- Incredible rally-car grip
- Intense cornering capabilities
- Very focussed…
- …but utterly compromised
- 226kW isn’t enough shove
- Noisy and pretty uncomfortable
We’ve reached the end of the road for the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Certainly, this is the last Evo as we know it—the tenacious, snarling rally car for the road. The two-litre, super-boosted petrol Evo will never return. Indeed, any Evo in the future is unlikely to look anything like this. Instead, Mitsubishi are indicating that a future Evo will be an SUV.
Being able to buy a new car that feels like a classic is a rare thing. That's the case with the Evo, which harks back to the golden age of rallying. It brings the best dynamics of a rally car straight to the road. Insane levels of grip. A turbo four with loads of shove. And a simple, back to basics design missing from the Evo's modern competitors. If that appeals, this is the last one you'll be able to buy new.
So, our week with the Evolution Final Edition, as each of this last allotment of 150 cars is branded, was bittersweet. Where the Evo’s archrival, the Subaru WRX STI, pulled itself upmarket into plusher, more comfortable Volkswagen Golf R territory, the Evo will stay true until the last one is sold. The Evo lived and dies as a bloody harsh, utterly compromised, but truly epic sports sedan—and the last true homage to a golden era of motorsports: the 1990s fascination with rally stage racing.
There are very few cars that you can buy brand new but drive like a classic. The Toyota 86, and its Subaru BRZ twin, are two. The Subaru WRX used to be, but then it grew up. The Mitsubishi Evo, though, is the embodiment of this. Jumping behind the wheel is like stepping back into another era.
The Evo’s dynamics hark back to a simpler mechanical setup. Today’s performance bargains are remarkably complex—from the Volkswagen Golf GTI’s electronic locking front differential, to the Mercedes-AMG A45’s next-level turbocharged potency. The Evo keeps things much simpler. Two-litre four; a big, old-school single turbo; hydraulic power steering; Brembos at each corner; constant all-wheel-drive.
Each piece is pared back and designed to get the Evo from point-to-point as quickly as possible. That point-to-point goal isn’t the same as a straight-line standard—like every Evo before it, it’s a rally car. And while the 226kW, 414Nm four provides decent shove once you’re on boost around 3500rpm, the Evo is outclassed at the lights by plenty of more modern options.
Instead, the Evo plays to its main strength: handling. Combining a perfectly-tuned four-wheel-drive drivetrain with an utterly dialed-in hydraulic steering rack, the way the Evo carves up a mountain road is completely unique at the $60,000 price-point. Both the all-paw power and the last-gen steering take their toll on fuel consumption—which is why this awesome combination isn’t really seen any more—but if you will have the chance to get the Evo on a country road often enough, you won’t mind.
The party trick of the Lancer Evolution X remains the ability to throw it into virtually any corner at virtually any speed, steer in with confidence, and be clawed out by the four-wheel-drive. It’s an animal.
But, if if you won’t have the car out in this situation every weekend, it’s a hard driving experience to bear the other days of the week. That engine? It’s boomy and buzzy, a factor not helped by the fact the gearbox is a five-speed, and the great six-speed double-clutch automatic has been scrapped. It’s thirsty—about 15L/100km in town. The suspension is so tightly-sprung that every bump in the road needs to be carefully avoided. The Recaro seats hold you in properly but they are hideously uncomfortable. It’s hard to see out of. And then there’s the boy-racer looks, and the resulting constant attention from the boys in blue.
As a second car, though? The car you’re passionate about, and take out for a fast blast after work or on a Sunday afternoon? That makes total sense to us, as we will likely never see another Evo, a pure rally car sitting on street tyres.
Comfort? Not really—and the creaks of this decade-old Evo platform show through most on the inside.
In previous model years, the Evo X was available in a more luxurious MR trim, but all of the Final Edition cars are based on the old Evolution GSR, which has a stripped back interior without much to write home about.
You and your front passenger sit in proper Recaro buckets with harness holes. They have very aggressive side bolstering, and they’ll only realistically a small- or medium-sized frame. The Recaros are manually adjustable fore and aft, but there is no height adjustment in them. You either put up with them or you don’t. The driving position will suit some people, but our taller drivers found that they felt hunched over.
The steering wheel isn’t adjustable for reach, but it’s a great wheel. It’s small in diameter, which makes the steering feel even quicker, and it’s covered in nice, red-stitched leather. The door sills surprised us by not being scratchy plastic—they’re actually soft touch, so you have somewhere to rest your arm. The golf-ball shifter is old-school and our passengers admired it, even if the action itself is pretty notchy.
Mitsubishi’s 6.5-inch audio-only infotainment screen sits in the centre stack. You’ll use it to connect your phone via Bluetooth, and then you may as well just turn it off—it barely does anything and you’re better off just ignoring all the controls and focussing on the road. Luckily, the gauges that you look at are clear and informative.
Our rear seat passengers were pleasantly surprised by how liveable the Evo was down the back. The second row seats are actually quite plush and soft, and the Lancer’s conventional roofline means two taller adults will fit with ease. Road noise is quite oppressive back there, though, so the Evo won’t ever be a road trip car.
