Japanese Sports Cars, Part 5: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

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Mitsubishi's most famous model is a rally version of the Lancer.

Mitsubishi's triple red diamond is probably the best designed logo amongst the Japanese automakers. It is not just the brand name that's splashed on the car's front, as in Nissan's case, or the first initial for Honda, but it's a logo with some decorative value and emotional influence. Unlike some of its competitors, Mitsubishi didn't have for several years a memorable or an iconic vehicle. Since 1992, only the Evolution series (better known as Evo and is based on the Lancer sedan platform) stands out.

However, it is more of a variation on a theme rather than a theme itself. Mitsubishi is currently selling their 10th generation Lancer Evolution, but some of the basics of the car have never changed. It has always been a four door sedan with four-wheel-drive and powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine. The first six generations were based on Lancer platforms and for the 7th generation, when Mitsubishi switched to the Group A category for the World Rally Championship (WRC), the slightly larger platform from the Lancer Cedia was used instead.

Initially the Evo cars were targeted for the Japanese market, though they were imported to Europe and North America as 'grey imports', i.e. through unofficial outlets. However, as the Evo gained in reputation around the world due to its success on the world rallying stage, demand grew in North America and Mitsubishi began exporting the cars directly. The first four Evo generations were rally cars aimed at the World Rally Championship for Group A (the premier group at the time) and various other national and international championships. In North America the Evo I even took part in the SCCA Pro Rally Championship.

Goodbye To The Gearbox; You'll Be Missed
Goodbye To The Gearbox; You'll Be Missed
Track-Weapon Warfare: GMA T.50s Niki Lauda Vs. Pagani Huayra R
Track-Weapon Warfare: GMA T.50s Niki Lauda Vs. Pagani Huayra R

At the end of the 1980s Mitsubishi ran the Galant VR-4 in WRC events but with little success. In 1990, in order to improve results, the Lancer platform was preferred over that of the Galant and thus the Evo story began. The new rally car had to adhere to Group A technical regulations, meaning at least 2,500 road going units had to be sold in 12 months in order to gain homologation. However, the rally car itself was a further development of the homologated cars and shared just the unitary chassis with them. The drivetrain was taken from the Galant VR-4; a 2.0-liter turbo engine, a five-speed manual gearbox and a four-wheel-drive system.

The engine produced 244hp at 6,000 rpm and 228ft-lb of torque at 3,000 rpm. 5,000 units of the Evo I were sold between 1992 and 1993 in two versions, GSR and RS. The former was equipped with all of the conveniences of a legal road car, while the latter was a stripped down version, lighter and ready for club rallying. For the Evo II (1993-95), engine performance was improved by increased turbo boost pressure, higher-lift cams and changes to the exhaust that reduced backpressure. Power was up to 256hp. However, engineers focused on improving its handling abilities. The wheelbase was increased by 0.4 inch by moving the front wheels forward.

Aerodynamic tweaks like a front air dam and an additional rear spoiler support improved stability at higher speeds. The Evo III was launched in 1995 and sold over 7,000 units. Improvements were made to the car's aerodynamics in order to increase speed on tarmac stages. It received a large rear wing and a front air dam with brake cooling vents. It sported a new nose molding and new side skirts. A new turbocharger was mated to the engine and as a result, 10hp were added to the official output figure. For the Evo IV the platform was changed. The engine and transaxle were retained though rotated 180 degrees to improve balance and eliminate torque steer.

As before, two versions were available, RS and GSR. The RS was a competition car with a limited-slip front differential and a friction type limited-slip at the rear. It lacked power windows, A/C and had brace bars to strengthen the chassis. To save weight, Mitsubishi produced thinner body panels and glass. Both versions shared a new twin scroll turbocharger which increased output to 276hp at 6,500 rpm and 260lb-ft. A new Active YAW Control became a factory option on the GSR model. Over 10,000 Evo IVs were easily sold. In 1997 a new category in rallying was created, the WRC, which replaced Group A as the premiere rally event.


Mitsubishi didn't rush to join the WRC category and maintained its participation in Group A until 2001 when it was forced to change categories. Despite not enjoying the advantages of the WRC category, Mitsubishi won the 1998 Manufacturers' Championship with the Evo V. This generation was related to the Evo III and IV - the cars that led Tommi Makinen to two consecutive WRC titles. The main improvement over the previous model, however, was the wider track. The aging but powerful Type 4G63 engine was still in use along with the unique Active Four Wheel Drive System, controlled by an electronic clutch.

The Evo VI made its first appearance at the 1999 Monte Carlo Rally and won its first outing. It was still a Group A car and therefore restricted by improvements allowed in that category. Despite all that the Evo VI was able to outpace the competition and Tommi Makinen became the drivers' champion. A new model was added to the GSR and RS lineup, known as the RS2. It was basically an RS with a few of the GSR's options. In 2001 Mitsubishi finally abandoned Group A and joined the WRC brigade. Since there was no longer a need to sell thousands of cars to gain homologation, Mitsubishi switched the Evo VII platform to that of the larger Lancer Cedia.

That enabled multiple important chassis tweaks that included the addition of an active center differential and a more effective limited-slip differential. Engine power was increased to 280hp. The Evo VII also saw the first time an automatic drivetrain was included - the GT-A. The five-speed automatic gearbox had what Mitsubishi called "fuzzy logic", which meant that the car would learn the driver's driving characteristics. The Evo VIII (2003-2005) was the first Evo without links to rallying. It sported features like Brembo brakes, Bilstein shocks and 17 inch wheels. It was also the first Evo to be sold officially in the U.S. and in four trim levels.

The Evo IX was introduced in 2005 with a 287hp engine and was available in four trim levels as well. Evo X was launched in October 2007 on a new platform and with a new engine that produced at least 276 hp. In the last few years the hectic development pace of the Lancer Evolution has been slowed down dramatically. The model is no longer participating in the WR and Mitsubishi scaled down Ralliart operations two years ago. In 20 years the Evo made a name for itself as a car for the driving fanatics. It's not a car for a relaxed driving experience; its natural poise is in four-wheeled drift, a slight role angle and wheels in a gentle opposite lock.


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