Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

words - Mike Sinclair
It may be clichéd, but Mitsubishi's latest Lancer Evolution truly punches above its weight
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Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Local Launch
Winton, Vic

 
What we liked
>> Giant-killing chassis package
>> Torque-rich powerplant
>> SST transmission competence in auto mode
 
Not so much
>> Engine is aurally flat
>> Some donor car niggles. eg: no reach adjustment
>> NVH, though improved, will turn some buyers off
 
Overall rating: 4.0/5.0
Engine/Drivetrain/Chassis: 4.5/5.0
Price, Packaging and Practicality: 3.5/5.0
Safety: 3.5/5.0
Behind the wheel: 4.5/5.0
X-factor: 4.5/5.0

About our ratings

OVERVIEW
Faster than ever and more refined, the latest and tenth generation of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is the most complete vehicle ever to wear the Evo badge. Once conceived as a tear-away rally weapon, the car has evolved to be much more than a gravel warrior.

Mitsubishi's project director Hideyuki Iwata, present for the Australian launch of the car, explained the company went quite literally back to the drawing board with this Evolution model.

"We gave much thought to what was necessary to realise further advances in Evolution's road performance qualities: speed and acceleration, cornering, handling and braking. The answer: go back to the basics," Iwata-san explained.

Basics maybe, but the Evolution is far from a simple car. It ushers in Mitsubishi's first dual-clutch gearbox, dubbed TC-SST; features a new, all-alloy turbocharged and intercooled DOHC engine, and possesses arguably the best roadgoing all-wheel-drive system yet fitted to a production car.

Even more than before, the Evolution now represents the very best of Mitsubishi's engineering expertise. 

Down Under, Mitsubishi will offer a four model line-up. As a result the Evolution range should cater equally for traditional constituents of the Evo sub-brand (read: boy racers) and the marque's desire to push its now flagship model upmarket.

Boasting higher levels of creature comforts, the three-model road car range features a standard specification list that has been tailored specifically for the local marketplace. Prices for the manual and dual-clutch automated sequential transmission models range from $59,490 through to $71,690.

Mitsubishi is eager to point out, however, the performance credentials of the car remain. In addition, to the street-legal models, a special-order non-road-legal (but mechanically identical) motorsport model will also be offered from around $41,900 plus GST.

The street Evos will be sold only through 42 Ralliart accredited Mitsubishi dealers. Australian sales of the comp-only RS version will be handled by the Melbourne-based Team Mitsubishi Ralliart operation of Alan Heaphy.

PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
Mitsubishi Australia insists there's no '10', 'Ten' or  even 'X' in the new car's official model designation. Therefore, the five-speed manual transmission 'Lancer Evolution' kicks off the road car range priced from $59,490. (Mitsubishi says all of its Evolution prices are calculated at the taxman's new 33 per cent LCT rate).

The Australian-spec Evolutions have a unique level of equipment. Unlike some other markets where less is more, Mitsubishi has thrown the book at the car. Inside, cloth-trimmed Recaro bucket seats are standard and the cooking-model Lancer cabin has been upgraded. The leather sports wheel features audio and cruise controls plus full Bluetooth phone connectivity and hands-free operation.

Climate control air, keyless entry and start, auto wipers and headlights and a six-disc stereo lift the new Evolution significantly above overseas market models (and the outgoing $56,789 Evolution IX) in terms of standard specification.

But with Mitsubishi claiming orders of the Lancer Evolution are running at around 95 per cent (!!!) in favour of the twin-clutch transmission, it seems plenty of buyers have chosen to step up to the $64,490 Evolution TC-SST model, at least. This model echoes the base model's spec but adds the twin-clutch transmission at a post-LCT-lift price that undercuts Subaru's Impreza WRX STI specR.

Almost eight of every ten Aussie Lancer Evolution customers so far have gone the whole hog, however, and opted for the TC-SST-only Evolution MR top-of-the-range model, says Mitsubishi.

Priced from $71,690, the MR spec adds lighter BBS forged alloy wheels and two-piece Brembo front discs, Bilstein dampers, Eibach springs, adaptive HID headlights (with washers and auto levelling) and exterior trim upgrades.

Inside, the Recaros get leather trim and seat heaters. A Rockford Fosgate nine-speaker sound system and Mitsubishi's Multi Communication System (which includes video functionality and a full satnav set-up) are also standard equipment.

