The Evolution story
The art of the 4 door supercar.
When you think of rallying Certain names come to mind, Audi, Ford, Lancia, maybe even Toyota. And yet, no rally car has been ingrained into a generation in quite the same way the Mitsubishi Evo has (along with its rival the Subaru Impreza). The cataclysmic influence the car had on the tarmac and the TV screen changed car culture permanently, and yet the Evolution was left to rot and die out by its own creator. So, this is the story of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
Creation-Mitsubishi before the Evo
Mitsubishi were actually in rallying long before the Lancer Evo's creation. Like most of the Japanese car makers emerging from post war ruins, to grow it had to export and to export it had to build a reputation. Motorsport was one of the best ways to do that and Mitsubishi chose rallying. Mitsubishi first had some small scale attempts in the original Galant and Colt to success, but when Mitsubishi brought its then-new Lancer out on the stage they found consistent results and that all important reputation that let them sell cars. The Lancer 1600 GSR was a consistent finisher in the Safari Kenya Rally with only one dropping out in all 4 years it was used by Mitsubishi, while in a race where on average only 1 in 5 cars would finish.
The GSR did the job and gave Mitsubishi a reputation for durability and reliability, and even after production ended in 1977 and the factory team stopped using them they were still raced by privateers to surprising success. However in the early 1980s its wins were halted in its tracks with the introduction of group B. This also ruined any competitiveness of next Mitsubishi's next rally car, the Lancer 2000 Turbo, Therefore Mitsubishi went to develop a 2 door 4WD Audi Quattro competitor. So they took the 4G63 out of the Lancer 2000, a transfer case out of a Pajero and shoved them into their new Starion coupe. Other changes were made, including removing the pop ups and fitting a 4 light arrangement on the nose. Early testing showed strong signs and development was going well, but then Group B was canned. So the obvious solution was to put the drivetrain into a mass produced shell and homologate it. Mitsubishi plucked the Starion's drivetrain and put it into the 4 door Galant, then built the 5000 road going versions to allow the car to enter group A regulations, creating the Galant VR-4. The Galant VR-4 was a good rally car in its own right getting Mitsubishi two third positions in the constructors championship, but wasn't up to beating the likes of the Lancia Delta Integrale and Toyota Celica.
Genesis-The Evo I
While the Galant was promising, the WRC stages in Europe kept shrinking and meant the Galant was getting too big to go down the stage quickly. It wasn't just Mitsubishi, Ford moved from the Sierra to the Escort and Subaru downsized too into the legendary Impreza WRX. Mitsubishi dropped size too with the fourth generation lancer chassis. They did the same as they did with the Starion, they took the drivetrain from the Galant and put it into the little economy car, Crowning the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
The Evo I was sold in two Flavours, RS (Rally Sport) and GSR (Grand Sport Racing). The GSR was your typical flagship, good spec, lots of functions and the viscous diff from the Galant, however the RS was pretty much a competition car from the dealer. It came with basic winding windows, manual seats, no rear wiper and it even came on steelies. More notably it had a mechanical LSD rather then the viscous setup on the Galant and even didn't have ABS. The RS was basically a rally car that you could buy from a dealer and was intended for privateer race teams while the GSR was the more useable every day car for everyday people.
The car entered production in late 1992 and hit the stages of the WRC in 93'. It was a huge hit, selling its 2500 units out in just 3 days. 5000 cars were built and sold in the 1 year of production, not bad for a first year sportscar. The Evo I also proved itself as a potent rally car, getting Kenneth Eriksson up into a 6th place in the Drivers championship of the WRC.
Early Evolution-Evo II & Evo II
By January 1994 Mitsubishi had fiddled and tweaked with the Evo enough to debut the Evo II. The updates were small but meaningful with a wider wheel base, wider tires, tweaked aero and a 9hp bump in power. The GSR also went to the mechanical differential of the RS rather then sticking with the Galant diff. They entered the tweaked Evo into the 1994 season of the WRC, giving them to two drivers from the start of the season and giving the remaining two drivers the car mid season. The car did about the same as the Evo 1, getting close but not quite getting on the podium.
