First Drive: 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X
This 2008 review is representative of model years 2008 to 2013.
By Sam Mitani of Road & Track
Hokkaido, Japan — He's the last guy you would imagine being the chief engineer of the Lancer Evolution. The first time you meet Hiroshi Fujii, you could easily mistake him for an accountant or a video-game programmer, but this soft-spoken gentleman has been the creative force behind the ridiculously fast and flashy Lancer Evolution for the past several years. Known among Evo enthusiasts as Mr. Evo, he presented us with a new version of his "baby," one that he said will redefine the brand and broaden its appeal.
To readers of Road & Track, the latest Evolution, dubbed Evo X (ten), hardly needs introduction. We featured it on the cover of our June issue, and although at the time the story was based on early inside information, it was correct about everything regarding the new Mitsubishi, including its styling and drivetrain. On a warm summer day in Hokkaido, we were formally introduced to the 2008 Lancer Evolution, and given an opportunity to put the car through its paces on a variety of different venues at Mitsubishi's proving grounds near the city of Tokachi.
All you need to do is look at the Evo X to realize that it's a different animal from its predecessor. It's noticeably bulkier than the last model, and although overall length remains about the same, every other dimension has grown significantly. Width and height are 71.3 and 58.3 in., respectively, and wheelbase is 104.3 in., an inch longer than the IX.
But the new Evo still retains its "bad-boy racer" spirit, thanks to its aggressive overall styling. Based on the Lancer sedan, the Evo X has the face of a bull shark getting ready to bite its prey. A massive grille reminiscent of the Audi S4 dominates the front end, while large canted headlights provide a nasty glare. The rear is highlighted by a flashy wing and subtle underbody diffuser, both functional, providing asphalt-sticking downforce at high speed. Vents on the hood suggest something wonderfully wicked resides underneath.
As we predicted five months ago, the latest Evo is powered by a turbocharged version of Mitsubishi's new-generation 2.0-liter inline-4, known in-house as the 4B11. While displacement remains unchanged from the 4G63 (in the Evo IX), this new aluminum-block powerplant is vastly improved. For one, it's lighter by about 27 lb., thanks to its aluminum construction. It also features Mitsubishi's variable-valve control technology (MIVEC) on both the intake and exhaust — the 4G63 had it on the intake side only.
It comes mated to either a 5-speed manual or the TC-SST, a new twin-clutch 6-speed semiautomatic transmission (more on this later). The overall result is slightly more power and torque than its predecessor with better or equal fuel economy. The turbocharged 4B11 produces 295 bhp at 6500 rpm and 300 lb.-ft. of torque at 4400.
Sounds like a winner, right? Yes, but with an asterisk.
That this engine is superior to the one it replaces is irrefutable. However, because the new Evo is about 300 lb. heavier than the outgoing model, it's a step or two slower getting to 60 mph and the quarter mile (we chose the 5-speed manual to perform our acceleration tests after Fujii informed us that the TC-SST's launch character was still not finalized). Rev the engine to 5500 rpm (limited by the launch-control mechanism), and drop the clutch. The four tires chirp and send the 3345-lb. beast on its way.
The Evo X gains momentum smoothly, almost too smoothly for hard-core forced-induction fans. Absent is the turbocharger surge that comes on at the 5000- to 6000-rpm mark. In fact, the 4G63 feels and sounds like a naturally aspirated 6-cylinder. Although the new car doesn't quite match the Evo IX's prowess in a straight line, it's quick nonetheless. It reached 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and dashed through the quarter in 13.8 sec.
How will the Evo faithfuls react when they find out that their new hero is slower than the previous model? It could get ugly, but let's hope they take into consideration the rationale behind the car's weight gain. Yes, the new Evo is physically larger — with more interior space for occupants — but the main reason is the application of new technology that makes the car a much more nimble machine.
U.S.-spec models will finally get AYC (Active Yaw Control). Previously reserved for Japan-spec models only, this new technology makes the Evo X one of the best-handling sports sedans in the world. AYC controls torque distribution of the rear wheels via a yaw-rate sensor to enhance cornering performance on all types of driving surfaces; it drastically reduces under- and oversteer.
Also in the mix is S-AWC (Super-All Wheel Control) that combines all of the car's electronic sensors to maximize safety during hazardous driving conditions. S-AWC utilizes the car's ACD (Active Center Differential), AYC, ASC (Active Stability Control) and ABS (Active Braking System) to regulate torque and braking force for all four wheels.
Combine this new technology with the Evo's taut suspension system (which is largely unchanged from the last model and includes Bilstein dampers for MR models) and rigid body (39-percent increase in beam stiffness and 64-percent increased torsional stiffness), and you have one of the most agile machines in the marketplace. With ASC turned off and AYC on, the new Evo registered an impressive 0.96g around the skidpad and ran through the slalom at a brisk 67.2 mph, a step slower than the Evo IX partially due to a slower steering ratio.
As impressive as the S-AWC is, perhaps the most noteworthy item on the new Evo is the TC-SST (Twin Clutch-Sportronic Shift Transmission). Like the DSG gearbox found in Audi/Volkswagen cars, the TC-SST is a manual-based transmission that provides a fully automatic mode and super-fast manual shifting via paddles behind the steering wheel.
The TC-SST has three different "full automatic" settings for various driving conditions: Normal, Sport and S-Sport. Normal is ideal for cruising, while Sport is meant for spirited driving on a twisty road...S-Sport is intended for an all-out attack on a track and is much more aggressive than the sportiest DSG mode. At this setting the gearbox won't upshift unless the tach needle is pegged at redline, and it downshifts as soon as you slow for a corner.
Around the 2.0-mile road circuit, the TC-SST worked flawlessly in both manual and full automatic modes. The only problem was it had trouble putting power down off the line, but Fujii assured me that this would be fixed before the car hits U.S. soil in January.
Also present at the track was a U.S.-spec 5-speed manual Evo IX, which I took for a few hot laps for comparison. "The Evo X is a nicer car," I told Fujii, "but the Evo IX is edgier and quicker."
Fujii responded barely above a whisper: "The Evo IX just seems quicker. I'm positive that the Evo X is faster around the track. The AYC gives it that edge, and you lose nothing with the TC-SST in S-Sport, even in full auto mode."
No way. This time, I had someone clock me. First up was the Evo IX. The car took off like a bullet, and it exhibited amazing balance through the sweepers and esses. The IX clocked in at 1 minute 55.20 sec. Now it was time for the Evo X in full auto mode. The TC-SST was fantastic, shifting exactly where I would have if I were in control. Also, I realized I was doing much less steering through most of the corners because the car wasn't getting out of shape. I went through the esses without any steering correction, virtually flat-out. I crossed the finish line in 1:54.18, more than a second faster than the IX!
This was enough to convince me that the Evo X, despite being a bit softer around the edges, is a superior car. Period. Mr. Evo smiled. Although he speaks in a whisper, I realized that he lets his car do the talking, and it talks mighty loud indeed.