Jason Kavanagh, Senior Vehicle Test Engineer
Years ago, interactive media took the form of a series of books known as "Choose Your Own Adventure." Key plot decisions were foisted upon the reader to determine the lead character's fate, and a single choice could determine whether he became the ruler of a new planet or was eaten by trolls.
Mitsubishi has faced a similarly grim situation in creating the 2008 Lancer Evolution. Known as the Evolution X elsewhere in the world, this all-wheel-drive, turbocharged sedan has arrived at a crossroads. It could continue as a rally-style homologation special with an edgy, hard-core persona. Or it could evolve into a car with a broader appeal for increased sales volume.
Evo? Broadened appeal? To this owner of a 2004 Lancer Evolution, the choices are like oil and water. Ruler of the planet, or eaten by trolls?
Based on the Lancer We would find out which adventure Mitsubishi has chosen at the company's winter proving grounds in Tokachi, Japan, where we were among the first group of people outside of the factory to drive the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
The Evo X has grown up, both literally and figuratively. Built on the new chassis introduced for the Lancer for 2008, the wheelbase has stretched exactly 1 inch while the track is up by 1.2 inches. More important, the new Evo is 1.2 inches taller and 1.6 inches wider.
Unlike in years past, the U.S.-bound Evo X will not differ substantially from those sold in other countries.
Two trim levels will comprise the initial offerings for America. The GSR is the base model, and it's equipped with an all-new, stronger five-speed manual transmission and cast-aluminum 8.5-by-18-inch Enkei wheels. The more expensive MR model gets more acoustic insulation, HID headlights, Bilstein dampers and the long-awaited twin-clutch transmission. The MR also features a useful reduction in unsprung weight, as two-piece Brembo brake rotors are each lighter by 2.9 pounds while the spidery forged-aluminum BBS wheels shave 2 pounds from each corner.
Restrained Aggression The Evo's street-fighter look is gone, exchanged for a more mature kind of aggression evidenced by a tough, muscular new nose that looks like an Audi A4 that's spent some time working out on a Bowflex. The new Evo's rear wing is not nearly as prominent as before, and the fender flares are subtle.
Once you're inside the cabin, you sense that the higher beltline provides a more intimate cockpit vibe than the Evo IX, so you no longer have the sensation of being perched atop a stack of phone books. Recaro seats cradle your backside and the interior has a richer appearance that's a clear step up from the outgoing model's flimsy coach-class accommodations.
A Stiffer Structure Casts a Larger Shadow Just when we thought the Evo chassis couldn't be stiffer, the new Evo X platform bests the rigidity of the outgoing model by 39 percent in torsion and an astounding 64 percent in bending.
Unfortunately, the penalty for such stoutness in combination with larger physical dimensions is weight. Although Mitsubishi hasn't yet released the curb weight of U.S.-spec Evo models, we expect the increase will be at least 100 pounds.
All-New Twin-Clutch Transmission The MR model is equipped exclusively with a brilliant new six-speed dual-clutch transmission that Mitsubishi's clumsy acronym-speak identifies as Twin Clutch-Sequential Sportshift Transmission (TC-SST). Although conceptually similar to VW-Audi's twin-clutch unit, Mitsubishi has underwritten the development of TC-SST with a different supplier.
Three shift modes can be selected: Normal, Sport and S-Sport. Normal mode delivers early upshifts for best fuel economy. Sport holds gears longer and delivers quicker shifts, while S-Sport holds gears even longer and downshifts more aggressively, banging off gearchanges with real vigor.
You can command a shift manually via paddles mounted on the steering column or a lever on the center console. In full automatic mode, Normal mode slurs gears with the smoothness of the best automatics, while S-Sport executes gearchanges with authority and uncanny timing, as though wired into the driver's frontal lobe.
All-Aluminum Engine Evo freaks worldwide have bemoaned the death of the venerable iron-block 4G63 power plant that has graced every Evo since the model debuted in 1992. As terrifically strong as this engine is, the pressures of emissions compliance and fuel-efficiency dictated the creation of the Evo X's all-new aluminum-block 1,998cc 4B11 engine.
