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2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X first drive review : classic MOTOR

By Curt Dupriez | Photos: Easton Chang, 10 Mar 2018 Reviews

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X classic MOTOR

Lancer Evo X ups the grunt and refinement, but it mixes fat with the fit

Evolution by name, but revolution by nature. The Evo X, the fourth generation of Mitsubishi’s 16-year-young Lancer Evolution lineage, is the most widely revamped in the iconic Evolution’s history. 

This review was first published in MOTOR magazine's August 2008 issue.

It’s a whole new platform, carries a bold new look inside and out, and has more smarts packed into what must be one of the world’s brainiest electro-mechanical handling packages. Also, there’s an entirely new engine and oh-so-now twin-clutch manual gearbox on offer.

Lovers of Evo — and lovers of Japan’s techno-whiz approach to performance cars in general — will no doubt rejoice because, ever since the first rally-bred Evo back in 1992, the Evolution philosophy has been shoving ever more capable nuts, bolts and brains into a humble Lancer sedan.

The essence of the road-going Evo’s charm has been that of an underdog injected with enough steroids to outrun the greyhounds. And if the experience rattled your brains or made your kidneys ache during the daily commute, well harden the hell up.

So what, then, if the philosophy changed? What if Evo’s new bag of tricks wasn’t just focused on head-kicking, but also on other motoring niceties? It’d be a revolution all right, but for different reasons.

On a bright June morning at Victoria’s Winton Raceway, Mitsubishi Australia staff are explaining the philosophy behind the newest Lancer Evolution to a throng of Aussie journos. They’re using words like “broadened appeal”, “premium position”, and the ominous “boy-racer grows up”. The words hang a little uncomfortably in the air.

Its grown-up features include cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, light-sensing headlights, a proximity ignition key, heated seats, seven airbags (front, side, curtain and driver’s knee), a Rockford Fosgate premium audio system and a touchscreen multi-communication system that incorporates satnav and iPod/Bluetooth connectivity. But they’re answers to questions that lovers of old Evos never asked.

Classic MOTOR: Evo X at PCOTY 2008

Then, the price is also announced: $71,690. Eyebrows shoot skywards. And before the trainspotters start punching keys in fury, the Evo 6.5 Tommi Makinen Edition (TME), first offered in Oz for $80K (subsequently discounted) was a low-volume weapon imported through, and badged, Ralliart. The Evo X is a volume-selling main-game prospect for Mitsubishi.

Right here you might expect the doomsayer to put the boot in, concluding that the new boy is a bloated, soft, pale and pricey imitation of a real Evo, and start crying for the lost glory of the good old days.

Nope. Y’see, Evo has long been a one-dimensional vehicle, and that’s not enough in a world that now expects a multi-faceted performance car. Even Evo’s big trick isn’t what it used to be. Back 10 years ago, the second-generation (IV-thru-6.5) Evo — like its rallying rival Impreza WRX STi — cemented its giant-killing reputation on a formula based largely on poke and all-paw agility.

Since then many marques, using any engine and drivetrain you care to imagine, have raised the standard to a point where the Evo’s (and STi’s) single focus isn’t the advantage it once was. Today, where benchmark cars are fast and engaging as well as comfortable and refined, being hardcore is no longer enough.

Besides, the hottie Lancer was making natural progress towards a finer all round result since day one: Gen One was an explosion, Gen Two converted energy to handling ability, while Gen Three focused on a more engaging driving experience. Oh they became quicker, for sure, but this always had priority over improving issues about cheapness and harshness. Clearly a more refined and well-rounded head-kicker that ticks more boxes across the board was order of the day for Evo’s fourth reinvention.

Another revolution is the range available. Below the twin-clutch-only MR is a conventional five-speed manual base model with a less well-endowed handling and brake package for $59,490, undercutting the MR by a cool $12,200. With two major mechanical options (TC-SST at $5000, the MR’s Performance Package handling kit at $5500) and the budget, race-only RS also available (through Ralliart), there’s effectively a choice of five different Evo models representing a price spread of $30K.

Clearly Mitsubishi is serious about making its hero car accessible and acceptable to more people, but the good news is that the core engineering is the same regardless of variant.

