It might be hard to believe, but the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution was born in 1992, so next year it will celebrate its 20th Birthday. Does that make you feel old? It does me, not least because 1992 was also the year that a mad fool gave me a driving licence and presented me with the freedom of British roads.
I can’t remember the name of the chap who uttered the delightful words “you’ve passed”, which is a shame really, because he’s probably one of the most significant people I’ve ever come into contact with. Thank you, Mr unknown chap at the Bournemouth test centre.
Twenty years on, I find it equally harder to believe that I’ve never actually sat in a Mitsubishi Evo, let alone drive one. As an undoubted hero of the road for two decades, I’m amazed that I’ve never become acquainted with the Evo. We haven’t even come close.
For the first years of driving, the insurance costs, let alone the cost of purchase would have been a huge barrier. My flirtation with drivers’ cars didn’t really begin until 2001 when I bought myself a new Ford Puma. This led on to a Racing Puma, followed by a brace of Vauxhall VX220s. I guess the Evo may have appeared on the radar when replacing the VX, but a move to the countryside and the arrival of children put paid to that. No, ‘Evo and Me’ was never meant to be.
But I couldn’t have that. I couldn’t let the joint Birthday of the Evo and my driving licence arrive without having a taste of what the fuss is all about. Less of an evolution and more of a genesis then? Whatever, I was given the keys to the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X FQ-300 and told to have a play. So I did.
With the benefit of hindsight though, I wonder if my moment to experience the Evo had passed. Indeed, I wonder if the Evo’s moment has passed. The world is a different place to 1992 now. We’re more socially and environmentally aware. We’re also being forced, rather reluctantly, to be more economically aware. The Mitsubishi Evo seems completely out of place in 2011. The Evo is a shark-nosed, boxy shape in a distinctly round hole.
In many ways, the Evo X is one of the most accomplished driving machines I’ve ever driven. Given the right road and circumstances, the Evo X will be a match for any other car on the planet and will make even the most mediocre driver feel like a driving God. Anyone who questions the £30,699 price tag for the entry level Evo FQ-300 just needs to look at the engineering that goes into making the car what it is.
Reading the Evo’s press pack is like sifting through a who’s who of the automotive world. If the likes of Bilstein, Eibach, Brembo, Recaro and Enkei don’t set your pulse racing, then you’re better off requesting a brochure for the Nissan Note. Make no mistake, the sum of the parts used in constructing the Evo X more than justifies the price tag. These cars aren’t so much built, they’re crafted.
Admittedly, I’m a little late to the Evolution X party. This car has been out since 2008 and it’s now in the very twilight of its existence. But even three years ago, you could sense that the Evo was having to adapt to a changing world. The press pack claims that the car is “fit for tomorrow’s market: more mature, more stylish, definitely more sophisticated, and more competent than ever. For the first time there is a hint of some established European brands in the Lancer Evolution X”. To a petrolhead, words like ‘mature’ and ‘sophistication’ aren’t necessarily those you’d like to see used to describe the Evo.
Having not driven its forebears, I can’t comment on how it compares to previous incarnations, but many reviews point to a softer, less focused Evo. Maybe it has grown up, but then maybe it had to. As mentioned previously, the world’s a very different place now. Besides, a less focused Lancer Evolution is a bit like a less sharp chainsaw. It’s still packed full of menace and intent and you certainly wouldn’t mess with it. But unlike the chainsaw, the Evo X does all it can to keep you safe. No other car flatters a driver like an Evo.
That’s not to say you don’t have to be on your guard. Performance cars are often described as having blistering pace, but in the case of the Evo X it’s a perfectly apt description. Choose one of ‘blistering’ or ‘brutal’ and you’ll have some idea as to how quick it is. The bucketload of traction helps the Evo X to get the power down early and it’ll be doing 62mph in just 4.7 seconds. It’s genuinely impressive and is one of the reasons why the car is held in such high regard by petrolheads and children everywhere.
The problem is, the Evo X is so damn quick, you find yourself above the legal speed limit all too quickly. Yes, it’s fun and frantic, but once you realise that each launch procedure pushes the MPG figure down to the lower teens, you soon learn to ease off. The problem is, you need to be pressing on to have fun in the Evo. At lower speeds, the Evo X is just a humdrum saloon car with a rather cheap feeling interior. It seems silly to drive normally in a £30k super saloon. Besides, the Evo X doesn’t like it.
In slow moving traffic and congestion, the Evo X is like a coiled spring. You get the constant sense that the car is irritated by hold ups and anything that stops it from being propelled to the next corner at warp factor nine.
But boy, does it love a good corner. Cross country pace is often quoted as a great leveller of performance cars and is the reason why a plucky hot hatch can have the measure of a supercar. It’s hard to imagine anything crossing the country quicker than an Evo though. Corners of any surface are devoured without a hint of body roll or a fear that it will let go. I’ll avoid any clichés, but until you’ve taken an Evo through a series of bends, you simply can’t imagine how good it is.
