If you're a regular SCC reader, then you've probably heard of Keiichi Tsuchiya. Known as the Drift King, this former Group-A and Le Mans racecar driver is now famous on the import auto scene, as much for his drifting and driving as for his on-screen personality. Tsuchiya travels all over Japan judging and demonstrating drifting and driving techniques. He is a regular on the Best Motoring DVD series, as well as a contributor to Japan's XaCAR magazine. We teamed up with XaCAR on a recent track day to see what the Drift King thought of the new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X (or Evo X, for short).
Before we took him to the racetrack where a new Evo X was waiting, we asked Tsuchiya his thoughts on the Lancer Evolution in general.
He replied: "To tell you the truth, I've never been exactly enthralled with the Lancer Evolution. Time has passed [since its debut] and the Lancer Evolution has become the flagship model of Mitsubishi. Then I wondered: 'Can the Evo remain this way forever?' When I looked at it, I thought: 'It looks juvenile.' When I sat in the driver's seat, I said to myself: 'It feels cheap.' It drove well, but the personality of the car kept me from getting too excited."
Fair enough, Tsuchiya-san, so the Lancer Evo isn't your most favorite car ever. What about the new model? Tsuchiya doesn't hold back. When he doesn't like a car, he'll say so. When we drive up to the Evo X, Tsuchiya seems impressed.
"What a pretty car," he says. "While there's still the aggressive nature of past Evos, it doesn't have their slapped-together look. If you ask me if I can drive a car every day that looks like this, I would say yes. I think most adults will be fine driving this."
Tsuchiya slips into the driver's seat. He comments on how it doesn't feel 'cheap' like the interiors of past Evos. He feels it has matured in style and quality. Then he pops on his helmet and tells us to get the hell out of the way.
This is an Evo X equipped with the Twin-Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission (TC-SST) semi-automatic paddle-shift gearbox (a five-speed model was driven for photography purposes only). This was developed by Mitsubishi to be the ultimate in manual-based automatic transmissions. Tsuchiya gets a brief instructional overview of the controls from the Mitsubishi staff, then takes off. The Super-All Wheel Control (S-AWC) system is set to Tarmac, the Active Stability Control (ASC) is completely turned off and the shifting mode is set to S-Sport, the most aggressive of the three.
By now, you no doubt know that the Evo X has a new engine, the 4B11. Japanese-spec cars have 280bhp at the flywheel and torque is 311lb-ft. This powerplant is impressive, revving freely to redline, but there's 264 pounds of extra weight attached to the chassis (compared to the last model), so it's not as quick as the previous Evo.
"The car feels like it could use a 2.5-liter engine now," says Tsuchiya. "It lacks the pep of the previous car for sure."
At first, Tsuchiya keeps the TC-SST in D-full automatic.
"I've driven Formula One cars," he says, "and this is the closest thing to an F1 gearbox when it comes to the speed of upshifts. However, even more impressive are the downshifts. I felt that no two-pedal manual in the world exhibited good downshifts-even when using the paddles, or buttons in a manual mode, you couldn't match the downshift timing of a human hand-but this thing is different. As I watch the tach, just when I feel I want to downshift, the gearbox matches revs and downshifts by itself. As far as gearboxes are concerned, I feel this among the best in the world. I'm afraid to say that if you can drive this effectively with this gearbox, it makes no sense to drive a conventional manual any more. Maybe this transmission doesn't even need a manual mode."
Concerning the Evo X's handling, Tsuchiya keeps up the praise. He is obviously comfortable lapping in this machine. His line is consistent and smooth. He says he is surprised with the car's overall balance.
"Past Evos always felt like all-wheel-drive cars. However, this new one feels more like a front-engine, rear-wheel drive (FR)-like an FR you don't need to countersteer. The balance is amazing. After driving hard, if you look at the tires, you can tell by the wear that all four tires are working equally. The suspension has a nice, easy feel and it's firm enough to keep everything in balance. It still has the razor sharpness, but lacks the unrefined feel of a cheap tuner car."
Tsuchiya finds the Evo X remarkable, surpassing all the others because of its maturity and excellent TS-SST transmission. Strangely, he laments that the gearbox is so impressive: "I feel I lost for the first time to high technology." It's a car where you won't have as much fun drifting, but it's a treat on the track because of its precision and usability.
He adds: "This is the first Evo I've wanted to buy. It's the first two-pedal gearbox that has impressed me. After driving it, I'm too embarrassed to drive [older] Evos because they seem so adolescent. This can go head to head with a BMW M3. I would never have imagined saying that about an Evo before."