Founded on a new platform shared with the regular Lancer (and Outlander), the X’s body structure is far more rigid (up 39 percent on torsion and 64 percent on bending) than old Evo IX, thanks to more extensive use of high and super high-tensile steel and some seam welding. The revised inverted-strut front and multi-link rear suspension has stiffer crossmembers and lots of lightweight forged aluminium bits within the new geometry set up. There’s also a 30mm extension in track width.

But despite aluminium for the roof, bonnet, front guards and rear wing, the MR tips the scales at 1625kg, 155 kilos heftier than the previous model.

Comparison review: Evo X MR v WRX STI v AMG CLA45 

So you don’t have to spend much time with the Evo X to realise Mitsubishi’s desire to create a finer all-rounder has scattered the scales. And the results are clear on the stopwatch.

Sure, the Evo X is quick, but it’s not devastating. Mitsubishi Australia kindly loaned us the previous Evo IX for some back-to-back blats; perhaps a little regretfully once the tyre smoke cleared. The old girl nailed 3.17sec to 60 kays and 5.60 to 100km/h, respectively three-tenths and one-tenth quicker than the X.

The Aussie MR has no launch control, so standing on the gas off-the-mark perhaps wasn’t doing it favours against the IX’s brisk clutch-dumping getaways. More telling is the IX’s superior in-gear acceleration; its 3.1sec third-gear 80-120km/h time a full six-tenths quicker than the X.

That’s a little surprising given that the all-new, all-alloy MIVEC-equipped 4B11 2.0-litre turbo four’s 217kW (at 6500rpm) and 366Nm (at 3500rpm) out-punches the old 4G63 engine by 12kW and 11Nm, according to official figures. And, as you may expect, the new donk comes with an encyclopaedic list of engineering improvements for what should be a more responsive and energetic new engine.

But, with the added weight and only 1500kms on our test car since it rolled off the boat, it didn’t feel so. While it’s smooth and revs freely, the 4B11 lacks that gut-kicking mid-range might of the IX. Thing is, the ‘grandpa’s axe’ 4G63 spent 21 years − first in Galant, then in Lancer − being finely honed to a level of weapons-grade brilliance, and actually feels like it has more useable poke than official figures suggest.

Perhaps current emission regulations, which ultimately killed off the 4G63 architecture, are to blame. The new engine passes with flying colours but, as Team Mitsubishi Ralliart boss Alan Heaphy suggests, Australian emissions regulations have strangled the 4B11’s potential below 3000rpm. He also reckons a bit of fettling back at the workshop has already lifted power to around 300kW from the new engine.

More to come in future? Of course. But for now, 366Nm is well short of rival STi’s 407Nm, let alone the Japanese Evo X which already pumps out a far gutsier 422Nm…

“The X has lost a bit of that Evo killer punch,” reckons MOTOR’s resident hot shoe Warren Luff. But despite that, he punted the new boy around Winton for a 1:40.5 best, trailing the IX by a scant three-tenths over a full lap.

Clearly there’s not much in it for outright pace once you introduce corners into the equations. Put in perspective, that’s three seconds quicker than our best around the circuit in FPV’s mighty F6. And both the X and the IX were quicker than the Evo 6.5 TME — often considered the most hardcore of the breed — we brought along as another benchmark. Yep, the new boy is fast.

Classic MOTOR: Evo IX v WRX STI v HSV Clubsport

The twin-clutch system is a pretty handy companion on the track. In its most focused program (of three), Super-Sport mode, upchanges are crisp and instant with every snick of the lush magnesium gear paddles, while downchanges are slightly tardy and require precise timing to prevent upsetting the rear on turn-in.

And turn-in it does, almost as sharp and eager as its predecessor. In the mid-corner, though, you can tell the Evo’s energy is drained by the extra weight. It tends to lean hard on the outside front tyre; pushing on simply induces understeer, a combined result of a little more body-roll and shifting mass than you’d expect from Evo experience.

The brakes are simply superb, though, with progressive bite and more feel than any Evo to date. The Active Centre Diff (ACD), Active Yaw Control (AYC), Sports ABS and newly introduced Active Stability Control (ASC) systems all integrate via one processor to create Evo’s monolithic handling system called Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC).

It works by having its Hal-like brain gather all the inputs from all the systems and deliver them back enough binary data, in quick time, to keep the car perfectly planted. And the part it plays in Evo’s manic cat-claws-to-carpet roadholding is impressive. Mitsubishi’s catchphrase for this is “ingeniously brutal”. Which kind of rings true for the whole Evo X package.

