I KNOW I WON'T BE ALONE IN SHEDDING A TEAR FOR THE 2016 MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION WHEN THE LAST ONE ROLLS OUT OF MITSUBISHI'S MIZUSHIMA ASSEMBLY PLANT.
The CZ4A Lancer Evolution, was one of the first press cars I drove as a fresh-faced motoring journalist, and it blew my mind with its light-switch power delivery, astounding all-paw grip and near-telepathic steering response.
It left quite an impression on a 24 year-old me, but since then cars have changed - a lot.
Fast cars are more driveable than ever, and getting cheaper.
Volkswagen’s Golf R has proved that you can have performance, refinement, a nice interior and plenty of creature comforts for a shade over $50k, while the closely-related Audi S3 adds genuine prestige to that recipe for less dosh than what the Evolution used to sell for.
But while times have changed, the Evolution, somewhat ironically, has not. The Final Edition we’re testing here might have a slight boost in performance and some new suspension bits, but it’s really not all that different to the car I drove back in 2008.
But is that so bad?
Vehicle Style: Performance small sedan
Price: $53,700 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 226kW/414Nm 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol inline four | 5speed manual
Fuel Economy claimed: 10.2 l/100km | tested: 16.9 l/100km
The tenth-generation Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution went on sale locally in 2008, making it the oldest AWD turbo performance car currently on the market by a fairly wide margin.
However, while it initially launched with a $72k pricetag for the top-shelf MR grade, the price has tumbled recently to the low $50k region. This special Final Edition model, of which only 150 will be available, costs a very reasonable $53,700 before on-roads.
But the Evolution won’t be sticking around long. It’s ancient by automotive standards, and the end of production is in sight with Mitsubishi confirming it won’t wheel out a successor. If you’ve ever wanted an Evo in your garage, now is the time.
- Standard equipment: Power windows/mirrors, heated seats, climate control, keyless entry/ignition, Recaro front seats, Final Edition build plate, reversing camera
- Infotainment: 7-inch colour touchscreen with AM/FM/CD/USB audio, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, steering wheel-mounted audio controls
- Cargo volume: 323 litres
The Lancer’s interior has aged reasonably well, and though there are hard plastics everywhere, they’ve proved to be drum-tight and durable.
Switchgear is what lets it down. This is a $53k car, but there are stalks, knobs and buttons in here that wouldn’t look out of place in a $12k Mirage.
Add to that an audio headunit that has no integrated sat-nav and the Lancer Evolution looks antiquated to the extreme. There are heated seats, climate control and keyless entry/ignition, but not a whole lot else.
In fact, the only differences between the Final Edition and a regular Evolution’s cabin is the Final Edition build-plate ahead of the gear lever, Final Edition floormats and a “Final Edition” graphic in the multi-information display on start-up.
But then there are those gloriously form-fitting Recaro front seats and that perfectly circular steering wheel. There’s also three pedals and a gear lever - as there should be in an Evo. The Final Edition eschews the Evo’s optional twin-clutch SST automatic, and we’re glad for it.
And though it’s a sedan, don’t expect much in the way of practicality from the Evolution.
The back seats are pretty comfortable, yes, but that backrest doesn’t fold down at all and boot space measures a measly 323 litres thanks to the battery and intercooler water-spray tank being relocated above the rear axle.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 226kW/414Nm 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol inline four
- Transmission: Five-speed manual,
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear, Bilstein dampers
- Brakes: Brembo four-piston front calipers with two-piece ventilated rotors front, Brembo two-piston calipers with ventilated rotors rear.
- Steering: Hydraulic power steering, 11.8m turning circle
Mitsubishi says the Final Edition is “more driveable” than before, but I don’t believe them.
Working its 226kW (up 9kW) and 414Nm (up 48Nm) 2.0 litre turbo inline four up through the rev range, there’s virtually nothing beneath 3500rpm then, as you cross that mark, everything arrives at once. And it howls and scarpers in a shower of torque.