A further option is available to Evolution buyers who want to retain a manual gearbox but up-spec to the Brembos, etc, offered in the MR model. Priced at $5500, Mitsubishi will offer a Performance Pack add-on to the base Evolution model comprising Brembo two-piece front discs, Bilstein/Eibach suspension componentry and BBS forged alloys.

Expect other upgrade options including body-kit add-ons, better audio, etc to also surface in due course.

All Lancer Evolution road models are covered by Mitsubishi's five-year/130,000km Diamond Advantage vehicle warranty and its 10-year/160,000km powertrain warranty. A five-year/unlimited km roadside assistance package is also included.

MECHANICAL
As much as the added bells and whistles in the new model's cabin add value to the Evolution variants (and potentially bring new customers), the lion's share of the dollars go to pay for the Evolution's mechanicals. And as far as fast fours go, they are technical tour de force.

All Evolution models share Mitsubishi's new alloy-blocked 4B11 turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder engine. Boasting 217kW at 6500rpm and 366Nm at 3500rpm in street trim, the 2.0-litre DOHC engine offers more power (12kW) and torque (11Nm) over a wider rev range than the Evolution IX's 4G63 powerplant.

The new alloy-blocked engine features chain-driven cams (replacing a belt) and dual MIVEC. There have also been wholesale changes to the inlet and exhaust designs (including turbo) from the last generation. In fact, the engine is reversed -- the exhaust is now on the rearward side of the transverse-mounted engine.

The engine features forged crank and conrods and four-bolt main bearing caps for extra strength. Even the bore and stroke are different. The 1997cc engine's bore and stroke both measure 86.0mm, compared to the 4G63's 85.0mm bore and 88.0mm stroke.

Tuned for 98RON fuel, the engine is down on torque from the 400Nm-plus of the Japanese-spec version of the new Evolution, but is also, quite literally, at the start of its development cycle. The car only gained Group N homologation from the FIA, clearing it for production-based rally and circuit competition, in early July.

Downstream of the wunder-mill, the new Lancer Evolution also ushers in Mitsubishi's first dual-clutch automated sequential gearbox. Developed in conjunction with Getrag and Ford, the new six-speed Twin-Clutch Sport Shift Transmission (TC-SST) is one of latest crop of the 'clever' computer-fettled transmissions that deliver amenity, performance and fuel economy benefits.

In the case of the Lancer Evolution, TC-SST offers two auto modes, Normal and Sport, plus a manual-only Super Sport mode that's designed for competition and/or track use. As is the case with all dual-clutch gearboxes you can also shift manually -- via column-mounted paddles or traditional transmission lever -- whilst in the 'auto' modes.

As with a conventional automatic transmission, the TC-SST provides a kick-down function. The gearbox's software brain will hold lower gears while the vehicle is ascending an incline (for power) or descending (for engine braking).

A competition-tough five-speed manual gearbox is the entry-level transmission for the road car range. An all-new design, the five-speed W5M6A box uses paired forward gears (first and third) to 'create' a reverse gear. This not only saves weight (no reverse gear -- the box is 10kg lighter than the Evo IX's six-speeder), but also allows the gearsets themselves to be bigger and hence stronger.

Like the previous manual transmission, the new unit uses a 240-mm single-plate dry clutch. Ratios are identical to those in the previous five-speed, but the Evolution gets a lower final drive (4.687 vs. 4.529) than the IX.

The five-speeder is the sole gearbox offered on the RS competition version of the latest Evolution.
 
The other trademark technology of the Evolution range is its all-wheel-drive system. In the case of the new Lancer Evolution, this has been christened Super-AWC.

In the simplest terms, it takes the Evo IX's physics-defying system comprising Automatic Centre Differential (ACD -- with modes for Gravel, Tarmac and Snow -- the front diff remains a helical mechanical limited slip unit), Automatic Yaw Control (AYC) and a sports-calibrated antilock braking system, and then overlays a new sports-calibrated (switchable) electronic stability system. The whole system is managed by a single ECU.

Mitsubishi explains S-AWC, not as a four-wheel-drive system but "an advanced vehicle dynamics control network that reads and reflects driver intent in real time".

The two main components of this network are the ACD and AYC.

The ACD splits torque between the front and rear wheels using an electronically controlled hydraulic multi-plate clutch. The S-AWC computer uses data from sensors including steering wheel angle, throttle opening, wheel speeds, and longitudinal and lateral G-sensors to calculate the torque split required to achieve the appropriate attitude and drive.

