Friday Rant: Evolution in reverse

Mitsubishi is set to destroy its one exciting nameplate — and we're not happy

R.I.P. Lancer Evolution

Honda gave it up a while back, Toyota did without it for years and years but has recently revived it, Kia's never had it at all, and now Mitsubishi is about to put a bullet into whatever small sediment it had left.

We're talking about excitement; those few cars in a line-up — or just one in many cases; think the Toyota 86 — that paint your marque as actually having a heart, and one that runs on adrenaline.

Car companies call it the halo effect, and most of them believe it really works. Witness the lift in Lexus's stocks since it proved it could be sporty and mental with the LFA, the positive feeling you get about Nissan whenever you see a GT-R, and the reputation Honda used to have for being racy before it killed off the S2000 and Integra Type R.

Mitsubishi's line-up, while practical and no doubt commercially viable and other unexciting terms like that, has long been a powerful antidote to adrenaline. The one exception was the increasingly long-in-the-tooth Lancer Evolution, or "Evo" as that three-letter word used to exclusively mean before some soft-focus excuse for a car magazine came along.

It's showing its age now, and the last time we took one on a comparo it seemed more flawed and less fun than we remembered, but there was a time when it set the standard for affordable brutality, with its easy  to remember $56,789 price tag and simple model history (at least if you could read Roman numerals) — X was better than IX, but even if you could only afford a V second-hand, you'd be a happy little rally ace.

Now the president of Mitsubishi, Osamu Masuko, is hinting that what we've long suspected will come pass and there might never be another proper Evo, or even a Lancer to build one from, for that matter.

What's worse, though, is that they might put the only desirable nameplate they've got onto something entirely execrable — a crossover SUV. That's right, an Evo-Lander, or an Out-Evo.

Mitsubishi Motors has decided it's the company of SUVs and hybrids, and thus any even notionally exciting car it builds would have to feature those core pillars.

"Gradually I think the definition of the SUV is expanding, so I might anticipate that the borderline between Evolution and SUV might become more overlapping," Masuko-san said this week.

So, not just another SUV with a pointless pseudo sporting nature, but a crossover one at that. Is there a car I'd be less excited about seeing? Perhaps a sexy coupe from Great Wall.

Personally, I don't understand the existence of "sporty" SUVs in general. Nothing that high, with a centre of gravity higher than a standing human's butt, can ever be properly sporty.

But car companies know that people who might otherwise have wanted a sports car have been forced into the SUV market (possibly by their wives, or the existence of their children, but it would be sexist to say so) and that those people will be willing to pay more to make themselves feel better by having an M or AMG badge on their gigantic barges.

Yes, they're better vehicles — and I'll admit Porsche's Cayenne GTS is astonishing — but you'd still be better off buying a  cheaper SUV, together with a proper car. And if you're buying at that end, you can afford to.

I wafted around for a week recently in an X5 M550d and felt like more of a waste of space than Channel Ten. Not just a giant "sporty" behemoth, but a diesel as well? Spare me.

But it's still a far better thing to drive than an Evo-Lander will be. And once that lobs, Mitsubishi can kiss its excitement cred goodbye. Time for them to go and sit in the corner, next to Honda.


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