At speed, fondling the controls of the new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII is more fun than being a politician at a Playboy Mansion New Year's Eve bash. It seems a cruel injustice to parade a car with such skull-jarring capabilities on perhindered public highways. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this "Lancer Supreme" is how willing it is to be a simple sedan and chore chariot. This ground-up reinvention of Mitsubishi's economy market Lancer treats its handler to a driving experience on par with exotic German hardware. Like a Cuisinart of the Roads, the Evo VII is a multi-faceted asphalt-gobbling tool that slices, dices, and purees any knit wit who step on its cape.
Piloting the Evo VII along the rolling backroads of Colorado reveals just how a fusion of mechanical, electronic, and molded plastic elements can amount to something much greater than the sum of their parts. The devilish acceleration is a known commodity; it's still there, gripping the tarmac with a flatter torque curve. Like a Roy Jones Jr. jab to the chin, it's a nostril-clearing surprise every time the pedal is beat on. Lean on the accelerator and the pressure on your chest feels like a swift, lead boot to the sternum, pushing you down into the supportive Recaros. This sensation starts at about 2,800 rpm and has you screaming "mommy" by the 7K redline. The action comes fast, like some crazy, warp-driven conveyor belt with little chocolates you can't seem to shove down your throat fast enough.
This new Lancer's reduced frontal area and low hood make you feel as though you're perched out over the front wheels. The engine is unapologetic about its turbo-enhanced howl as it unwinds like a coiled spring, inhaling huge portions of air through the gaping holes in its nosepiece. As the car gains momentum, the light steering effort, which seemed darty at lower speeds, is now perfectly sudden in its reactions. The five-speed gearbox, with ratios selected for swiftly spinning the motor to the business end of its powerband, is actuated by a smooth, shifting action and the clutch is unexpectedly tame for such a highly strung performance sedan.
The car's factory suspension achieves a level of balance that gives the driver supreme confidence. Soon, turns are taken at surreal speed with minimal body pitch, as the ACD (active center differential) and AYC (active yaw control) work in concert to negate the ill effects of a driver's ham-fisted selection of the wrong line. The Evo begs you to toss it through single-lane switchbacks on any kind of terrain, all the while gaining momentum in the turns The roads outside of Manitou Springs, Colorado, are carved into hills that afford long fields of unobstructed vision; great for counting livestock and speeding. Letting the speedometer fall bellow the triple-digit mark would be a disservice of the highest order to this car's competitive nature.
Between giddy grins, you can peer down through the steering wheel at the gauges just to confirm that you took that last series of turns at nearly 100 mph (or was that kilometers?) with barely a tire chirp. The car just refuses to get out of shape on the tarmac. We weren't looking to get sideways or try to hang the tail out for a dramatic picture (we're not that good), we were just looking for confirmation that this machine was a bit mortal.
The Evo's Special Sauce
Take away the mechanical and electronic "special powers" finessed into the Evo and the car is suddenly a very mortal Lancer unibody. What is the "special sauce" Mitsubishi added to make the flavor of the Evolution VII so much richer? As the name suggests, the VII is a refinement over the basic layout of the Evolution VI. It adds a few well-chosen improvements to the basic blueprint, infusing it with hardware and technology more geared toward the world rally battlefield than the compact/sedan market. The goals for the Evo VII were to improve on the VI's handling, providing less understeer with more accurate and tighter response and ultimately higher cornering limits. The new version accomplishes this mission, creating a fantastic car that builds upon the development of the previous six models.
Most striking is the new exterior dress. Gone are the Evo VI's fat wheel arches, replaced by smart-looking blistered fender aluminum bodywork. A ducted aluminum hood is also part of the car's careful Jenny Craig approach toward construction of a rally-inspired, homologation special, ultra-performance sedan. Close attention was given to weight reduction on the new Evo to keep it equal to the 1,400 kg mass of the previous Evo VI in spite of increases in dimensions. In addition to the use of lighter aluminum panels, the front and rear door glass thickness has been reduced by 10 percent. The power-steering bracket is aluminum instead of steel and the valve cover is cast in ultra-lightweight magnesium to save a few ounces. The excess fat of a stereo and speakers has been omitted on the VII probably a wise move as music would just be a distraction from the driving. The lightened body panels all hang on a revised and reinforced Lancer unibody that is 50 percent more rigid than the platform used for the previous Evo. The VII's longer 115mm wheelbase and 5mm wider track enhance straight-line stability and cornering. Its front and rear lights are unique to the Evo, offering a not-to-be-confused-with-IS 300-looking, 3-lamp cluster in a pod configuration on the car's hind quarters. The front lamps and restyled fascia flow more smoothly into the body lines from the nose through to the A-pillar, and into a steeper rear slope at the rear window of the Lancer. The "lumpier" rear roofline hints at the voluminous rear cabin space tucked within this new-generation Lancer, which we suppose is what everyone was clamoring for in their ultra-performance compact sedans in the first place.