The only downside is that the chassis isn’t as playful as the last generation. It just grips and goes, and regardless of which Tarmac/Gravel/Snow ACD setting you choose it takes mammoth stupidity to get the car into desirable types of oversteer. The rear end stays glued to the hotmix, even on a wet Winton skidpan.

The introduction of stability control is to be applauded, but it seems to be installed purely for preventing eager beavers from power understeering off the outside of hairpins. And that, when we hit some slippery black-iced mountain passes in Victoria’s alpine region in early winter, is a highly plausible scenario.

If the Evo X knuckles down in a workmanlike fashion on track — call it a seven out of 10 experience — it becomes more lively and engaging the instant you throw it down a challenging piece of open road.

The Bilstein shocks and Eibach springs are excellent, seemingly perfectly matched and offering a blend of iron-clad real-world roadholding and ride compliance that’s simply light years better than any previous Evo. It’s superbly supple — by Evo standards, anyway — over bumps and road imperfections, with exceptional wheel control that’s no doubt aided by the MR’s lightweight rims and brakes.

And for all its cleverdickery, the S-AWC system goes about crunching its ones and zeros underneath completely unobtrusively, as if guiding the Evo along a twisty road like a gigantic Hand of God.

Basically the chassis, suspension tuning and mass is far happier hunkering down and being man-handled along a mountain pass than it is on the track, to a point where there is often more grip and pace available than you expect. The steering’s not as telepathic in feedback as the old car, but it’s supremely linear and a fair notch above performance rivals in its price range.

If there are any gripes it’s the lack of torquey mid-range shove, which would not only add some needed sparkle to the chassis on exiting a corner, but also make overtaking less of a chore than it is (but again we’ll reserve final judgement on that until we get a car with more clicks on it).

Farewell: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Also, with the near-seamless shifting available from the TC-SST, the slick magnesium paddles should really be on the tiller, where you can reach them with half a turn of lock, and not the steering column, where you can’t.

Magnesium, eh? Yep, the Evo is vastly improved for materials and finish on the inside. Sure, it’s no Audi, but it feels a million bucks richer than the old stuff throughout, with superb Recaro pews — heated, remember — and techy, showy steering wheel and none of that cheap, fake carbonfibre that infects some performance cars like a rash.

The satnav, though, is rudimentary and, in country Victoria at least, bloody hopeless. For a larger Lancer it’s still intimate and cosy room-wise, the general design and layout is neat, classy and – unlike its rival STi – nicely understated. 

Likewise the exterior. The X has lost some of its banzai aggressiveness from concept to production, but for my money it beats the pigdog Subaru hands down.

Nostalgia isn't optional on classic MOTOR

It’s inimitable, full of character and has enough muscle in its haunches to almost dwarf the slick-looking BBS rims. The greatest stride forward — the big revolution — is that the X is finally an Evo that you can live with everyday.

Bar a bit of tyre rumble on country roads, it’s quiet, relatively refined and effortless in clocking up serious kays, and the smart-shifting twin-clutch is useable and polished enough for day-to-day conditions. That it remains a focused driver’s jigger with far fewer real-world compromises largely outweighs the deficit of a few tenths of a second on the stopwatch.

Mission accomplished. X, truly, hits the spot.

Gear Jumping

When it comes to innovations, nothing has had as big an impact in recent times as dual-clutch manual transmission technology.

Among the various systems, basic engineering principals remain – two clutches, two parallel shafts (one for odd ratios, the other for even ratios), offering both automatic and manual modes, and the advantage of near-seamless gearchanges via ‘preselected’ up and downshifted ratios.

Still, not all dual-clutch systems are created equal. Some systems, such as that in the new Nissan GT-R, seem capable of only shifting up and down through adjacent ratios, or ‘sequentially’. Mitsubishi’s TC-SST, though, can jump ratios – for example, from sixth to third instantly.

According to Mitsubishi’s Robert Chadwick, TC-SST can preselect two ratios per shaft – four ratio options – at any time; preparing for any driving requirement. He also reckons that while most dual-clutch systems share this capability, some don’t use it. With big-output engines such as the GT-R’s, a big dose of torque (say, from sixth-to-third) could destroy the gearbox. Which is why, in some high-torque applications, the gearbox shuffles through the ratios instead, offering a more progressive torque feed both through the gearbox itself and rest of the driveline.

