There has been a lot said on the Internet about Mitsubishi's new Evolution X, much of it not fit for print in a family-type magazine, and most of it centering around the notion that the new car is heavier, bigger, softer, and therefore not as pure as the outgoing model. At the risk of losing you right here, we'll let you know up front that the new Evo is a better car in every way — including performance — and all the fears about it being too grown up aren't nearly as serious as the keyboard commandos would lead you to believe.
Mitsubishi has been building hardcore rally-inspired Lancer models since 1981. After nine generations, the new car represents the first time Mitsubishi has given Americans a "real" Evo model. For the Evos we've gotten in the past (the XIII and IX), cost and complexity issues meant that we were shorted when it came to on-board systems like Active Yaw Control combined with Active Center Differential. Nobody seemed to mind the exclusion, as U.S. Evos quickly became tuner and enthusiast favorites that put Mitsubishi solidly back on the performance pedestal. But this time through, nothing's being lost in translation. We're getting a car nearly identical to the Japanese home-market version.
With a claimed "shark-inspired front end" the new Evo's bold, aggressive look makes the old models seem conservative. Mitsubishi is quick to point out that all the scoops and openings in the front bumper, hood, and fenders serve to improve aerodynamics and cooling. The flared fenders and high-riding suspension, vestiges of the racing Evo's rally-car roots, positively swallow its standard 18-inch wheels. The larger overall size of the car (1.0-inch longer, 2.0-inches wider, and 1.2-inch more track), combined with new emissions equipment and seven airbags (the six you'd think of, plus an inflatable knee bolster), bulk it up by 200 pounds — mass that Mitsubishi went to great lengths to offset by using lightweight materials wherever possible. The roof, hood, front fenders, and both bumper beams are aluminum. The battery and windshield-washer-fluid tank have been moved to the trunk to improve weight distribution. Forged aluminum suspension components reduce both static and unsprung weight. The engine has also gotten the Jenny Craig treatment, using an aluminum block to shed 27.5 pounds versus its iron-block predecessor. So while the overall weight is up to as much as 3594 pounds depending on the model, Mitsubishi carefully controlled the distribution of that weight, resulting in a car that doesn't feel dynamically heavier than the Evo IX.
As mentioned above, Mitsubishi slid an all-new engine between the frame rails of the 2008 Evolution X — the first new engine in an Evo during its sixteen-year production run. The 4B11, as it's called, is still a DOHC, turbocharged inline four, but that's as far as the similarities with its predecessor go. In addition to its aluminum block, the 4B11 uses a semi-closed deck to strengthen the cylinder liners, plus four-bolt main caps to stiffen the bottom end for high boost. The crankshaft and connecting rods are of beefy forged steel. The timing belt — the bane of the old Evo's engine — has been ditched in favor of a chain, and Mitsubishi's MIVEC continuously variable valve timing works both the intake and exhaust cams. The new engine features a "square" bore and stroke of 86.0 millimeters, and pistons now have full-floating wrist pins and reinforced ring lands. The compression ratio is up from 8.8 to 9.0 in the new engine. The result of all these improvements is a not-unimpressive 291 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque (vs. 286 hp and 289 lb-ft in the Evo IX), all in a smaller and lighter engine than Mitsu gave us before.
The Evo X also features a new exhaust system that's 2.6 inches in diameter (vs. 2.4 on the last Evo). More importantly the exhaust manifold itself has been moved to the back of the car, further improving weight distribution and emissions. The new manifold location means a shorter exhaust pipe, which helps to improve breathing even further.
The 4B11 is connected to one of two different transmissions — a five-speed manual that's the beefiest transmission Mitsubishi has ever offered, and an automated six-speed Twin-Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission (TC-SST) that operates similarly to Volkswagen's DSG. The autobox has three selectable shift programs. The first shifts smoothly, like a traditional automatic. "Sport" hurries up the gearchanges and moves their shift points further up the tach. The truly crazed will set the transmission to "S-Sport," whose lightning-quick shifts run clear to redline. Cog swaps happen automatically or can be bumped up and down through the floor shifter or its redundant paddles on the steering wheel. Mitsubishi isn't formally announcing it, but there is also a launch control feature in the TC-SST transmission that allows the car to spring hard off the line.
