Well, the boys and girls at Mitsubishi have screwed together a final edition of the Lancer Evolution. The drumroll has been played and there’ll be no more evolving of this species.
In 1993, Mitsubishi made a decision that now seems obvious in hindsight. They moved the engine and drivetrain from their all-wheel-drive rally hero, the Galant VR4, into the smaller and lighter body of the Lancer. In the process, they created a sensation. Both on the rally stage and on the road.
As the years went by, the Evolution lived up to its name, it evolved. The car went through many changes as time went by. Technologies were added, changed and removed, engines were turned around 180 degrees and the base car supplying the bodyshell even changed a couple of times.
Impressive highlights of the Evolution’s evolution include the straight-line stonk of the Evo III (thanks 16G Turbocharger), the corner exit speed of the Evo IV GSR (introduction of Active Yaw Control), the raw, brutal, racecar-like abilities of the Evo VI.5 Makinen Edition, and the melding of livability with outright handling in the Evo VIII.
In 2007, the latest (and now last ever) Mitsubishi Evo iteration hit the road with the X.
The X was a very different car to all the cars in the lineage that preceded it and in most fan’s eyes, the Japanese giant had gone soft. The car produced more power and increased torque from it’s new 4B11T engine, it’s true. However, the car had lost rawness and character.
It didn’t help that Mitsubishi seemed focused on proving it’s SST dual-clutch box, which was slow to react and clunky in operation in comparison to competitors’ transmissions. It didn’t help that the X’s 5 speed manual was a downgrade from the IX’s 6-speed, not only in number of cogs, but also in terms of ratio spread and shift feel. It also didn’t help that the Cedia on which the car was based was now much wider and heavier than before.
The biggest problem though was the softening of the platform in order to compete with the more traditionally livable and comfortable Subaru WRX STi. In the process, Mitsubishi allowed more body roll to creep in. It allowed understeer to occur at lower limits and it dumbed down and dulled the effects of the Active-Yaw Control, in order to tame exit oversteer. The X lost its edge. It became a man without a land. A lukewarm effort stuck between the competing daily drivable STi and the raw, effective, handling-above-all-else attitude of the IX, without being capable of either.
Which brings us to here and now. I’ve been offered a drive in the Evo’s Final Edition. I’m told that Mitsubishi intends for this vehicle to be a celebration of the history of the model. A fan service of sorts.
On paper, there haven’t been many changes made to the Final Edition over the standard X.
The interior remains as it always was. The car remains suspended on the same Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers as the last of the “ordinary” Evolution Xs did.
Under the bonnet, the valves have been changed out for the sodium-filled variety, and the ECU has been updated and re-tuned. The result is 226kW of power(up from 217kW) @ 6500rpm and 414Nm of torque(up from 366Nm) @ 3500rpm.
The increases have reduced the 0-100km/h sprint time to 5.6 seconds.
It is punchier in the mid range too, but don’t expect Golf GTi-like levels of seamless delivery. The Final Edition has a lot of lag. There’s a big wait before you go anywhere, and then sudden propulsion forward. The engine revs out to redline, but it does so in protest. There’s an unwillingness to progress around the tacho that makes itself evident both visually and audibly. There’s a strained, scissor-like, metallic sound to the engine and just driving the car can feel like you’re hurting it. Gone is the pleasure of riding the torque-rush through to redline in every gear that was found in previous Evo models.
Step into the Final Edition and you’ll find a great driving position. The Recaro seats hug your body nicely, with plenty of side bolstering. The steering wheel is grippy and pleasant in the hand. Pedal placement is almost perfect and it is easy to heel-and-toe should you wish.
With no money left in the budget to invigorate the SST to the new engine characteristics, Mitsubishi have made The Final Edition available as a 5-speed manual only. The gearchange is slightly notchy, but pleasant enough to shift with. The clutch is nicely weighted, with a short, firm pedal action.
The real proving ground for any Evo is in the bendy, twisty stuff. Point the car into some corners and the discoveries, both positive and negative, come thick and fast.
The steering is overly light, with a huge amount of assistance and almost zero feeling. It is very easy to accurately place the front wheels where you want them to go, but don’t expect much feedback in the process.
The Final Edition is certainly firmer in the underpinnings than the non-FE version. This makes the car slightly bumpy and jittery, but in no way is it nervous.
The brakes haul the car up extremely well and combined with the new-found firmness of the underpinnings, it is easy to leave braking and turn-in to the absolute last moment when entering a bend.
Mid-corner, the Final Edition adjusts nicely to the throttle, with some lift-off oversteer available by jumping off the right pedal or lightly touching the middle one. From mid-corner to exit, you can leave your boot in and the clever electronic diffs gradually overcome any understeer to send the car into a mild 4 wheel drift on the way out, with just a touch of rear-bias. It’s fun and a change from the standard Evo X. More of a recall to the behaviour of Evos VII-IX and something that the likes of a Golf R(with it’s Haldex system) can’t pull off.
As a driving machine then, it goes some way to being the Evo we’ve all wanted. It still does corners better than anything this side of an exotic costing almost double the price. It’s somehow still a more sanitised experience than it ought to be though. It can be fun, but it isn’t breathtaking. A T.M.E. this is not.
As an ownership proposition, the Final Edition is a flawed and incomplete product.
It has a tiny 55L fuel tank and drinks its required 98 Octane fuel like crazy, the interior is dated and not built well, the engine always sounds strained and stressed and the lack of a 6th ratio in the gearbox makes that all the more obvious when it’s droning along the highway.
Traditionally, we have forgiven Evolution Lancers of sins such as these because of the pure chaotic madness they exhibit. The Final Edition goes some way towards those days with the way it corners, but not as far as it could have or should have, given its heritage. In these days of front wheel drive Renault Meganes that do 5.8 second runs to the legal limit, the Final Edition isn’t hugely fast in a straight line either and feels quite heavy everywhere.
It isn’t manic enough to justify its faults through madness.
You will be missed, Lancer Evolution, you deserved more effort and a better end than this.
Verdict : If you want a hero in the hills, hunt down a low mileage Evo VIII or IX. It’ll have more character and you’ll love it more. If you’re after a day-to-day proposition, then a WRX STi, Golf R or Golf GTi is going to be the go. Alternatively, Ford’s crazy Focus RS AWD Hyperhatch is on the way before too long….
Mike Adams for Infinite Garage.
(Photos provided by Mitsubishi Autopress)