This Performance Car Of The Year article was first published in MOTOR Magazine November 2008.
Familiarity breeds affection, so some say, and after spending a lot of time recently in all road-going Evo X combinations – there are three – we’ve become of the Lancer that is just as quick, but a helluva lot nicer all-round, than its predecessors.
Ours is the variant that’s arguably best suited to PC08: the base Evo X loaded with the $5500 cost optional Performance Pack which offers handling upgrades such as forged BBS rims and two-piece Brembo brakes – both lighter than standard – and the sharply-tuned Eibach/Bilstein suspension set-up.
In other words, this jigger is mechanically identical to the top-spec MR version, but without the ‘flappy-paddle’ TC-SST (twin-clutch) gearbox, a unit that has polarised opinion in the MOTOR crew and seems to work brilliant only some of the time.
The five-speed drew fewer gripes, the only one being why it lacks an entire ratio over current manual gearbox convention and, as a result, the spread feels a bit long between ratios. On road you’d hardly notice, but around at Wakefield’s tight second and third gear confines it demanded a fair bit of hustling to keep the turbo four between its 3500rpm peak torque (366Nm) and claimed 6500rpm peak power (217kW).
In fact, linking the corners took more effort than travelling through the bends, because it comes to handling control, poise and driver interaction – just sheer bloody fun factor – the Evo was in a class of its own. In a word: effortless. It’s immensely reactive to steering, brake and throttle inputs, and its incredible balance allows you to throw it through an apex harder, and with more reckless abandon, than seems possible.
You can draw easy conclusions by the fact that the Evo’s 1:09.4 was fourth quickest around the circuit – a mere 1.7sec off the lead pace – but a lowly eighth fastest down the straight, but this actually paints only part of the picture.
Firstly, the no-brainer is that it could easy do with more than 217kW and 366Nm to haul its near-one-and-half tonne around: although with its 5.66 0-100km/h and 13.8sec 0-400m times at Coota show it clearly isn’t hanging about. But secondly – and something raised by more than one judge – was that the Evo could do with more lateral grip.
Proof? While the Evo was fastest through, say, the sweeping turn seven, it was ninth for road speed through tight (check) turn four. Truth is, the Evo is actually a little soft and rolly when pushed, far more than its firm initial ride quality suggests.
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And the chassis’ fun-loving obedience masks the fact that many of Evo’s PC08 rivals were quicker through the mid-point of the curves, where they’d simply grip and go with less histrionics. However, throwing the Evo down our twisty, bumpy Canberra road loop proves that the handling package really shines in real world conditions.
The chassis’ compliance soaks up the worst surfaces; it maintains unshakable composure everywhere; the all-wheel-drive works miracles without any inhibition or protest, and it responds instantly to the ever-changing road conditions: all the stuff that just doesn’t translate into numbers on a page.
Speaking of numbers, the results show Audi’s new uber-TT took fight right up to the Evo. One-tenth separated lap times, with a v-max differential of just 0.27km/h. A mere 0.03sec split the 0-400m strip times, and at the one kilometre mark there was only 0.12sec in it. Both tied for third place.
Thing is, the all-paw turbo-four German will set you back $106,050. The Japanese equivalent – with room for five adults, no less – asks for just $64,990.