The latest Evolution retains three driver-selectable (via a console mounted control) traction modes for the ACD: Tarmac for dry, paved surfaces; Gravel for wet or rough surfaces and Snow for snow-covered or very low traction surfaces. In each mode, S-AWC adjusts centre differential locking behaviour to suit the road conditions.

AYC is also an active differential, in this case an active rear differential. This actively splits torque between the right and left rear wheels changing the yaw (or turning) moment of the car for a given cornering situation. Again AYC consults a bevy of sensors and then vectors the torque to the wheel as required to affect the appropriate chassis response.

In addition to the normal differential action of the rear diff, the AYC can add or take away torque from either rear wheel generating an under or oversteer moment to correct or create a steering effect.

As noted above, overlaying the AYC and ACD's functionality is an integrated sports stability control system. And yes it's switchable. On or off, the end result is uncanny agility and a level of forgiveness that would put Mother Teresa to shame.

Myriad suspension and geometry changes have been made to optimise the latest Evolution. Though it uses good quality components, the suspension system under the Evo remains relatively conventional -- Macpherson struts up front (though an inverted design) with alloy lower control arms and a multilink rear axle. Top-spec versions of the Evolution get Bilstein dampers.

Rolling on 18 x 8.5-inch Enkei alloys and Dunlop SP Sport 600 rubber, the Evolution is equipped with 350/330mm (fr/rr) ventilated and drilled one-piece discs, gripped by Brembo calipers -- four-piston units up front.

As noted above, the MR and Performance Pack models feature lighter BBS forged alloy wheels and two-piece Brembo front discs. They are the same size as the standard rotors.

PACKAGING
The Evolution is built using a specially strengthened and modified Lancer bodyshell. That means it benefits from the extra space and equipment the latest generation Lancer has added.

Essentially only the front door skins are carried over from the donor sedan. The body changes certainly work in terms of street presence. But says Mitsubishi, the flared guards, guard and bonnet vents and rear diffuser, et al, are the real thing --aerodynamically optimised for the car's performance role.

The car features an integral front strut brace and gets an aluminium roof, front guards and bonnet (as per the IX) plus new alloy front and rear bumper beams. The body-in-white benefits from extra welds (around 50) and high and ultra-high strength steels where required (such as the firewall and strut towers).

The actual dimensions of the car are different from the donor Lancer. The Evolution running gear stretches the wheelbase 15mm over the standard VRX, while the car itself is 60mm shorter. The car's track and width have also been pumped out. To suit its rally role, however, Mitsubishi has 'cropped' the fronted corners of the Evolution (in plan view) so it is significantly shorter on the diagonal than the conventional Lancer.

Inside and in terms of practicality, there's little change from the standard Lancer sedan -- in other words it's mostly good news. Four-door practicality and rear leg and head room are ample for this size of car. Hiccups include no reach adjustment for the steering and at $70K or thereabouts it would be nice to have electric adjustment for the front Recaros.

The boot remains useable despite the fact some space is lost to a relocated battery and wiper and water-injection bottles (the latter is standard on the manual and RS models only).

Though it's still no Audi A4, there has been an effort to upgrade the Evo's interior over the standard car. This was a particular criticism of the previous generation.

As noted above, the overall level of specification is higher including mod-cons like Bluetooth and the top of the range MR model adds higher spec finishes and a satnav system that incorporates iPod connectivity and even touch-screen mobile phone control.

The Evolution gets its own dash and interior trim treatment; the latter featuring carbon-style dash flourishes and door spears. Door catches, etc are chrome in the MR model.

SAFETY
Safety-equipment-wise the Evolution's come into the Noughties too. Standard is the abovementioned stability control, plus Sport-ABS which include fade compensation, brake distribution and emergency brake assist and a full complement of safety aids.

Seven airbags are standard -- dual-stage front air bags, front seat-mounted side air bags (a first in Evolution, via Recaro), side-impact curtain air bags and a driver's knee bag.

The Evolution's Super-AWC is a significant contributor to the car's active safety suite. There are few surprises when you drive an Evolution in a normal street environment -- the powerplant is tractable, brake package strong and the handling first class.

These attributes plus good vision and the safety net of a fully integrated stability system all contribute to a car that sets the safety standard for affordable performance cars.

COMPETITORS
Do you have to ask? Subaru WRX STi remains the main competitor of the Evolution, even though both cars have sought to push upmarket in this latest generation.

