After 23 years and 10 key versions, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution calls it a day...
For a brief moment last week, I thought I had finally introduced the 2016 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X Final Edition to the laws of Newtonian physics.
A tight left into a blind crest that seemed to drop into nothingness, the Evo felt light… then suddenly, kangaroo. Skippy bounded in front of the car and I felt an explanatory phone call to Mitsubishi in my near future. The outcome seemed inevitable. A fast swerve right, then left, brakes...
Surely this hadn’t gone well. I hadn’t felt anything but got out to check. The car sat burbling happily away on the now deserted road. No impact, no roo, just the four-wheeled PlayStation, unfazed by the ‘brown’ moment, standing by, ready to go again.
I’d like to claim that my lightning reflexes and driving skill had saved the day, but I think we all know the answer. Evo 1, Physics 0.
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution has been a pop-culture hero for Mitsubishi since 1992. Spanning some four chassis generations and ten distinct model numbers, with even a couple of notable half steps thrown in for good measure, the rally-bred small sedan has won motorsport titles as well as the hearts and minds of drivers the world over.
Evolution by name and evolution by nature. Each successive generation, released roughly 18 months apart, improving on the last. More power, more technology, more evolution!
This all culminated in the release of the Evolution X in late 2007.
Sharper, wider, more powerful than all before it, the Evo X was modern and aggressive - the nose even mimicking the ultimate predator, the shark. And, like the shark, the X marked a peak in the evolution of the species - something so perfectly adapted to its environment that it was, for all intents, perfect.
That was the case in 2007, anyway, and while the deepest oceans are still wet, things up here have moved on a bit. The Lancer Evolution sadly has not.
Based on the GSR variant, the 2016 Final Edition Evolution X is basically the same as the car that arrived almost a decade ago. The badge on the back now calling out the ultimate irony – the Evolution that hasn’t evolved.
Mitsubishi has said that while the Evolution name may return in the future, the Lancer-derived performance sedan will not. For the car as we know it, it is evolution’s final step, extinction.
I’m no stranger to the Mitsubishi Evo. I owned a lightly modified Evo VIII MR and then one of the first Evo X MRs to arrive in Australia back in 2008. Both saw their fair share of motorkhana, hill-climb and circuit-based competition success, not to mention a bit of late night outer-urban shenanigans.
Back then (before kids) the iPhone had just arrived (I still had a Blackberry) and we had only been subjected to one Transformers movie. A simpler time, but a fun time.
I approached the Starlight pearl-white Final Edition X with this sense of nostalgia. It has been well over five-years since I’ve been behind the wheel of the super Lancer and slipping in to the snug Recaro seats was like stepping back in time.
Nothing has changed. Really. Nothing.
The interior layout of the X has held up well considering its age, but the hollow plastics and basic components don’t make it feel special in any way. Yes it’s based on a Lancer, but this is the last one – surely a bit of Alcantara or carbon weave could have been specified?
An Evo signature, the front Recaro seats are comfortable and tight, offering excellent lateral support (trust me, you’ll need it), holes to fit harness straps and some nice red stitching on the leather panels. They enforce a good driving posture, with a straight back and good positioning, plus they include two-stage heating.
The leather steering wheel and gear shift knob paired with aluminium pedals complete the ‘driver-centric’ elements of the cabin.
While looking at the inside, the rear bench offers acceptable room and comfort for two adults. The center arm-rest is good but there are no air vents, nor is there access to the boot.
To help with weight distribution, the Evo’s battery, AYC (Active Yaw Control) pump and even the windscreen washer unit have been moved, along with some bracing, to the cavity behind the rear seat. This results in a small (323-litre) cargo area that is annoying to access via the little push-button nipple on the back (intermittently wouldn’t work for us) as well as heavy to open with the giant bookshelf spoiler on the top.
Best leave the double-pram at home then.