Such cornering prowess doesn’t happen by chance. The Evo’s trick Super-All Wheel Control (S-AWC) four-wheel drive system can be switched between tarmac, gravel or snow mode depending on the conditions. I didn’t have the opportunity to try the gravel or snow modes but it’s good to know you have the options to change should you find yourself caught up in a WRC special stage.
The S-AWC includes Active Centre Differential (ACD), Active Yaw Control (AYC), Active Stability Control (ASC) and ABS, which sounds very impressive. A quick word of advice though. If you own an Evo and you’re on a first date, it’s probably best not to reel off a list of your car’s components. Save it for the second date at least. Dating advice courtesy of PetrolBlog.
If you opt for the FQ-300, you’ll find that you’re limited to what Mitsubishi describes as a ‘lightning quick’ six-speed TC-SST automated manual gearbox. Of all the ‘boxes of this type I’ve experienced, the Evo’s is by far and away the best. The changes are instantaneous and the shift action rather brilliant. This is because the TC-SST ‘box is effectively two three-speed gearboxes, mounted on the same output shaft and with two clutches. It’s good enough in automatic Drive mode, but the car really comes alive once you flick the gear lever into manual mode. As you’d expect, you have the choice of F1-style steering wheel paddles or touring car-style shift selector. It’s difficult not to feel like a big kid, leaving down changes to the last minute and powering out of corners as if on a qualifying lap. Believe me, this is one automated ‘box that adds to the pleasure of driving rather than detracting from it.
I rather like the fact that there are three different modes for the gearbox. ‘Normal’ is self explanatory, with ‘Sport’ using higher shift points and faster changes. The difference is noticeable. But there’s a third mode that is only discovered if you read the manual. It is called ‘Super Sport’ and is essentially aimed at racers, nutters or those with shares in an oil company. It takes you to the red line before changing gear and operates the twin clutches at maximum speed. To engage ‘Super Sport’ mode, the Evo must be stationary and the toggle switch has to be held in the forward position for five seconds and all the planets must be aligned. For your own safety, of course…
Powering the Evo is the 4B11 2.0-litre turbo engine that generates 290bhp and 407Nm of torque. Its die-cast aluminium block and ladder frame structure saves weight and it also sits 10mm lower than previous Evo engines thanks to some clever changes to the exhaust. This helps to give the Evo a lower centre of gravity. It’s stuff like this that makes the Evo what it is. You get the sense that the Evolution X was built with one thing in mind: the driver. Everything else is superfluous.
The excellent Recaro seats and the brilliantly tactile leather steering wheel put you in control of a proper drivers’ car. People who know more about these things than I do may criticise the Evolution X for being softer and less focused than previous generations, but the fact remains, its a wonderfully engaging car to drive. It can and will deliver some of the best moments of driving pleasure you will have experienced in a car.
But herein lies the problem with the Evolution X. We are talking about moments only. When viewing the car as a prospect of ownership, it’s almost impossible for me to recommend it. The Evo is a flawed genius and the most frustrating car I’ve ever spent time with.
The fact is, the Mitsubishl Lancer Evolution X needs to be driven hard to get the best from it. On the one hand, it’s a rather composed and compliant car to drive around town. For a car so adept at tackling a B-road, it’s a surprisingly comfortable car to potter around town in. But cars like this don’t belong in a town. The fuel economy will drop to the high teens and that feeling of ‘coiled spring’ comes to the fore again.
And as ridiculous as it may sound, in the real world, the Evo’s pace is a big problem. It’s just too quick for Britain’s roads. It’s a bit like placing Michael Phelps in your bathtub and asking him to swim a 100m butterfly.
Then there’s the issue of expense. I can justify the price tag and can look past the Evo’s cheap and cheerful interior. I can even gloss over the horridly dated Multi-Information Display and sub woofer in the boot. These things become immaterial when you’re in the midst of an adrenaline-fuelled dawn raid. But I can’t defend the running costs.
Firstly there’s the small issue of road tax. £950 for the first year and then £460 for each year thereafter. There’s also the small matter of fuel economy. Mitsubishi claims a combined figure of 26.2mpg, dropping to 19.1mpg for urban driving. The reality is, if you’re going to use the Evo in the manner it’s intended, you’ll be forever nearer the urban figure. More enthusiastic drivers may even see the figure drop to single figures.
It’s quite disheartening to fill up with a tank of V-Power, only to see the expected range calculated at 140 miles. Ouch! The problem is compounded by the Evo’s small 55 litre fuel tank, meaning you’ll be spending an awful lot of time at the pumps.
As a toy, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X makes more sense. But perhaps it’s me, I just don’t view a large 4-door saloon car as a toy. It just never feels like a ‘pint of milk’ car. It lacks the character to tempt you into a quick drive to the shops. I appreciate it’s not comparing apples with apples, but it’s why I rate the likes of the Swift Sport, Renaultsport Twingo and even my Citroën AX GT so highly. Whatever the speed, whatever the circumstances, they have the ability to put a huge grin on your face. The Evo simply doesn’t deliver on this score.
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. A car that’s stunning to drive, but hard to recommend owning. That’s PetrolBlog logic for you.