The Evo III was a slightly improved Evo II with more aggressive styling and aerodynamics to feed more air to key components, and an engine that was tweaked up to 270hp. On the rally stage they came second in the manufacturer's championship, helped by Toyota's disqualification when they were found cheating the turbo restrictors at rally Catalunya. They also took the drivers title with Tommi Mäkinen. By this point all three Evo's had started to attract attention outside of japan, with grey imports of the cars starting to become a common occurrence in the UK, but it was nothing compared to what was to come with Evo culture .
A New Stage-Evo IV & Evo V
By 1996 the fourth Generation lancer was dead and the fifth generation was in production. This meant that the Evo was moved over to the new platform with many changes to it. The engine was turned 180° and had a new twin scroll turbo pushing 280hp, the RS was given a short ratio gearbox and the GSR got "Active Yaw Control". Active Yaw Control used many electronics to control the torque split to the rear wheels which allowed the Lancer to go even faster and slide better. The RS came with extra bracing to stiffen up the chassis and could also be optioned with the massive fog lights that came standard on the GSR, giving this era of the Evo the distinct trademark. On the dirt tracks the Evo IV once again brought Tommi Mäkinen to victory and got Mitsubishi another podium in the constructors championship, cementing Mitsubishi as a rallying force that would rival the likes of Subaru and Ford.
Although the Evo made waves on the rally stage, it hadn't really become a household name especially in markets that couldn't import them, like the US and Canada. This was all to change though, as in May of 1998 Gran Turismo would release in Europe and America. Suddenly the world could take a large variety of cars and race them in a semi realistic environment, and as it did on the rally stage the Evo III and IV held their own on the computer screen, competing against anything from Demios to Vipers, but by the time Gran Turismo had hit Mitsubishi was already building the next set of the Lancer Evo legacy, the Evolution V.
The Evo 5 gave a little extra engine fettling and a wider trackwidth (Flared fenders too). Officially the power was the same 276hp, but the increased torque hinted that it was simply a guise to get around the Japanese gentleman's agreement. It also sported a slightly different spoiler made out of Aluminum. With the Evo V Mitsubishi Seemed to have finally got one up on their opponents and in 1998 Mitsubishi won the Constructors championship they deserved, winning 7 out of 13 events. Tommi Mäkinen also did more of his magic and made his 3rd consecutive win in the driver's championship.
World-Class-Evo VI & Evo 6.5
The Evo VI was the same improvements as usual, with more engine durability and cooling upgrades. Power was still capped at 280hp. So, why is this Evo the pinnacle? Well it was the last Evo that actually made headlines on the rally stage, giving Mäkinen his final consecutive championship win in the Evo. It also was quite the looker, with its swelled fenders, large bonnet vents, fog lights that could guide a plane and a wing that could be mounted to one, It was an incredible sight to behold.
On top of the unapologetically loud styling the Evo VI was waved over by Ralliart UK, which using a new turbo cranked the power output up to 330hp for the RS sprint. This really lit the Evo up, Evo Magazine saying that "treading on its throttle from low revs is like lighting a firework and waiting for the fuse to hit the powder."
That should put this car in context
To celebrate the 4 championship victories, Mitsubishi created the Evolution VI Tommy Mäkinen Edition. Also known as the Evo 6.5 the Lancer had lowered ride height and a new front bumper, as well as many interior updates. The quickened steering and faster spooling turbine helped the car feel more lively. So this, with its rallying legacy, is heralded as the most desirable Evo of them all, with prices upwards of £40,000. The car is also among one of the most distinctive on the roads with its go faster graphics, ice white wheels and aggressive dive plane bumper it does not hide its rally pedigree.
Revolution-Evo VII,VIII and Evo IX
With the 2001 WRC championship completed, Mitsubishi were forced to move over to the World Rally Car platform rather then use the old Group A regulations, and so moved over to the Lancer WRC car, which was somewhat related to the Evo VII, albeit more a first cousin rather then the brotherhood early Evo's shared with their WRC counterparts. Homologation was no longer mandatory so the Evo VII gained weight over the outgoing 6, however it made up for that in tech. The car gained a centre active diff, while the front and rear diffs were greatly improved, another bump in torque too.
