Performance AWD: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

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Despite rumors of it being discontinued, the Evo isn't going anywhere with the next generation model currently in development.

With the WRX STI being featured yesterday, you probably guessed that the Evo would be next. The rival to the WRX ever since it was first introduced, the Evo has become one of the most iconic of modern rally cars. Rumors that it might be killed off sparked internet rage, and though these seem to have been untrue, it is clear that the Evo has a fiercely loyal following. Now in its tenth generation, the Evo is a finely sharpened tool. There are many similarities between the cars' stories.

Also debuting in 1992, the Lancer became the focus of Mitsubishi's rally efforts when the sport shifted towards smaller cars. And, just like the Impreza, the Evo was more successful than its predecessor. That said, the Evo was first created by Mitsubishi taking the engine and drivetrain out of the Galant VR-4 (Mitsubishi's previous rally car and one of Japan's greatest sleepers) and putting it in the smaller Lancer. This car won fewer WRC manufacturer's titles than the Impreza, a total of one, but Finnish driver Tommi Makinen did manage to pilot it to four consecutive driver's championship titles, including the '98 season where Mitsubishi also took the manufacturer's title.

The first Evo had a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine which produced 244 horsepower. The car would evolve over the years, with each generation being designated by a roman numeral at the end of its name. Power never increased by a whole lot, with the current Evo X making 291 horsepower, but driver's aides have become more numerous and much more sophisticated, and the Evo X handles in a way that seems almost impossibly good. Certain versions of the car have been more powerful, but there is a lot of variation between different markets. The Evo was initially sold only as a homologation necessity.

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But as the car became more popular, which happens when a car wins rallies, an increasingly large grey market developed for the Evo in other markets. For whatever reason, the Evo has always been particularly popular in the UK. The size of the grey market there had Mitsubishi exporting the Evo to the UK as early as 1998 with the Evo V. This was at first sold only through Ralliart, Mitsubishi's in-house tuning division. This did have some advantages though, and it resulted in several UK-specific trims. The first of these was the RS Sprint, a Ralliart tuned version of the Evo VI RS with 330 horsepower and less weight.

Starting with the Evo VIII, the UK began receiving the FQ line of the Evo. These are designated as FQ300, FQ320, FQ340 and FQ400, with the numbers designating the amount of horsepower each produces (although actual horsepower of each is 5 higher than the numerical designation). This means that the 405-horsepower FQ400 is the most powerful factory Evo available, although tuners pretty regularly squeeze this much power out of other models. With all of this extra power, combined with the Evo's uncanny handling ability, the FQ400 rather famously went around the Top Gear track only 1.1 seconds slower than a Lamborghini Murcielago.

Evo Magazine even got it around the Bedford Autodrome faster than an Audi RS4 and a Porsche Carrera 4S. Although Subaru sold the more mundane versions of the Impreza in the US for years before bringing over the first turbocharged models, Mitsubishi didn't sell any form of the Lancer for quite some time. When news came that the Lancer would be coming stateside in 2001 as a 2002, many enthusiasts began to prematurely celebrate. As it turned out, it was just the standard Lancer, the economy car version which Mitsubishi planned to bring over. That is, until Subaru started selling the WRX.

Upon seeing the success of this, Mitsubishi realized the potential the car had in the US market, and the Evo went on sale over here in 2003. Last year, Mitsubishi Global Product Director Gayu Eusegi gave an interview with AutoCar which hinted that the Evo would be discontinued. He didn't actually come out and say this, but it was soon accepted as fact that Mitsubishi would be killing off their last interesting car in order to concentrate on electric cars. Mitsubishi followed this up with a statement saying that the Evo would not be killed off, but that changes would be made to it.

It has now been confirmed that Mitsubishi is working on an Evo XI to go on sale sometime in the next three years. They have also confirmed that it will be a hybrid. They have said that it will still be able to hit 60mph in under 5 seconds, but no other details have been given. Let's just hope that a hybrid Evo isn't one that's as good as dead.

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