Model Range

The want-for-nothing top dog Aussie-spec MR version clocks in at $71,690. The TC-SST gearbox is standard, as is a Performance Package which includes (1.3kg lighter) two-piece front rotors for the Brembo brakes, Bilstein shocks, Eibach springs and (1.0kg lighter) forged 18-inch BBS rims.

It also cops niceties such as leather combination trim, heated seats, auto-levelling HID headlights, MCS in-dash display with satnav etc. The base Evolution comes in five-speed manual form, with cloth trim, cast Enkei 18-inch rims, regular four- and two-piston Brembos and sport suspension, yet offers identical engine and driveline hardware/software specs. It’s $59,490 — $12,200 cheaper than the MR — undercutting its Impreza STi arch rival by $500.

Here the fun begins. There are two major options for the base model. Fancy the MR’s tricky TC-SST gearbox? No problem; it’s a $5000 option. Or would you prefer a more purist driver’s combination of MR’s Performance Package handling and braking with a conventional five-speed cog-swapper? At $5500, the PP kit is also optional, its $64,990 ask matching STi Spec R’s price to the dollar.

Add the stripped-out, lightweight RS version that Ralliart is importing in limited numbers for the bargain basement $41,900 price and there’s essentially a five-model range spanning the best part of $30K. And that’s even before you consider the WRX-rivalling, little brother, the 177kW Lancer Ralliart due to land in Oz in October.

My other car is really RS

In the market for a weekend warrior weapon but the base Evo X’s $59,490 ask breaks the budgie? Perhaps the RS fits the bill.

Team Mitsubishi Ralliart is bringing in a small number of bare bones, ready to modify and/or abuse RS versions for a cheap-as-chips price of $41,900 (plus GST) — some $30K cheaper than the MR. But it’s no steel-rimmed Bangkok taxi.

Instead, the RS shares the same mechanical package as the base Evo, but substitutes the rear AYC differential for a motorsport homologation-friendly mechanical differential.

“It comes with the same 18-inch Enkeis and Brembos,” says TMR boss Alan Heaphy. “If someone wants to go gravel rallying, they can always sell these parts to help fund the conversion (to smaller rally brakes and 15-inch rally wheels).”

Bar rudimentary interior appointments (no radio, air-con, basic front bucket seats, etc), it looks and drives exactly like its more expensive brethren right off the showroom floor. The RS is offered in LHD and RHD, in red or white only. There’s no warranty, and it’s eligible for rally permit registration only.

Fast Facts 

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X MR
Body: 4-door, 5-seat sedan
Drive: all wheels 
Engine: in-line 4, DOHC, 16v, turbo
Material: alloy head/alloy block
Bore/Stroke: 86.0 x 86.0mm
Capacity: 1998cc
Compression: 9.0:1 
Power: 217kW @ 6500rpm
Torque: 366Nm @ 3500rpm
Redline/Cut: 7000rpm/7600rpm 
Fuel/Tank: 98 octane/55litres 
Kerb Weight: 1625kg 
Power-to-Weight: 132kW/tonne 
Transmission: 6-speed double-clutch 
Ratios: 3.65/2.36/1.75/1.32/1.00/0.77
Final Drive: 4.062
Suspension: struts, a-arms, coil-springs (f); multi-links; coil-springs, anti-roll bar (r)
Length/Width/Height: 4510/1810/1480mm
Wheelbase: 2650mm
Tracks (f/r): 1545/1545mm
Steering: power rack and pinion
Turning circle: 11.0m
Lock-to-lock: 2.8 turns 
Brakes: 350mm ventilated discs, four-piston calipers (f); 330mm ventilated discs, two-piston calipers (r); ABS, ESP
Wheels: 18 x 8.5-inch, alloy
Tyres: Dunlop SP Sport 600 245/40R18 93Y
Price: $71,690 

Fast Times
0-100km/h: 5.71sec
Top speed: 242km/h (claimed)

Likes: Vastly more comfortable and liveable; broader range
Dislikes: Lack of mid-range punch; not as playful as predecessors
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 stars