The Evo vs. WRX STI battle is the Ford vs. Chevy of the new millennium. School kids, internet racers and guys that actually know how to drive all love to debate the merits of these rally-bred AWD turbocharged sedans, and something tells us that people will still be having these heated discussions well into the future. Just like the Yank tanks your (grand)fathers drooled over, the Evo and STI offer incredibly high levels of performance at a price that even a Source Interlink employee can afford.
The next salvo in this battle has been fired, and early indications show that Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution X will be crowned the new favorite ride of the Super Street faithful. While Subaru has gone and given its new WRX the sex appeal of a new Corolla, Mitsubishi toughened up its already attractive Lancer and delivered an aggressive-looking, shark-nosed ride that still turns heads without the need to resort to freakishly large boy-racer wings. Yes, the Evo X still has a somewhat large wing, blistered fenders and a host of hood scoops, but each and every one of these features is functional and serves a real, measurable, performance-enhancing purpose.
That gaping gunmetal maw and center hood-mounted NACA duct work overtime to bring cool air to the new 4B11 T/C engine-the first all-new engine in the Evolution's history. This new Evo motor puts out 295 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque and is lighter, cleaner and more powerful than its 4G63 predecessor. This engine was designed with weight distribution in mind, too. It uses an aluminum block, which yields a 27 lb. weight savings over the old motor, and the exhaust manifold now sits at the rear of the engine to further improve the car's overall weight balance.
Power gets to the ground via a five-speed manual transmission or the optional six-speed Twin Clutch-Sportronic Shift Transmission (TC-SST). While most enthusiasts will latch onto the manual car, the TC-SST version is actually pretty damn good. There are three computer-controlled shift modes here: Normal, Sport and Super Sport (S-Sport). Normal and Sport are pretty self-explanatory; S-Sport mode is a redline-loving, hard-shifting map designed for track use only. Those that don't like having a computer controlling the shifting can always opt to swap cogs via the Evo X's magnesium paddle shifters.
Both transmissions benefit from the addition of Mitsubishi's new Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) system. This S-AWC system uses a combination of traction-enhancing technologies-an Active Center Differential (ACD), Active Yaw Control (AYC) rear differential, Active Stability Control (ASC) and sport ABS brakes-not only to keep the sedan glued to the road, but going in the direction you want it to. Turn the driving assists off, and the Evo's non-computer-controlled technology still works to keep the Evo's line tried and true on the track. The regular new Lancer is already 56-percent stiffer than the last-gen Evo 9, and this basic chassis has been beefed up even more to compensate for the Evo X's enhanced performance capabilities. The suspension consists of a MacPherson inverted strut front and multi-link rear.
Mitsubishi has made a concerted effort to give the Evo X's interior a more upscale feel. As awesome as the pre-X Evos are, they have been cursed with some of the cheapest interiors in the biz. The Evo Xs we drove were RHD Japanese pre-production units, and we feel it would be unfair to make a declarative statement regarding the car's cockpit. That said, the pre-production Evo X does feel a lot nicer inside when compared to the Evos of old. It's still not as nice as, say, a Civic inside, but it's a marked improvement nonetheless.
But let's be honest here: People don't buy Evos for the luxury accoutrements; they buy the cars for their outright speed. And yes, the Evo X is fast. We got to drive a U.S.-spec Evo 9 MR and a new Evo X back-to-back at Mitsubishi's proving grounds in Tokachi, Japan. The Evo 9 MR was lively and fun to fling around the track, and in true Evo fashion, offered one of the purist driving experiences around. The Evo X did feel a bit numb by comparison, but thanks to its increased power and new stability control systems, it was much easier to drive fast than the Evo 9 MR.
We absolutely suck at shifting with our left hand. Outside of one high-speed run in the manual Evo X, we spent our time flogging the TC-SST-equipped car around the proving grounds. We kept the car in S-Sport most of the time, and found it to be perfect for the facility's race track-like mountain roads. This performance-oriented shift map held the gears for just the right amount of time and shifted exactly the when and where we wanted it to without any input from us. We did notice that the TC-SST is hesitant to shift from third into fourth on high-speed straights. This isn't a huge problem, but it does further highlight the fact that S-Sport mode is for off-road use only.
Even with the odd sensation of driving from the "wrong" side of the car, we found that the Evo X is a very easy car to drive to and past the limits. Though quieter and softer than the Evo 9, driving the Evo X made us feel like Super GT heroes, and we feel ourselves wanting the Evo X over any Evo that came before it. Maybe it's our old age talking, or maybe these crazy thoughts are coming from the fact that we have a daily 70-mile round-trip commute in heavy L.A. gridlock, but the thought of owning a fully capable, auto box Evo is very appealing. We know that the old-school Evo guys will laugh at our transmission; but we'll be so far ahead of them on a race track, we just won't care. Does the Evo X mark the end of an era? It sure does, but it also marks the beginning of a promising new one.
That New Car Smell
'08 Mitsubushi Lancer
The Sticker: TBD
Under the Hood: 2.0L DOHC
16-valve 4-cylinder turbo
The Power: 295 hp @ 6500 rpm (est.), 300 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm (est.)
Scale Tipping: 3,344 lb. (JDM-spec GSR), 3,388 lb. (JDM-spec MR)
Layout: Front engine, AWD
Gearbox: five-speed manual transmission (GSR), 6-speed TC-SST (MR)
Stiff Stuff: Front: independent MacPherson strut (inverted strut) with forged aluminum control arms; Rear: multi-link with forged aluminum control arms. (MR package gets Eibach springs and Bilstein struts.)
Rollers: 18x8.5JJ Enkei cast aluminum alloy (GSR), BBS forged aluminum alloy (MR); 245/40R18 Yokohama ADVAN tires
Stoppers: 4 sensor, 4 channel Sports ABS with EBD; 13.8-inch ventilated front and 13.0-inch ventilated rear discs; 4-piston front and 2-piston rear calipers. MR gets lightweight 2-piece calipers
At the Pump: TBD
The Pack: Subaru Impreza WRX STI, Audi S4
Deep Thoughts: Don't let the auto transmission fool you; the Evo X is a true performance car. Consider it to be the Evo for grown-ups.