The Evo VII is still powered by the competition-proven 4G63 2.0L, transversely-mounted, four-cylinder engine. This latest version is treated to an improved turbocharger (with an Inconel compressor wheel on GS-R models, and a titanium alloy wheel on the RS model), a larger auto-sprayed intercooler, and a more efficient oil cooler to help increase the engine's torque band and longevity. For the Evo VII, the 4G63 also receives hollow camshafts that help reduce valvetrain mass and improve engine response. The new intercooler is 20mm thicker and features optimized tank position and fin angles. These details, added to an already proven and durable engine design, create a motor with a flatter torque curve that is more responsive when you hit the gas.
Behind the engine is a beefed-up version of the W5M51 five-speed gearbox which now has higher grade steel in its gear construction to better cope with the VII's additional torque. The revised gearbox, with extra strengthening ribs on its case, uses a 2.928 First gear ratio (2.785 in VII) for faster acceleration. A numerically lower Fifth gear (.72) improves highway cruising speed and fuel economy. Aiding clutch feel, the pressure plate and flywheel have been enlarged for more contact surface.
Replacing the viscous coupling center differential on the previous Evo is a new electronically-controlled, hydraulically- operated multi-plate clutch unit. The ACD (active center differential) distributes the torque more effectively between the front and rear wheels. In a nutshell, the ACD helps this Evo respond more quickly and effectively to changing traction demands and works to optimize tire adhesion in either tarmac, gravel, or snow modes. The new electronic unit enhances steering response and traction. Electronics govern the cover clamp pressure placed on the center differential clutch pack to match driver input and vehicle condition. Under hard acceleration, the ACD is in a near locked state, transmitting the most torque to the road surface for traction. As the driver makes rapid steering inputs, the center diff operates virtually as an open differential to improve the steering response while retaining the 4WD stability. One of the VII's coolest features occurs when the parking brake is engaged the ACD will operate as an open diff for quick side brake turns. In addition to the ACD, the EVO VII still integrates the active yaw control that has proven so successful in previous versions. A computer integrates the functions of the AYC and the ACD so that optimum control and traction are maintained at all times, creating the aura of a car that's almost idiot-proof to drive and as confidence-inspiring as a beer stein full of Jim Beam.
The VII retains its rally-proven MacPherson strut suspension layout, but the steering box has been lowered to achieve greater linearity in toe changes and more responsive steering. Massive Brembo brakes bring things to dramatic stop, but are connected to Mitsubishi's Electronic brake force distribution (EBD) system that proportions the braking force between the front and rear wheels for maximum control.
Brooke Burke vs. Evo VII
This amazing Evo VII manages to pack more electronic systems with acronyms under its skin than some classified military planes. Yet for all of its electronic and mechanical wizardry, the Evo's ultimate reward is the unabashed joy it brings to its operator. The problem is that, right now, you stand as good a chance of getting Brooke Burke to jump rope naked as laying your hairy-palmed mitts on one. The version you see on the pages before you would cost around 38K (based on the Japanese exchange rate). Like Brazil's Carnival in Rio and the unedited Benny Hill specials, the Evo VII is one of those forbidden fruits of global automotive culture we can't savor in the U.S. yet. While the VI was a marvelous machine, the Evo VII might just be the best jack-of-all-trades performance car you can't get in the States. Serious consideration is being given to the possibility of the sale of the Evo VII or maybe even a watered down version to compete with the WRX. You might want to pinch yourself because the thought of choosing between two rally-bred super sedans in an American showroom just might give that other twisted fantasy about Ms. Burke and her jumprope a run for their money.