Test drive: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X GSR TC-SST FQ-300 (automated manual)
The TotallyMotor Verdict
If the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, or Evo to petrolheads everywhere, has a reputation for anything, it’s speed. An out-and-out techno-turbo-powered speed demon that’s earned its go-faster stripes on international rally stages everywhere since the first model launched in 1992. Edgy, aggressive and up for it indeed, but also, perhaps, a little scary with its big-bhp-boasts and potent performance statistics.
But, this is the latest Evolution, the Evo X, and in this entry-level (£26,699) FQ-300 variant with an easy-going automatic gearbox, a less imposing 290bhp and a quoted combined fuel economy of 26.2mpg (super unleaded), could we be looking at a more approachable Evo, that anyone, regardless of their motoring history, could drive and enjoy and, heck, even use as an every day car? A week of commuting, blasting and cruising looks to reveal this Orient Red rally raider’s true character colours.
Test drive: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X GSR FQ-300
For me, Evos are all about emotions. For the lucky owners of these cars they represent a car-buying choice that’s purely based on adrenalin and excitement, rather than the everyday influences of economy, boot space and service intervals. So how does this Evo X make me feel?
The tingles start with a look at the “Jet Fighter” front-end, but not before that familiar silhouette of sharp saloon angles and sky-scraping rear spoiler moisten my palms in anticipation. Without wanting to sound cheesy, Evos are a thing of legend. You’ll know if you’ve sat in an angry one, or even simply seen them winning rally stages on TV. And while every Evo X is tightly-reined by a full compliment of safety tech and computer controlled all-wheel drive, only a fool would treat one without respect.
Mr Masaki Matsuhara, head of the Mitsubishi design studio behind this angled aggressor, said this about the Evo X’s ground-up, fresh design:
Firstly, we had to improve functionality, so we lengthening the wheelbase for greater stability, lowered the centre of gravity and widening the track. We also reduced the front and rear overhangs to make the car more manoeuvrable both at speed and in town.
The second aim was to create an optimal shape while taking the Lancer Evolution’s aerodynamics to a new level. For the exterior, our engineers completed an exhaustive wind tunnel test programme.
The third aim was to give the car a design that appeals to the customer, the toughest task of all for any designer. But we believe there can be real beauty in a shape designed to be functional and if that design is executed with real skill and emotion, it will possess the power to ignite passion in those that see it.
For me, this pure functionality over flamboyant form – that ends up in a fantastically vicious-looking car – is where my fatal attraction lies.
Quick Japanese cars have been described as soulless or too robotic; lacking the passion of, say, some famous Italian brands, but with the Evo the passion comes from performance, excitement, and price. Sure, £27k ain’t exactly cheap for most of us folks, but put this car against twenty-seven-grand-worth of Ferrari and watch all that “Italian passion” quickly disappear, in the rear-view mirror!
Into the interior:
Functionality rules the Evo’s inner space, too, so don’t expect Germanic opulence here – most of the X’s pricetag is spent on its apex-slaying undercarriage and not namby-pamby soft-touch textiles.
Crucially, we get a pair of quality Recaro bucket seats up front, and these race-bred butt-holders keep you locked 'n' loaded into a low-slung, not-adjustable-for-height, seating position, that worked nicely for me. And snuggling down into their tight embrace made me feel like a racing driver.
All Evo Xs get the Recaros, a pumping, subwoofer-backed 650watt Rockford Fosgate multimedia stereo with sat-nav, and A/C. There’s also plenty of not particularly wonderful plastic, a steering wheel that doesn’t slide-adjust and an annoying seat belt reminder that begins bending your ear the moment you slot the key into the too-tucked-away ignition barrel.
Great seats, a serious stereo, a mpg-meter you probably don’t want to look at too often;
all the right stuff for a performance car is correctly represented inside this Evo. And those petty bleep-bleep and ergonomic annoyances? They vanish in about 4.7-seconds-to-62mph…
This is what the Evo is all about; on the street with the titanium turbo spinning hard. The rest is just dressing.
