Mitsubishi’s 2010 Snowball Run: AWD Mitsubishis on Ice

Mid-February in northern New Hampshire is idyllic winter wonderland that is a perfect destination for winter sports of all kinds. Mitsubishi chose this location to host a snow- and ice-driving event to showcase the all-wheel-drive systems on its Lancer Evolution MR, the Outlander GT, and the Lancer Sportback Ralliart. The venue? The Team O’Neil Rally School, a 500-plus-acre facility that specializes in teaching car control techniques, ranging from simple accident avoidance to intense rally-style driving. Located in the foothills of the White Mountains, the heavily wooded, ruggedly picturesque grounds are as beautiful as they are treacherous. Fortunately for Mitsubishi and the small group of journalists assembled, the three Team O’Neil instructors charged with guiding us through the day’s activities are both capable and patient. There are three different activities scheduled: an icy slalom; a hilly, snow-covered off-road course; and a short rally stage.

The slalom was a good way to get our feet wet (and cold) by practicing our left foot braking and getting a feel for the capabilities of each all-wheel-drive system. Not surprisingly, of the three vehicles, the Evolution MR was the star. Even after repeated runs had cleared the course of snow revealing the solid ice underneath, the Evo’s response to throttle, brake, and steering inputs was controlled and predictable. The MR is equipped with Mitsubishi’s most sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, called Super All-Wheel Control. S-AWC is a complicated network of sensors, processors, and electro-mechanical systems that are all linked by the S-AWC controller. This controller is the brain behind the Evo’s high-tech brawn. Using information such as steering angle, individual wheel speeds, brake pressure, and yaw rate gathered from multiple sensors, the controller coordinates a response from the Evo’s four main dynamic systems: the active center differential (ACD), the active yaw control rear differential (AYC), ABS, and active stability control (ASC).

On the Evolution MR, the ACD is manually controlled by selecting one of three traction modes – tarmac, gravel, snow – on the S-AWC dial located aft of the gear lever. It distributes torque to the left and right front wheels and, depending on the setting, can send up to 50 percent of total torque to the rear wheels to optimize the balance between steering and traction. But it’s the AYC differential – located between the rear wheels – that separates the Evo from lesser sports cars. Because it’s a torque vectoring diff, the AYC can produce drive torque independently of wheel torque making it especially effective at reducing understeer. The newly integrated ASC complements the effects of the AYC differential by increasing or decreasing braking to combat both under- and oversteer. It may sound complicated, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist, an engineer, or even a rally-pro to reap the benefits of this amazing all-wheel-drive system. When we moved to the rally course, the seamless operation of the S-AWC allowed me, a newbie to off-road racing, to smoothly slide through fast corners, shooting gravel and snow from my tires, and stay on the road rather than fling myself in the trees.

The Outlander GT uses a modified version of the Evo’s S-AWC that is also controlled by choosing one of three modes on the dash-mounted dial. Using input from various sensors, an active front differential (AFD) distributes torque from side to side via a computer-controlled electromechanical clutch both limiting the speed differential between the front wheels – much like a limited-slip differential – and sending power to the wheel with the most traction. The AFD also sends torque rearward where an electronic coupler on the rear differential sends power right and left. Slalom courses are generally no place to take an SUV, but the Outlander GT held its own against its rally-bred brethren. We turned the S-AWC dial to “lock,” – increasing the maximum amount of torque sent to the rear wheels – and, even on sheer ice, the Outlander had decent acceleration and displayed a knack for neatly rotating its back end out around the cones. Body-motions were a bit excessive, but the Outlander’s steering responses were quite good. We also tested the Outlander’s capability on an off-road course and, with the help of Hill Start Assist, the system made easy work of steeply graded and uneven, snow-covered terrain. The Outlander GT is definitely more urbanite than rock climber, but Mitsubishi did an excellent job of simplifying and repurposing the Evolutions’ rally-specific S-AWC system to give their mid-size SUV basic all-weather capability as well as controlled responses at the limit.

The Lancer Sportback Ralliart’s All-Wheel Control (AWC) is essentially the same system that appeared in the last generation Evolution. It uses an ACD to split torque up to 50:50 between the front and rear wheels and, like in the Evolution, can be operated in three, driver-selected traction modes: tarmac, gravel, and snow. Up front, a helical limited-slip differential splits torque between the right and left wheels, and in the back a more simple mechanical limited-slip differential adjusts torque as needed to ensure the most grip from the rear wheels. This system proved to be the least forgiving on the slick slalom course. Of the three cars here, the Sportback Ralliart was the only car that was spun on several occasions and it had the unfortunate luck of doing a nose-dive into a snow bank.

Fortunately, real world driving rarely finds us on a sheet of ice. Still, it was an eye-opening experience to drive the previous-generation Evo’s AWC system, and then experience how much better the 2010 Evolution’s S-AWC system is in a side-by-side style comparison such as this.