Just how many buyers swap from Subaru to Mitsubishi on the basic of the competence of each brand's latest model is an interesting question. We'd argue, a bit like the other Blue versus Red race, brand loyalties run a bit deeper in the performance ranks.

With the rounding of the Evolution's packaging and capabilities, the maker is also seeking to grab Euro buyers from the likes of the BMW 135i and various Audi models. Volkswagen's Golf R32 comes into the frame as well as less practical sportscar alternatives such as Mazda RX-8 and Nissan 350Z.

ON THE ROAD
Mitsubishi launched the new Lancer Evolution with an afternoon on a streaming wet Winton Raceway, near Benalla in Victoria followed the next day by an entertaining road loop in the same region.

We can attest to the car's ability, unbelievably forgiving dynamics and outright speed at the track -- even in the difficult conditions. And after the additional 250km or so on the at times bumpy and initially damp roads in the hills around Myrtleford, we can also vouch for its on-road manners.

In much the same way Subaru has sought to knock the rough edges of its latest WRX STi Impreza, this is a car that's grown up when compared to the Evo IX. That said, Mitsubishi has not blunted the Evolution to the extent Subaru has its road warrior.

Though the donor Lancer is not the quietest in its class, there have been meaningful improvements in the Evolution's manners -- it's no S-Class but Mitsubishi has added a level of refinement to the car, without sacrificing any pace.

On the track, the Evolution flatters, lending even average drivers a level of car control that makes mere mortals think their true family heritage is Scandinavian -- a James turns into a Juha and a Mark into a Marcus.

Setting the centre diff control to Tarmac and disabling the stability control we could cut fast, smooth laps in times and conditions that would have had your average HSV or FPV spearing off in a shower of water, mud, grass and profanities. Change the setting to gravel and it was just as easy to enjoy armfuls of opposite lock into and out of Winton's corners fast and slow alike.

In such conditions the way the Evo apportioned drive front/rear and left/right was noticeably smoother than has been our experience with the STi and performance car rivals like Volkswagen's Golf R32. So was the latitude it allowed the driver. Top stuff...

On the road the handling was secure and the ride much less compromised than the last generation. Initial small bumps and larger road irregularities are felt but they are both dealt with without the hard-edged response of the IX. It's still far from a limo but much easier to live with day to day.

Steering is nicely weighted and turn-in sharp; in part to an even faster steering ratio than the last generation. Just don't expect the car to deliver a city-car style turning circle.

The overall impression of the powerplant is one of minimal lag and maximum torque. Though 200kW-plus is nothing to sneeze at, it's the rich midrange torque of the Evo that you use on the road -- especially in concert with the TC-SST transmission. As an engine it's hardly musical, but it's hard to fault its results.

Mitsubishi is being guarded with its performance claims for the new Evolution. There's no official 0-100km/h time, though 5.7sec is around the mark for the manual. Without a true launch control function (yet!), Mitsu insiders say the TC-SST is 0.2sec slower.

We believe this is in part due to the auto-style low-speed function of the TC-SST. The Mitsubishi-Ford-Getrag unit is arguably the smoothest of the current DSG-style trannies in auto mode and should prove itself so around town. Indeed, often a bugbear for DSG-style trannies, manoeuvring at low speed, even on a grade is fuss-free with the SST.

As a test for 'your' paddle-shift sequential or 'clutchless' manual try backing into a tight uphill parallel carpark and see whether you have any anxious moments. No such problems with TC-SST.

Once moving, you can really appreciate why so many buyers have opted for the fancy gearbox. Changes are purposeful and sharp allowing you to make the most of the engine and chassis' potential. Just remember you have to be stopped to select the manual Super Sport mode (please fix, Iwata-san)…

The Evolution's Brembo brakes don't offer the strongest initial bite, but as you familiarise yourself to their characteristics they prove easy to modulated and plenty powerful. On the track (albeit in wet conditions) they never flinched in two days of track testing.

If the above reads like the Evolution is faultless then please excuse our enthusiasm -- it's not, but it is bloody good. There are times where the econobox roots of the donor car drag the Evo back to the field (NVH for example, which though improved still has scope for improvement), but there are far more times when you marvel at what can be achieved from such humble origins.

Mitsubishi's Evolution models have always punched above their weight but the latest generation is evidence that the giantkiller has grown up. For 95 per cent of us, that makes it a much, much better car.


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Published : Wednesday, 10 September 2008
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