaps you do feel the extra 90kg of the new car, which for a race or rally car is now rather portly at 1600kg.

This Evo still doesn’t have much when it comes to engine noise and lacks the meat of the STI’s lumpy boxer.

And the turbo doesn’t make any noticeable huffing and puffing noises, either. Just like previous Evolutions, the only way they sound really good is in full-on rally trim with an anti-lag system popping and cracking away.

Refinement is impressive, though. The Evo feels far quieter and the cabin feels more serene than the Subaru, with considerably less wind noise and tyre rumble.

The seats are also excellent. There is no structural difference between the pews in the standard Evo and the MR, which gets leather and a heating function, and they provide good side support for the twisty stuff while still being rather comfortable.

Outright performance is obviously still the key component to any Evolution, but the new car is easier to live with.

The interior styling is still quite plain for a $70,000 car, despite the extra gear, and some of the plastic quality, as well as the design (including a painted dash strip that really should be carbon fibre or at least aluminium) give away that the Evo is still based on an affordable small car.

What is nice is the addition of things like cruise control, Bluetooth phone connection and climate control while the extra assurance of side and curtain airbags is also welcome given the car’s performance potential.

What tends to get overlooked when you drive something like and Evo is its inherent practicality.

There is a huge amount of rear headroom and legroom for quite tall adults in the back and, while the boot is not as big as the hatchback of the STI and is eaten into by the rear-mounted battery and intercooler water bottle, there is still a reasonable amount of space.

The latest Evolution is a rally car that has been tamed, just enough, to be turned into a road car.

From the initial test drive it not only seems to be faster than its main rival, but more refined as well. And, while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, few people, even those who wear a lot of blue, are likely to dispute that the latest Evo looks fantastic, with a real menacing streak.

When you also consider that there is a very good automatic option, albeit an expensive one, the Evolution appears to win by a knockout.

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