The lighter-weight, aluminium, 4-cylinder, 2-litre turbocharged petrol engine is quieter than I imagined it would be, but that comes from my history of reporting on high-tune Evos with big-bore, freer-flowing exhaust systems. This mass market car burbles quietly at tickover and builds, but not massively, to a metallic whoosh on boost; at speed. I’d have liked a little more volume, but, saying that, I’m pretty sure everyone behind the twin-exit tailpipes heard the Evo’s song well enough.
The 290bhp, intercooled and variably valve-timed motor makes its most power after 3000rpm, but you can feel the torque begin to build from 2000rpm. After that 3k liftoff it pulls hard up to the 7000rpm redline, with a quick and turbo-torquey throttle response. When the turbo gets on the boil, and the speed quickly builds, is when I felt a sharpening of reality; viewed through wider eyes, and a distinct quickening of the pulse. We’re in Evo territory now and it feels good.
I wasn’t sure about the 6-speed “TC-SST automated manual” transmission – effectively two 3-speed gearboxes mounted on the same output shaft and with two clutches, one which engages the gear in use, the other which pre-selects the next gear (predicted to be) required. But shouldn’t a driver’s cars have a manual ‘box?
In full attack forward motion the gearbox works well, firing the Evo onwards with very smooth and fast-enough gear changes; either automatically or with a flick of the right fingers on the paddle.
I did find it fishing for ratios from time to time in full-auto mode, but if you’re in slow traffic this doesn’t matter – and it shifts up as early as possible to save you fuel. I would’ve liked the paddles to follow the rotation of the steering wheel, however.
The Eibach spring and Bilstein damper suspension combination is plenty hard enough to jiggle the spare tyre – and I don’t mean the one in the boot! – but complaining about low-speed, through-cabin jolts in a corner-killer like this would be like sniffling over a too hot vindaloo. It’s meant to be like that! In return for the tough-love, our firmly-sprung friend delivers complete cornering control.
A recalibration of the brain is required; the razor-sharp front-end is as quick, grippy and pointy as I could deal with, and only very high-speed cornering might encourage a loss of Evo-grip. But I just enjoyed empty back lanes (letting the many computer systems worry about the ditches either side), flicking through the gears, staring hard to the horizon (that comes up pretty quick!); braking solid and late, seeking the apex and then bolting out of the bend. And this is what the Evo was born to do.
The big Brembo brakes – wrapped by handsome, special Enkei 18-inch forged alloy wheels – take a little getting used to, with a firm foot needed to haul the Evo up hard – but the not-over-assisted feel to the brake pedal means greater progressive control over these mighty anchors.
Tame racing drivers could no doubt work some impressive magic in the Evo X, but even us mere mortals can simply jump in, turn on, and rock out. This 290bhp Evo is darn fast but not too wild, easy to drive at exciting levels (once you’ve wired your brain into it), and absolutely stunning when the road is open and the throttle buried.
It can be used every day, service intervals are 10,000 miles or 12 months, with a £650 Mitsubishi Service Plan making service time less scary and the auto ‘box helps to smooth out heavy traffic. Yes, she’s firm over the choppy stuff, and will chew the fuel in max attack mode – I saw between late-teens to late-20s on the mpg-meter, but very quick cars cost money to run, and if you want something soft and squidgy, buy a sofa!
Ten second sum up:
You’ll probably already know whether or not the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X is for you.
It does exactly what it says on the bulging, spoiler-studded tin, and even the entry-level, 290bhp X lives up to the exciting legend. All week of the test drive, I’ve been telling people it’s a £40k car, but it’s a £30k car, and that unexpected pricetag makes it all the more impressive.
Prices and availability:
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X GSR range starts at £29,699 for the 290bhp FQ-300 (tested here), £32,699 for the 325bhp FQ-330, and £36,799 for the 355bhp, top of the range FQ-360. Available now.
Words & pics: Daniel Anslow / Mitsubishi
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