The late 1990s were the heyday of the Evo, and back then, performance cars were a two-door proposition. The Mitsubishi’s four doors and conventional boot made it spectacularly practical for the pace. Fast forward to now, however, and the rise of the hero hatch has meant that you no longer need to opt for Lancer or Impreza if you want spacious thrills on a budget.
Inside the Evolution’s sedan body, there’s room for four adults. There are enough cubby spaces and door bins to store the everyday clutter, and there are two cupholders up front. However, the Evo isn’t like a Golf R, a car which seems far larger inside than its tight dimensions suggest.
The Evo’s boot is particularly small. Only a single large, hard suitcase will fit back there, but we were able to squeeze in the weekly shopping, or a few canvas overnight bags. Frustratingly, the rear seats don’t fold—deflating the most practical feature of a sedan. That’s because a boom box (really!) sits at the back of the boot between the load space and the rear bench.
The Evo’s turning circle is a little loose, which makes manoeuvrability in tight spaces a little difficult. Parking the thing isn’t a hard task, though: the windows are plenty big enough all around, and all Final Edition cars come with a standard reversing camera, to check that nothing is lurking behind that enormous rear wing.
RELIABILITY & RUNNING COSTS
Too often, capped price servicing programmes don’t apply to a brand’s performance cars—the thinking being that the wear and tear is simply too fast and expensive. That’s why we were really pleased that Mitsubishi hasn’t been stingy: the Evolution Final Edition is covered by the company’s Diamond Advantage four-year capped price servicing arrangements.
Be careful, though—it may be four years of coverage, but Mitsubishi adjust down the annual mileage to 10,000km a year from the regular Lancer’s 15,000.
If that works for you, those four years of capped maintenance will come in at $1,740: not bad for a hardcore performance car that will chew through many of its consumables at an alarming rate. Of course, tyres and fuel are the big items that you will cover yourself.
Each of the various Evo X iterations have been built at Mitsubishi’s Nagoya plant, which is also home to the production of the brand’s big-selling SUVs—the ASX and Outlander. Quality at the plant has been improving over time, though the decade of ageing on the Lancer platform shows through. As a new car, the Evo Final Edition creaks and squeaks more than you’re used to, and certainly more than rivals like the Volkswagen Golf R and forthcoming Ford Focus RS.
Safety equipment has been updated for the Evo over time. Unsurprisingly, advanced safety technologies like active cruise control are missing—but the basics are all there. Seven airbags include driver’s knee protection. We argue that the Evo, is particularly safe—its monumental grip is effectively an active safety feature.
ANCAP recently tested the final Lancer models, of which the Evolution is a part. The range scored a total of 33.56 points out of 37, receiving a five-star rating. Remember to accept nothing less than five stars.
VALUE FOR MONEY
There’s just a single Evo left that you can buy, and it’s the Final Edition. These cars are set apart from the Evolution GSRs that they are based on by a few special features. Outside, you’ll spot them by their contrasting black roofs, BBS wheels and Final Edition badging. Inside, each car wears a plaque confirming the build number—150 are coming to Australia; the one we drove was number 3.
There are no options—simply a choice of one of four colours. Ours was the Starlight white, which is attractive paired against the black roof. However, there’s also a deep red, titanium grey, or black. All are metallic or pearl.
The Evo lists at $53,700—the Final Edition jumps up slightly on last year’s model, but it’s the Evo is priced lower than in many recent years. This is an extremely unique vehicle and it’s a price an enthusiast will like. But when you compare it to the Evo’s modern competitors, it’s a touch more expensive than seems fair.
Subaru WRX STI ($49,790): the car that for many years competed toe-to-toe with the Evo is now a much more refined machine. In the Lancer’s decade-long run, the WRX has had two new iterations. The current one is the most comfortable ever—while the 2.5-litre turbocharged four in the STI still has serious pace. A nicer interior and better packaging make the WRX STI a liveable performance machine, but it the handling isn’t Evo-hardcore, and some of the old-school Impreza character has faded.
Volkswagen Golf R manual ($52,740): Volkswagen own the hot-hatch tradition, with the Golf GTI seven generations old. The GTI’s quicker sibling, the R, is a deeply accomplished machine in Mark VII form. Like the Evo, it’s a two-litre turbo four, but in the real world, it’s a little quicker than the Evo thanks to an available DSG automatic. A six-speed manual remains available for purists, letting you dial in exactly the amount of performance from the 206kW motor you want, to the standard 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system…
Audi S3 sedan manual ($63,400): …but the Golf R is a hatchback only. Audi effectively make the Golf R as a sedan, in the form of the polished and sharp S3 sedan. Like the Golf R, a dual-clutch automatic or a six-speed manual are your choices, though the S3 makes a few extra kilowatts taking power to 210kW. Quattro all-wheel-drive is standard here, though unlike the full-time AWD Evo, it is front-biased and sends power to the rear wheels only when it detects slip. The luxurious interior is in another league to the rest.
|Power||226kW @ 6500rpm|
|Torque||414Nm @ 3500rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||147kW / tonne|
|Fuel consumption (combined)||10.2L / 100km|
Transmission and Drivetrain
|Drivetrain||Four wheel drive|
Dimensions and Weights
|Cargo space (seats up)||323L|
|Cargo space (seats down)||Seats do not fold|