While this may sound like a lot of electronic hoo-ha going on, it works eerily well. The electronics controlling the shift mapping have been optimized for the engine power and gear ratios. This means the transmission, particularly in S-Sport mode, knows what it takes to stay in the optimum power band better than you and me. Because TC-SST also monitors throttle input, wheel sensors, engine RPMS and wheel speeds, it is very, very good — almost creepy — in its ability to be in the right gear at the right time. If you're heading hot toward a 90-degree bend in third gear, you might fear that the transmission doesn't know what's coming up and won't know to downshift. As you enter the corner, though, the first thing you'll do is lift off the throttle quickly. The transmission reads a rapid amount of pedal acceleration when you lift, de-selects the fourth gear it had ready, and instead grabs second in anticipation — all of this happening in milliseconds. By the time you apply the brakes hard for that turn, the engine will execute a perfect rev-matched downshift — seamlessly and automatically. So transparent is the system that it allows drivers to concentrate on their turn-in, apex, and exit points instead of shifting.
To help route all that power to ground, Mitsubishi has developed an all-new Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) all-wheel-drive system, and with it a deadly morass of obscure acronyms for its components. The Active Center Differential (ACD) splits power equally between the front and rear axles, shifting its bias based on input of accelerometers and chassis sensors. Helping it out is Active Yaw Control (AYC), which shifts rear-wheel torque from side to side when it senses an imminent spin. Rounding out the Evo's alphabet soup is Active Stability Control (ASC), which applies the brakes to stop wheels from slipping, and can brake at will to help correct plowing and spinning. Considering the invasiveness of the electronics, it's reassuring that the Evo X uses a traditional, mechanical helical limited-slip differential for the front wheels. Still with us? Good, because there's more.
The electronic nannies can be given their walking papers by pressing the "ASC" button, which works in two steps. The first push deactivates the ABS-derived traction-control system at the front of the car, but it still remains on to work in conjunction with the AYC system at the rear. The second push (you need to hold the button down for three seconds) offers the driver three different "traction" modes — tarmac, gravel, and snow — that change how much fun the stability control system will allow before reining you in. We were fortunate to have both wet and dry conditions to play in, and in the wet we were able to get a clear feel for the characteristics of the three different traction-system settings. "Tarmac" provides the most neutral setting, with the car going precisely where it is pointed, sticking tenaciously and resisting understeer as best it can. "Gravel" lets the driver hang the rear end out in long, lurid drifts and rotate the car around a tight turn such as you'd find on a typical autocross course. "Snow," arguably the least fun of the three, turns the Evo into an understeering pig, but a pig that's hard to crash when the roads get slippery. Overall, we were impressed that Mitsubishi is able to put all these electronic systems to work in a way that still permits a driver to have some tail-out, four-wheel drift fun.
Mitsubishi went to great lengths to maintain the old Evo's scalpel-edge handling while vastly improving the car's ride quality. Aluminum is used extensively in suspension components and mass has been moved low in the chassis to optimize the Evo X's center of gravity. At the front are inverted MacPherson struts and forged-alloy control arms, while the rear is a multi-link unit with forged upper and trailing arms. The cheaper GSR model gets house-brand shocks and springs, but the pricier MR version gets special Bilstein struts and Eibach springs. To be honest, in a full day of track driving both versions we felt virtually no difference between the two.
The Evolution's legendarily quick steering is still here, with a 13.3:1 ratio and 2.27 turns lock to lock. Both the GSR and MR versions get slick Brembo brakes, with 13.8-inch rotors and four-piston calipers up front, and 13.0-inch rotors with two-piston calipers out back. The MR gets upgraded to two-piece front rotors that save 3 pounds each. An all-new brake booster is 1.9 pounds lighter than the previous car's. Brake squeal may still be an issue from time to time (as it was in the last generation model), but new pads should help minimize the noise. The GSR comes with cast Enkei wheels, while upgrading to the MR nets you forged BBSs. Both trim levels sport 18-inch Yokohama ADVAN A13C asymmetrical tires that offer tremendous grip dry, and stick very well in the wet, something the old car's tires couldn't manage. Plus, the new asymmetrical tire tread means they can also be rotated, giving Evo owners a break on tire wear as these won't be cheap to replace.