To commemorate the Final Edition, each of the 150 cars allocated to Australia receives special floor mats, badging and a little plastic plaque on the lower console. In a way it matches the rest of the interior, looking more like a Mr Minit special than a celebration of an icon. Again – how about a piece of engraved aluminium?
You also get the 18-inch BBS wheels, Bilstein shock absorbers and Eibach springs from the MR version, as well as a smart, gloss black-painted roof.
Possibly the worst inclusion inside the car, though, is the ultra-basic 6.1-inch touch screen infotainment unit. Note that both ‘info’ and ‘tainment’ are questionable terms as there is no navigation, no nifty vehicle data, ordinary sound quality, clumsy Bluetooth connectivity and unreliable audio connection when using the USB port that Mitsubishi has done its best to hide in the glovebox.
There are better head units in other Mitsubishi models. Why use the worst one here? There is a reverse camera though.
However, creature comforts have never been the Evo’s forte.
Fire up the trademark 2.0-litre turbocharged ‘4B11’ (by turning the key-like knob on the steering column) and you are again reminded that it is business-before-pleasure in the Evo, with a loud but not particularly pleasant combination of engine noise and exhaust note.
The five-speed manual gearbox is again more purposeful than it is smooth, but the gate is tight and shifts short and accurate.
Why five-speed and not six? When the extra ratio was introduced in the Evo VIII MR, the gearbox housing had to be the same size (to accommodate the 5-speed VIII RS) and so to make the syncros fit they just reduced the width of each cog. Think of it as adding another lane to a freeway without eating up more real estate.
However, it was found that under heavy use, the heat buildup in the gearbox made the six less reliable than the five – and so RS models and other key performance variants maintain the five-speed.
Cool story, you say, and great for those tarmac rally stages, but around town you find the car settles into fifth at around 80km/h – and for more relaxed driving, makes you want for the extra slot.
But an Evo isn’t really about relaxed driving.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that it is pretty rubbish when driven sedately. There is lazy response under 3500rpm, it’s very very firm over all surfaces, the stupidly high fuel consumption (18L/100km combined) and ridiculously small (45-litre) petrol tank, not to forget that harsh noise… it makes city-living in the Evo very hard to like.
Get out of the city however, and things change considerably.
For reasons too complicated to go into here, I found myself heading out to the 24hr K-Mart in Burwood on a Saturday evening. I was cruising at 80km/h on the Monash, minding my own business, when it happened. The ‘Monash Wink’.
Back in my less-responsible days, a typical Saturday evening was spent driving around with friends looking for others to ‘play with’. Think Lightning McQueen meets Tinder.
You would spot another car, pull in behind and give them a quick flash on the hazards, indicating you were up for a bit of a drive. No racing, no stupidity, just like-minded car-people out for a run, and more often than not, a chat about cars at a servo later in the evening.
And here we were, a decade, a child, plenty of school fees and grey hair down the track, and a white Nissan R34 GT-R was giving the Evo a wink. The be-winged Lancer is still the king – K-Mart could wait.
Dipping off the Freeway and out to Wellington Road for a quick loop out to Emerald, the shark had left Seaworld and was back in the open ocean.
The upright driving position and tight five-speed made sense here, allowing easy heel-toe changes into corners and excellent control on the wheel. Keep the car above 4000rpm and there is always response, the noise changing from an antisocial shout to a more mature bark.
Thanks to some clever tuning the Final Edition X is up 9kW and 48Nm, resulting in the most powerful factory Evo ever at 226kW and 414Nm. Without a direct comparison it is hard to explain where and how you can feel the difference, but make no mistakes, the Evo is legit quick.
Blast out of a corner onto a straight and the Evo goes exactly where you point it. Flowing curves are simply straightened out, the Mitsubishi direct and confident at every point. The steering feels natural and all feedback accurate and warranted. Even the ride seems to settle at pace, the harshness converted to a more simple, firm surefootedness.
It’s still a sprinter, your hand will never be too far from the gear knob, but in a car like this, isn’t that what it's all about?
