Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Lancer - Ralliart Evo VI sedan
performance, grip, handling, street cred
Room for improvement
security, equipment level, fuel range/requirement
24 Aug 2001
MOVE over WRX STi: the cult hero status of Japanese rally-replica specialist Subaru is under serious threat following the Australian release of an even hotter, slicker and quicker turbo four-wheel drive forest-racer-for-the-road.
With a price of $79,990 - some four times the entry fee of the cooking-version Lancer sedan upon which it is based - many may question the sanity of the 100 Mitsubishi customers that snapped up Australia's limited allocation of September 2000-build Ralliart Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Makinen Editions through eight specialist Mitsubishi dealers in May 2001.
Fact is that when launched here the rally-bred Evolution VI version of the Lancer was already superseded by the all-new Evo VII in Japan, and many will remember that Mitsubishi Australia's decision back in 1996 to discontinue the slow selling turbo four-wheel drive version of its Lancer, the GSR, was one of the catalysts for the resounding popularity of Subaru's all-conquering Impreza WRX.
But, despite suggestions to the contrary, the Evo VI is far from being a case of too little too late. Much of the blame for Evo's late arrival Down Under can be laid at the feet of our complicated Australian Design Rules and a change to the low-volume import scheme during Ralliart's certification process for the car.
But one drive in the Evo is enough to forget about the protracted wait, the $80K pricetag and the inevitable challenges that will come from Subaru Technica International-tweaked versions of the new Impreza and the Makinen car's own successor, the Evo VII iteration of the all-new Lancer, both due next year.
Mitsubishi's rally-bred Evolution Lancers have long been the subject of desire for those who've seen them on Japanese roads or carving up the scenery in Group N rallying. Many have even made their dream a reality by privately importing them, but now for the first time the road-going version of the car that won a record four consecutive World Rally Championships is officially on sale Down Under.
That's right, if they were quick enough, anyone with a spare $79,990 could be driving one now. The Tommi Makinen Edition model is effectively an "Evo 6.5", being a development of the Evo VI that sits midway between the stripped-out Japanese-spec RS version and the fully equipped GSR road car. And, like the long line of Lancer Evolution models before it, the sixth version comes dripping with cutting-edge rally-bred technology.
Powered by the same 4G63-type 2.0-litre engine first used in the Galant VR4 to start Mitsubishi's long line of rally successes, Evo VI produces 206kW of power at 6500rpm and peak torque of 373Nm at 3000rpm, and is coupled to a close-ratio five-speed manual transmission and constant four-wheel drivetrain.
Mitsubishi's Evo Lancer achieved the Japanese-maximum power limit of 206kW (280hp) back in late 1996 with the Evo IV, courtesy of new cams and pistons, and a twin-scroll turbocharger. After five years of engine development, we doubt the Evo produces no more than the Japanese manufacturers' gentlemen's agreement of 206kW and, indeed, the Evo feel loads quicker than previous iterations we've sampled.
Backing this impression up are independent acceleration tests that show the 1280kg Evo is capable of accelerating to 100km/h in just 5.25 seconds - meaning effortless 13.2-second quarter-mile passes - which makes Evo as quick as Porsche's 911. More importantly, it betters the 800 examples of two and four-door STis that were imported here by Subaru in 1999 by at least two-tenths over 400 metres. And it's just as happy to labour around town in fifth gear.
But the Evo's driving experience is one of modern motoring's most memorable not because of its tractability, its kick-in-the-back acceleration or even the eye-watering torque surge it delivers from 2500rpm at 160km/h in the upper gears. No, the Evo is one of the most rewarding cars to drive because of its high-tech four-wheel drivetrain, the greatest trick in Evo's formidable arsenal.
Put simply, Evo has an Active Yaw Control system that uses the rear differential to transfer torque between the rear wheels when cornering. It is essentially a vehicle stability system that operates in conjunction with ABS via a number of steering, throttle and G-force sensors to provide grip and stability in all conditions.
In practice, if you're brave enough to explore the outer limits of its considerable levels of adhesion on just about any road surface, Evo will not understeer and run wide like many other all-wheel drive cars. Instead, it behaves like a rear-drive car, allowing its driver to "steer with the throttle" via a big degree of power oversteer before it takes control. In essence, it's a more faithful replication of the system used by WRC drivers and, in short, is loads of fun on the right road.
Backing all this up are four-piston front Brembo brake callipers with ventilated discs all round, brilliantly adjustable Recaro seats, a lightweight suspension set-up that employs aluminium arms front and rear and specific springs and shock absorbers, and a wild bodykit that includes an adjustable rear wing, aluminium bonnet, ten-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels and guaranteed street-cred.
Qualms? For $80K we expect a higher level of security than that of the standard Lancer, meaning Evo gets an immobiliser and central locking but no alarm or remote key. Thanks to phenomenally bad fuel economy, fuel range from the pitiful 50-litre tank can be as low as 200km. Combined with Evo's recommendation of rare 100-octane fuel, running costs won't be cheap.
But for a car that accelerates, grips and handles better than anything under $200K, the Evo presents few real compromises. It might be a highly modified version of a garden variety Japanese sedan - not a purpose built sports car - but the end result is one of the most involving cars we've ever driven.
Worth the wait? You betcha!
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