So how well does all this work in the new car? Extremely well. Mitsubishi provided an Evo IX for back-to-back drives, and it's hard to believe that the two models share a common lineage. Where the old car felt like a hard-core tuner project that buckboarded over bumps and reveled in its raw mechanical glory, the new car absorbs impacts in near silence. Driving the new Evo, you generally feel as though this would be a perfectly comfortable daily driver. Normally this would be an immediate red flag indicating that handling sharpness has been swapped out for comfort, but Mitsubishi gets credit for blending both ride and handling in a package that hasn't turned the Evo X into a roadgoing sponge cake.
On the autocross, the Evo X's all-wheel drive pulls hard off the line. There's a brief moment of hesitation as the turbo spools, followed by a wave of torque that carries all the way to its 7000-rpm redline. The new car has a more livable power band that offers more flexibility and stays on tap through a wider range of revs. The additional 200 pounds mess with your head, telling you that the car will handle worse, yet it feels nearly as agile as the outgoing car. With the right combination of safety systems sent packing, the Evo rotates compliantly, allowing the driver to place the car at the exact location inside a cone and set up for the next turn. Power oversteer just isn't happening in the Evo X, but a simple flick of additional steering leading into a turn and a slight lift of the throttle sends the car into a slide that can easily be controlled. Brakes on both trim levels are wonderful, easy to modulate, give great pedal feel, and didn't fade all day despite our best attempts to cook them.
Next, we moved on to a road course, where we found more of the same table manners, only at much higher velocities. High-speed braking from 100 mph was fade free and easy to skirt the limits, with ABS rarely kicking in. Turn-in is go-kart-like and the car holds its line very well, allowing for adjustment mid-turn without any brown-trouser moments. Want to hang the rear end out to drift to the outside of a turn? Simply give the wheel a slight twist as you enter the corner, lift, feel the rear end start to rotate, and control the amount of slide with the throttle as the AWD system pulls things back into line. In the wet, things change a bit as the ASC and AYC clatter and scramble to reduce wheelspin, giving the Evo some neutral-understeer characteristics.
The GSR and MR models come well equipped, and each offer only one major option package. The Sight, Sound and Spoiler package for the GSR model combines HID headlamps, the trademark Evo picnic-bench spoiler, and a 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate sound system — it includes a six-disc in-dash CD charger with MP3 capability and Sirius Satellite Radio with a six-month subscription. The MR model gets a Technology Package as its lone option that includes the Rockford-Fosgate system, hard-drive navigation system with a 7.5-inch screen, and proximity-based keyless entry.
The primary difference between the GSR and MR models is one that enthusiasts are most likely to struggle with. The GSR is only offered with a five-speed manual and doesn't include the BBS wheels, two-piece rotors, Bilstein struts, Eibach springs, or the great Recaro seats — those are all unique to the MR model. The MR model, on the other hand, is only offered with the Twin-Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission — which isn't going to play nicely with horsepower tweaks that some owners will want to make. In fact, Mitsubishi has told us it will be very difficult to tune the TC-SST models because of the transmission's torque limitations.
How big of a deal all of this is depends on which side of manual/purist debate you're on. Combined with the fact that our lap times were virtually identical between the GSR and MR versions, we say go for the former and get the stick. The five-speed's ratios are almost perfectly spaced, and a six-speed simply isn't necessary. And with the GSR estimated to cost $34,000 and the MR $39,000, the price differential alone leaves enough scratch in the budget to upgrade the Evo X GSR the way you see fit.
No matter which you choose, Mitsubishi has built a vastly improved Evolution model. Ride, interior materials, handling, power, space, safety and features have all gotten significant upgrades, making this Evolution model the best yet. Now, please argue amongst yourselves.