The GT-R stuck with me for a while then gave a flash of its lights and turned off. Another one-time champ giving the younger player a respectful salute. I’m sure there’s a Stallone movie reference here, but I’m having too much fun to think more about it.
Now well-distracted from my shopping errand, I plot a rough course west, striving to find remote back-roads to keep the Evo on its game.
Tighter bends now highlight the ultimate party trick of the Lancer Evolution – reality distorting agility thanks to the laundry list of acronyms dotted around the car.
Buckeroo Banzai needed the Oscillation Overthruster to drive through solid matter, the Evo achieves the same thing thanks to the S-AWC system that somehow manages to put the little Lancer where, by all rights, it shouldn’t be.
Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC) is the evolution (see what we did there) of the SAYC (Super Active Yaw Control) and ACD (Active Centre Differential) systems. Using inputs from both the car (speed, g-force loads, steering angle, throttle position etc) and driver (ACD surface selection – tarmac, gravel or snow), the S-AWC essentially works out where you need to be before you have made the decision yourself.
Torque vectoring algorithms apply more brake, slip or power to each of the four wheels independently within micro seconds. Tell the car you are on gravel, and it assumes a lower friction surface and adjusts the calculation to suit. Pumps, computers, clutches and more computers all work constantly to make the impossible possible.
It’s an amazing sensation, requiring the driver to put trust in the car and just point the wheel in the general direction of a successful outcome, and the Evo ‘wiggles’ through time and space to get you there in one piece.
In nearly every other car, my sudden arrival at Kangaroo town would have ended in a thump and an interesting story for others to tell. But the lightning-fast manoeuvrability of the Evolution X again showed why this car has been so revered and respected for so long.
The high-rpm amusement, including hitting the intercooler water spray button (as you know, it helps) does have a downside. As noted earlier the Evo has a 45-litre petrol tank, which in concert with less-than-economical driving practices means you are sometimes sub-200km between fill-ups. Our combined cycle was 18-litres per 100km (Mitsubishi claim 10.2) but it reached well into the 20s on my evening sojourn.
I did eventually make it to K-Mart. I even found some circa-2007 tunes to bash out on the way there, a complete time-travel experience if you will. My tip though, Evo or not, stick to the back roads and just avoid late-night department store shopping. Just wow…
So here we are, the end of an era, the Lancer at the peak of its evolutionary cycle. When you consider that the X was launched alongside the final GG 'pignose' WRX STi, a car that has jumped two-whole generations during the X’s reign, shows that when judged as the high-performance road-rocket, the Evolution X was indeed the car’s finest moment.
Even today, the tarmac eating performance is there, the magical agility is there, even the on-road respect is still present… but all that works best when you are driving the car at 80 per cent and above. The rest of the time, it is completely overshadowed by more modern and more liveable alternatives.
At $53,700 the 2016 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Final Edition is cheaper than the previous $56,990 GSR and $65,990 MR, but is still almost $4000 more expensive than its arch rival, the newer but slightly less punchy 221kW / 407Nm Subaru WRX STI.
In the other direction it is just over $3000 cheaper than a 206 kW / 308Nm Volkswagen Golf R Wolfsburg Edition. A car that, while not as PlayStationy, is decidedly more pleasant to live with on a day-to-day basis.
The Evo is fast and fun, but thirsty and impractical. There is amazing technology and capability under the skin, but the materials and finish up top just sour the whole experience when you aren’t running at eight-tenths and above.
The Final Edition X really could have been a little bit more special, particularly as a sign-off to such a formidable generation of vehicles. It still ‘Evos’ with the best of them but as a complete package, the outside world has evolved beyond the car.
Sure it is not quite a woolly mammoth frozen in the ice, but given the car reached its evolutionary zenith some years ago it is now sadly time for the Lancer Evolution to call it a day.
Goodbye Evo. Thanks for the good times, and thanks for the memories. A true hall of famer if there ever was one.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X Final Edition images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.