The intercooled, turbocharged 4B11 inline-4 shares its basic architecture with the normally aspirated engine found in the 2008 Lancer, but it has been extensively reengineered for boosted use in the Evo. Unique pieces include a semi-closed deck block, a forged crank with an 86mm stroke and forged connecting rods.
Compared to the former Evo, the 4B11's aluminum block contributes to a 28-pound weight reduction for the new Evo's engine package and also helps lower the car's center of gravity by 10mm (0.4 inch). Full-floating wrist pins result in less internal friction, and the bottom end is underpinned with an aluminum ladder frame supporting four-bolt main bearing caps. The compression ratio rises slightly to 9.0:1 and MIVEC variable valve timing has been fitted to both cams, which are now chain-driven.
Output of the U.S.-specification 4B11 is estimated at 295 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 300 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm, though these numbers might change as final calibration is currently under way.
The new engine is a mighty smooth piece, building boost cleanly and linearly even from low engine speeds and exhibiting a willingness to spend all day around its fuel cutoff at 7,600 rpm. What's more, the drivetrain lash endemic to the Evo IX during rapid on-off throttle transitions has been banished from the new car.
All-Knowing All-Wheel Drive All Evo Xs worldwide receive Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC), which integrates control over the familiar active center differential (ACD) with the rear differential's active yaw control (AYC). This is AYC's first appearance on a U.S.-specification Evo. New additions to S-AWC include a brake control function and a yaw-rate sensor. The front differential remains a conventional helical limited-slip type.
We could spend pages attempting to explain how it all works and still get it wrong. The upshot is that S-AWC actively vectors wheel torque during acceleration and braking in order to influence the car's cornering attitude, even during sub-limit driving maneuvers. The result is more agility with more grip and traction, those qualities that make rally-derived cars different from lesser four-wheel platforms.
Active stability control (ASC) is the new Mitsubishi electronic safety net, and it can be fully switched off for track usage.
Is It Any Good? Although the cars we drove were Japanese-specification (right-hand-drive) development cars, the car's driving character is established.
When you're driving into a fast corner with some real commitment, S-AWC makes the Evo X eerily effective. Just when you think it's time to apply some opposite lock to correct a slide, S-AWC has already seamlessly rerouted torque to the appropriate wheels. The car simply sorts itself out, rendering the countersteer actions you had anticipated largely unnecessary. By reducing the amount of sawing at the wheel you need to maintain the desired line in a corner, the car makes even an ordinary driver look like a hero.
It's still possible to spin the Evo X when ASC is switched off, but you can really fling this car around and it remains more neutral and composed than the Evo IX. Bump compliance has improved, further enhancing the car's cool self-assurance; you sense that it can rocket down practically any road with ease.
Still, the additional power in the new model is offset by its added pork, so expect straight-line acceleration contests between the 2008 Mitsubishi Evo X and the outgoing model to be a dead heat at best.
Throw in a few turns, though, and the situation changes. Mitsubishi engineers report that they can lap the Evo X 2 seconds faster around their 2.4-km (1.5-mile) course than a U.S.-spec Evo IX. We believe it. The newfound chassis prowess results in cornering speeds that are simply faster in the Evo X.
Speed is one thing, but once we drove the Evo IX that Mitsubishi had on hand for driving comparisons, it was clear that the outgoing car is the livelier ride. The Evo X is quicker point to point by virtue of its chassis magic, while the outgoing Evo IX requires more from the driver to go fast. You can guess which one proved more rewarding to the guy behind the wheel.
Wisely Chosen Clearly, the adventure chosen for the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is "potential." Although it has lost some of the sharpness that has defined previous iterations, the 2008 Lancer Evolution's combination of dexterity, comfort and style will undoubtedly bring more buyers into the Evo fold.
And proponents of hard-core Evos haven't been forgotten. A gleam in the eyes of the Mitsubishi engineers hints that a few keystrokes in the computer mapping of S-AWC can dramatically alter the car's personality. Couple this magic with weight reduction and some goodies from the lab, and the makings are in place for a Mitsubishi Evo RS model that might take us on a completely different adventure.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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