That’s what it feels like. Old-school turbo lag.
While modern turbo motors produce peak torque from as low as 1500rpm, the Evolution Final Edition is anything but modern.
It's raw, and thrilling and more than just a little bit dangerous. Hit boost at the wrong time and you’ll risk getting intimate with a hedge.
So, yes, still the hard-charger for sure. And once that twin-scroll turbo kicks in, the Evolution’s 2.0 litre engine doesn’t give up until it’s smashing against its 7700rpm fuel cut.
Savage doesn’t even begin to describe how this engine delivers its power, but we love its visceral, uncivilised nature - it’s something that’s pretty hard to find these days.
Another thing that’s not all that common: a five-speed manual in a performance car. Yes, it’s antiquated and not as slick as the twin-clutch alternative, but it’s got a crisp, well-defined gate and gearing that perfectly matches the engine (unless you’re on a highway, in which case you’ll get sick of its short gearing very quickly).
There’s another reason Mitsubishi has stuck with a venerable five-speed - it’s bulletproof.
Clutch feel isn’t great, however. It’s hard to feel the friction point, and if you want to make a snappy getaway from standstill you’ll either end up slipping the clutch too much or bog down into a humiliating bunny-hop.
Drag races aren’t its thing, but curving roads are the Evolution’s calling. It carves up mountain roads so sweetly, and despite being AWD it’s got a surprisingly neutral chassis.
Its Dunlop SP600 tyres hang on tight, but if the road is a little greasy (or you pop it into the “Gravel” drive mode), the Evo’s clever torque-vectoring AWD hardware permits a bit of slip and grin-inducing oversteer under power
But most of the time it’s completely glued to the tarmac. The steering is near-telepathic, offering one of the most direct links between your palms and the front tyres. The steering weight is right and provides decent feedback for something AWD.
Its multitude of electronic aids are only there to increase performance, not insulate the driver from what’s happening beneath each wheel. As a result, the thoroughly digital Evolution still manages to feel analogue in how it drives - a curious blend of old-school and modern.
The suspension is unique to the Final Edition, with Bilstein shock absorbers and Eibach springs at all four corners. There’s no electronically adjustable damper tech to get in the way of performance, and the Evolution Final Edition has just one suspension setting - unrelenting firmness.
Not so great for the daily grind, but outstanding on the right set of country backroads - or the racetrack, which is where cars like this belong.
Lastly, the Final Edition boasts excellent stability under hard braking, and its Brembo stoppers (equipped with two-piece front rotors on the Final Edition) pull it up smartly every time with excellent pedal feel.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 33.56 out of 37 possible points in ANCAP crash testing.
Safety features: ABS, EBD, brake assist, traction control (switchable), stability control (switchable) and seven airbags are standard on the Lancer Evolution.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
There are two core rivals for the Lancer Evolution in the sub-$55k region - the Volkswagen Golf R and the Subaru WRX STI. Both have in excess of 200kW and clever all-wheel drive drivelines that make them all-weather missiles, but only the Volkswagen has the option of an automatic.
The Lancer may be the oldest in this group, but in Final Edition form it’s also the most powerful - a crucial advantage if performance is everything to you.
That advantage will evaporate later this year when the Ford Focus RS arrives bearing 257kW and 440Nm of torque - and all for the low, low price of $50,990.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Evolution has had a good run - it is now an icon with a respected racing history and a place in the hearts of enthusiasts. And, though the Final Edition is more of a mild tune-up than the huge turbo-boosted finale some of us were expecting, it nevertheless remains one of the fastest point-to-point cars on the market... even after all these years.
We’ll miss its analogue feel, its old-school turbo laggy charm and its manic speed, and it’s a little bit sad that there’s nothing new in Mitsubishi’s product pipeline for it to pass the baton to.
A replacement for the Evo may still happen, but odds are it will be something based on the next ASX rather than a small sedan. Until then, the Lancer Evolution Final Edition is the end of the road for Mitsubishi’s rally-bred performance flagship.
There is one there with your name on it.