The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X still offers astonishing performance despite being around since 2008, but some rivals offer better all-round value for money.
It might be the most user-friendly Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution ever built and quite possibly the last of the famous rally-bred, street-legal lineage, but the Evolution X still goes like a scalded cat and does corners at impossible speeds.
The Evo - as it is more widely known - gained legendary status in the 1990s when Finnish rally driver Tommy Makinen won four World Rally Championships in a special WRC edition of the Evo. They even built a special edition Lancer Evolution in honour of the driver - the Tommi Makinen Edition, also known as the Evo VI.
The current-generation Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X first graced Australian shores in 2008, a year after it captivated the crowds at its unveiling in Japan.
Physically, there have been no discernable changes to the current Evo over the ensuing years, apart from new side air dams introduced on the 2010 model year.
A few minor tech updates and interior revisions across the 2011/2012 editions were about the extent of it.
And so it’s no great surprise that Mitsubishi has maintained the same formula for the 2013 Evo update, with no mechanical or exterior revisions.
What they have done is add value with a substantial price cut across the Evolution range of up to $8900, along with a new audio system featuring a standard fit 6.1-inch screen with Bluetooth connectivity and a rear camera.
The range-topping MR edition we tested receives Mitsubishi’s new Multimedia Communication System with a 7-inch touchscreen, voice-activated Bluetooth and satellite navigation with 3D mapping.
Our Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X MR is essentially a speced-up version of the Evo X and gains additional gear such as Brembo two-piece front brakes, front and rear Bilstein shocks with Eibach springs, HID headlamps with adaptive front lighting, 18-inch BBS forged alloy wheels, heated leather front seats and a Rockford Fosgate audio system with nine speakers including a boot-mounted subwoofer of some size.
That might seem like a fair bit of kit over and above the standard inventory on board the Evolution – inventory that includes full Recaro bucket seats, automatic climate control, power door mirrors with electric fold and auto-on headlamps and rain-sensing wipers. But the Mitsubishi Evo’s interior is otherwise a collection of hard-touch plastics with the odd chrome-look highlight.
It’s certainly not what you’d expect to find in a four-door sedan priced at $65,990 before on road costs. However, it is still significantly better than its Evo IX predecessor when it comes to interior trim and standard kit.
Traditionally, though, Evo buyers have been less concerned about the look and feel of the cockpit than with what lies under the bonnet.
All Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X models are armed with the same inter-cooled and turbocharged 2.0-litre MIVEC petrol engine, generating 217kW of power and 366Nm of torque. Neither number matches the respective outputs of the Evo’s most famous rival, the Subaru WRX STI (221kW/407Nm) but you won’t be left complaining about a lack of speed.
While it has a particular talent for impossibly quick corning speeds, the Evo is anything but slow in a straight-line dash. Mitsubishi claims 5.4 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint with the six-speed manual, while the MR edition with its mandatory six-speed twin-clutch transmission needs 5.6 seconds.
Compared with the hardcore and less compromising Mitsubishi Evolution IX, the Evo X is infinitely more liveable as a daily driver, particularly if you choose the MR edition with the TC-SST transmission.
Slip the shifter into Drive and the Evo X is happy enough ambling around busy car parks or performing the stop/start shuffle in the peak hour crawl. In this mode the engine is lazy and the throttle response is almost dull.
But once you get some clear road ahead in the Evo, you’ll feel a profound urge to engage either Sport or even the S-Sport drive mode for that instant Jekyll and Hyde behavioural shift in the Evo X’s on-road demeanour.
Sport is where you’ll want to be for any road conditions that don’t include bumper-to-bumper or slow-moving traffic. In this mode even left in automatic, throttle response is snappier and the shift points are higher up the rev range. The gear changes are also noticeably quicker.
Step on the throttle with some extra purpose and the Evo turns manic. Push forward on the rocker switch again to S-Sport and this is where the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X really comes into its own - throttle response is appreciably quicker and the engine starts shrieking as the rev counter hits the 7000rpm redline.
It’s a god awful sound from inside the cockpit, but you’ll soon forget about that when you’re slicing up the tarmac with all the precision of a hot-shot neurosurgeon.
It’s a drive mode that’s best left for occasional track day outings or the moment you stumble on a deserted section of twisty road and the enthusiast in you takes over.
Right foot planted firmly on the floor and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X is doing what it was bred to do – carving through S-bends quicker than a thoroughbred Italian exotic is capable of.
Even at this fast and furious stage, it’s still fine to leave the dual clutch transmission in auto mode as the rev counter winds out to near 7000rpm on full-throttle before shifting up. However, most drivers will naturally engage the superb magnesium paddle shifters for that extra driver engagement, especially when braking hard into corners from fifth down to second.
There’s not a lot of turbo lag either, zero if you the keep the revs dancing around 3500rpm where the Evo’s torque peaks.
But it’s not only the straight-line pace that’s frenetic and seemingly quicker than factory claims, it’s the fact that through many of the turns you barely have to lift off – let alone brake.
When you do need to haul up in double quick time, the 350mm Brembo brakes up front can wipe off speed remarkably quickly.
The only problem is that there’s precious little feel or progression in the brake pedal, more like you’re pushing against a concrete block.
Part of the Evo magic can be found in the super-quick steering ratio needing just 2.1 turns from lock to lock. There’s minimal wrist effort required, except if you’re trying to perform a three-point turn, as the turning circle is atrocious.
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X is also armed with an arsenal of chassis aids that allow the car to carry such astonishing pace through corners. At the heart of these systems is Mitsubishi’s S-AWC (Super All Wheel Control), which effectively harnesses the workings of four independent wheels including an active centre differential with three modes (gravel, tarmac and snow), Active Stability Control, and Super Active Yaw Control that apportions torque between the rear wheels.
These combine with the Evo’s full-time four-wheel-drive system to provide a level of handling that simply re-writes the laws of physics as we know it – rain, hail or shine.
It might go the clappers and handle on rails, but just don’t expect anything that resembles a decent ride – this is bone-shattering stuff.
The superbly moulded Recaro seats do their best to offer some relief, but the Evo has a unique ability to seek out every crack and minor blemish in the road and let you know about it.
It’s not so bad on the larger speed humps, but the standard suburban road provides nothing less than go-kart levels of ride comfort.
The Evo’s fuel economy is similarly merciless. The best combined fuel consumption reading we could get over the week-long test was 14.2L/100km – rising to 16.4L/100km during a more enthusiastic session. The end result is multiple trips to the 98 RON petrol bowser to replenish the trifling 55-litre tank.
Evo owners must truly be a dedicated bunch. They put up with an ordinary interior (except the Recaros), kidney-bruising ride, poor fuel economy and an asking price that’s significantly more expensive than a Volkswagen Golf R and Volkswagen Scirocco R, or Renault Megane RS265 - all outstanding performance cars.
They do so because the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X is still one of the world’s most capable sedans and downright untouchable in the twisty bits.
There is still no word from Mitsubishi on the next iteration of the Mitsubushi Lancer Evo – although reports suggest that it will be a hybrid.