2003-2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Mark Gillies

At the rear, the A-shaped upper control arms and three subsidiary links per side are all forged aluminum in place of sheet steel, as is the suspension crossmember. The rear dampers and anti-roll bar are of larger diameter, while low friction and stiffer bushings are used all around. Brembo brakes are fitted, with 12.7-inch-diameter front and 11.8-inch rear ventilated discs. Four-piston aluminum calipers are used at the front, with twin-piston rears. The ABS has been upgraded for improved braking stability. Enkei cast aluminum seventeen-inch wheels, with spun ribs to reduce weight, are shod with exclusive P235/45R-17 Yokohama Advan tires.

Under the hood, the Evolution uses the venerable 4G63 in-line four-cylinder engine that first appeared here in the original 1989-94 Eclipse. In this turbocharged and intercooled application, the Evolution's cast iron block is reinforced, and there are forged steel connecting rods and crankshaft, with low-compression (8.8:1) aluminum pistons. With an 85.0-millimeter bore and an 88.0-millimeter stroke, the engine displaces 1997 cc and is supposedly limited to 7000 revs—but when we drove the car, no one found the limiter kicking in below 7500 rpm.

The engine has belt-driven dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder in an aluminum-alloy head, with numerous subtle refinements. Hollow camshafts, tapered valve springs and aluminum retainers, and natrium-filled exhaust valves reduce valvetrain inertia and help response. The cams, as well as a magnesium-alloy cam cover, help reduce the engine's topside weight and thus its center of gravity. There are also more compact balance shafts to reduce inertia.

Full Passenger Side Overhead View

A twin-scroll turbo design helps improve mid- to low-end throttle response and torque output. Maximum boost is 19 psi at 3500 rpm. One of the coolest features is an automatic water-spray system for the air-to-air intercooler, which delivers two-second sprays of cold water every five seconds to lower air temperature. The system can be activated manually with a switch on the center console. The result of all this work is an engine that produces a most bountiful 271 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque at 3500 rpm.

Power is transmitted via a five-speed manual gearbox to a standard all-wheel-drive system that has a 50/50 front/rear torque split. The transfer case uses a bevel gear differential and viscous coupling to feed torque to an open-type front and a plate-type limited-slip rear differential.

The Lancer Evolution might look like a tuner sedan, but as soon as you get behind the wheel, it's apparent that it's the work of engineers with four rally world titles to their credit. The relationship among pedals, steering wheel, seat, and shifter is just right. The clutch is smooth and fluid, and the shifter has short throws and a sweet, easy action. The Evolution is easy to place, and outward visibility is excellent.

Actually, pretty much everything about the driving experience is excellent. Around the twisting Pattaya track in Thailand, it was a serious device. Mitsubishi claims that the 0-to-60-mph time is just under 5.0 seconds, the standing quarter-mile takes just 13.8 seconds, and the top speed is around 155 mph—numbers we can easily believe. In achieving that performance, though, the engine isn't the usual turbocharged light switch, revealing instead a linear power delivery on par with a much larger-capacity engine. From 3000 rpm, throttle response is scintillatingly sharp, and the engine rapidly zings past 7000 rpm. It doesn't sound particularly memorable from the inside, but the turbo's whistling and chirruping are suitably sporty.

Full Rear View

The single most impressive feature on the car is how idiot-proof it is, how easy it is to drive really fast. You don't need to have been to a racing school or to have learned to tame high-speed oversteer to go really, really fast in an Evolution. Cornering grip is outstanding—Mitsubishi claims lateral grip of 0.97 to 0.99 g—and the handling balance depends on your driving style. Go for the slow in, fast out approach, and you will have a little initial understeer followed by reassuring neutrality as you get on the gas. Gutsy drivers can throw it in way too hot and rotate the tail with either a dab of the brake pedal or a huge throttle lift before launching out of the corner as they put the power down. (We don't recommend this approach for the street . . . ) The all-wheel-drive system is pretty seamless, even in very tight turns where the initial understeer disappears as you squeeze on the power.

The brakes are fabulous; the ABS is perfectly tuned for track use, with no discernible wheel lock. The Evo even rides well, with impressive damping over Pattaya's evil curbs, although it is stiffly sprung. The car's only weakness is the steering, which is very accurate and direct but lacking in ultimate, Porsche-type feel. At highway speeds, the Evo is refined and doesn't suffer the low-speed torpor that afflicts the WRX.

If you want to go obscenely fast cross-country with minimal effort and still have a car that is practical family transport, the Evolution is the real deal. Until the WRX STi goes on sale, there's nothing for less than $45,000 that will cover ground as fast on secondary roads. If you want a car that shouts about you and your status in life, the Evolution isn't for you; but if you want a car for speed, then it is. The amazing thing is that it's a Mitsubishi—and even more amazing, it's based on the Lancer, a car that hardly sets our hearts aflutter. It's probably about time the Japanese automaker had an image car, because its current vibe is dowdy and dull. The Evolution should help to change that.

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