The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X may be the king of big wings but that’s not enough to make it fly, writes The Wheel Deal
‘Is that blue monstrosity yours, bru?” asked the deputy travel editor, Paul Ash. Of course he knew full well it was mine because I had seen him eyeing me out in his rear view on the way to work. “That zef-looking thing; the one with the enormous boot spoiler?” I nodded solemnly, knowing all too well where this conversation was headed.
“I think you should go hang out at the Doll’s House tonight, dude. In fact why don’t you just complete the whole image by rolling a soft pack of Marlboros up in your sleeve? Those Boksburg chicks will dig it.”
Sigh. You see, what Mr Ash doesn’t understand (and many other people for that matter), is that the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is one of very few cars in the world that can get away with such outrageous styling. Yes, it’s straight of out of Benoni and, yes, it’s about as subtle as wearing a Tapout tracksuit to a black-tie dinner. But it’s built like this out of necessity — not to make an impression on the East Rand.
Rewind through time and you will discover that the Lancer Evolution was conceived from the ground up to be a dominant player in world rallying. To do this, Mitsubishi were forced to build a certain number of road-going versions that could be purchased (and in most cases soon crashed) by wannabe Tommi Mäkinens. It’s called homologation and continues in motorsport to this day.
So it’s not surprising the Evolution (let’s just call it the Evo, shall we) looks the way it does. That vicious front apron has been designed to reduce lift. The lightweight aluminium bonnet, cut with more vents and scoops than a 1970s TV set, is like that to aid engine cooling. Under the doors you will find side skirts to better channel airflow, sucking the car down at high speeds. And then there is that spoiler. No, it is not designed for bouts of extreme midget ironing, but to improve the car’s aerodynamic balance like a stabiliser on a speedboat.
Yet loud, wind-cheating trickery is only half of this machine’s pedigree. To help it be the ultimate off-road warrior, the Lancer Evo was kitted out with a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine: a forced-induction masterpiece that quickly gave this badass Mitsubishi a fearsome reputation. Back in the late 1990s and into the next decade, the Evo was something of a supercar slayer.
As a high-school kid I can remember hearing stories about how, with a wee bit of under-bonnet tinkering, these outlandish saloons were capable of embarrassing the latest V12 exotica to roll out of Italy. Topped off nicely with four World Rally Driver championships plus an appearance in Justin Lin’s 2006 street-racing spectacular The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, it is little wonder that the Evo became the poster car of the dotcom generation, a yardstick against which anything aspiring to serious performance kudos would be measured.
So with this hype still stuck in my mind, I was looking forward to driving the Evo X that recently landed on South African soil. I counted down the days until I could strap myself into that Recaro driver’s seat and blast down the road.
Except when I eventually got around to it, well, I was underwhelmed. Simply because when I stomped my right foot into the carpet, the acceleration didn’t have me choking on my saliva like I had expected. The Evo isn’t slow but it feels no quicker than a Renault Mégane RS or VW Golf GTI Edition 35 — both of which are nearly half the price.
It has no soul either. A Subaru WRX STI pounds out a discernible boxer backbeat. The Ford Focus RS hisses and pops like a flatulent swamp beast. But this Mitsubishi sounds about as exciting as your mother’s old Singer sewing machine. There’s no distinguishable wail or warble to get your flesh all prickly. Which is bizarre when you consider that there are two bazooka-sized exhaust tailpipes sprouting on either side of its rear air diffuser.
What did blow my mind, however, is the way this thing handles. Proof once again that the Japanese are some of the biggest technology nerds on the planet, clever things like “active yaw control”, “super all-wheel control” and an “active centre differential” mean that the Evo can claw its way around corners better than almost anything else out there.
Even on slippery roads and in torrential Joburg rain, you can tackle your best bends with absolute assurance. There is so much grip available it feels like you’re driving atop a layer of double-sided tape. I don’t think any vehicle of its ilk is as easy to get inside and drive fast. You can see why this car ruled the rallying roost back in the day.
But I’m afraid that this awesome appetite for the curvy stuff just wasn’t enough to stop the Evo X being washed away on a great wave of personal indifference. Especially not after I factored in the ridiculous price tag. Or the questionable interior plastics. Or the stupid aftermarket Bluetooth module that never worked. Or the second worst average fuel consumption figure I’ve seen in nearly five years at this job.
Mr Ash certainly wouldn’t buy one and, you know what, neither would I. Not because of that rude boot spoiler — I quite like it to be honest — but because there are better-rounded and far more charismatic performance cars for less or similar money.
Fast Facts: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X
Engine: 1998cc four-cylinder turbo
Power: 217kW @ 6500rpm
Torque: 407Nm @ 3500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed twin-clutch
0-100km/h: 4.7-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 250km/h (limited)
Fuel: 25.8l/100km (achieved combined)
Price: From R699000
Those in-your-face looks
Fine handling and phenomenal grip
Evo badge oozes pedigree
WE DON’T LIKE:
Feels no quicker than the fastest hot hatches
Cheap interior and massive thirst
Thank you for the article. I can’t speak for the price tag in your country, as I’m sure that is a factor for many people. Prior to purchasing my five-speed “Evo”, I visited a well known tuner shop that also works on supercars. I did this since I was initially not sold on the car, and wanted to see what they thought of it. What I was told was this. “Ninety percent of the people who buy these cars tend to do some form of tuning on them since they ship from the factory detuned and they have enormous potential for power. We have huge success with these cars and respect their tough engineering”.
I can attest to this as I know two simple bolt-on parts and a tune (all for under $1,000 in the US) turns these cars into 375 HP monsters. At the same shop, I was asked the following question: “Do you know why so many so many people in shops around the area say they tune Evos? Because the engines are so strong that the margin of error is huge, and so someone with minimal experience can do a bad job tuning the car and it will just keep on rumbling.” He went on to say that if you try pulling some of the same tricks on other rival turbo-based cars, they will essentially “throw a rod”.
People buy Evos to tune them and sometimes race them. I’m a 40 year old software manager (married with kids, home, and minivan) that owns a car with a ridiculous large wing and a bad interior, and I love it. I chose this over a used M3.
One final note… One of the upgrades I made was the air intake box. I upgraded this (under $200 US) and suddenly got 15 – 20% more mileage, not to mention more power. My recommendation is to visit some Evo forums, and see if you can drive a tuned version of the car you drove. That is what this car is all about.
Considered before buying: 2013 Mustang GT, WRX STI, 2006 BMW M3, 2012 BMW 335