The car had the standard RS/GSR trims, the RS having a close ratio box and this time coming with alloys from the factory. More interestingly the Evo VII had an "fuzzy logic" automatic option in the form of the GT-A trim level, which was a more subtle Evo even allowing a small spoiler option. The Evo VII's fame was found on the big screen, as a modified example was the star car on 2 Fast 2 Furious, riding alongside a Mitsubishi Eclipse.
At this point the Evo had touched the heart of many american while never actually selling there, but spurred to the success Subaru had with the WRX in the US, Mitsubishi put the Evo on US soil with the release of the VIII. Riding on Bilsteins with Enkei wheels, the Evo VIII had a lot of handling upgrades, which were even more noticeable on the MR models, which had even better shocks and an aluminum roof to lower the centre of gravity. The Evo could be optioned with a 6 speed for the first time, which mated nicely to the 4G63. The 4G63 still made an advertised 276hp... outside of the UK.
This is because in the UK, Ralliart were concocting a stir up in the sports saloon game, and what came out was the FQ series. From the FQ 300 making 305hp, the FQ cars went up in power, continuing to the FQ 400, which for the sum of £48,000, made 405hp. The FQ400 was bonkers, big turbo, heavy clutch and enough power to win a dogfight against a lime green Lamborghini. Developing 202hp per litre puts it up there for HP/L with the McLaren Senna and the SSC Ultimate Aero.
And Mitsubishi kept rolling on with the Evo IX. The IX had better cooling, a closer ratio gearbox and a revised diffuser. The IX also had the MIVEC system, which acted like VTEC, improving fuel economy at lower rpm. The changes to the motor also gave it more strength, and so tuners could push an extra 20hp out of the engine compared to what the already monstrous Evo 8 engine could handle. The FQ400 was dropped, leaving the FQ360 as the UK flagship, and all american variants had 286hp.
The Evo IX also came in Estate form. A 2500 run, Japanese Domestic Market Evo Estate was released, Sporting 3 trims, GT, GT-A and MR. GT and MR were similar to your normal Evo monikers, while the return of the GT-A name plate brought the automatic back to the Evo, using an older engine and a 5 speed gearbox. The Evo wagon was also more plush in other ways having lower bolstered seats and. In the end they didn't stick with 2500, and made 2924 cars.
Final Form-Evo X
In 2005, about the same time the Evo IX was released, Mitsubishi Revealed The "Concept X" at the Tokyo auto show. The concept car was a sight into what the Lancer and Evo could look like in the coming years, and showed an aggressive sharp sports saloon.
2 years later they unveiled the "Prototype X" at the North American International Auto Show, which would the production ready design. Even at this point we only knew that the new Evo looked good, and did not have any idea what would be underneath the seductive styling.
Then it was found out the new Lancer Evolution had major changes. For one the 4G63 was dead, It was succeeded by the 4B11T, an aluminum block engine and the Evo also now had a dual-clutch gearbox to replace the fuzzy logic automatic. Purists were skeptical, as well as the scales with the new X pushing 100kg above the outgoing IX. So, with all this, how did the new Evo stack up?
Like the empire state building.
While the standard Evo X was criticised for its un-characterful engine and not delivering above the outgoing FQ and MR cars, the new Evo proved itself as a weapon in FQ guise. Evo magazine said the FQ cars brought the character lost in the standard X. It was also good news with the SST Dual clutch, Autocar saying that the quick shifts means "the Evo feels so much quicker than the figures suggest." So, what about the handling in the new heavier chassis?
"First, that 20 miles will pass as if they were 10; it’s so easy to maintain speed without really trying. Second, and more importantly, it’s not necessary to drive the Evo at full pelt to get a buzz."-Autocar
Its safe to say the new Evo was not a barge.
The new Evo continued punching with the FQ400 succeeding its predecessor, being a rocket-ship on wheels as the prior model, and in 2014 the FQ440 released, a 440hp 40 units monster, priced at £50,000 and painted in a frost white. With all this, Mitsubishi had made a huge splash with its little 4WD rocket. The UK police even bought them to use in high speed chases.
The Full UK standard range went from the FQ300 to the FQ360, While in the US the Evo X had to make do with 291hp. Still, the car was no slouch, it sold well and soldiered on until May 2016, by which the tuners had a chance with the new engine and found that the 4B11T could take as much and in some cases more power then the 4G63T. But by that time the final cars rolled off the line.
The end of the Evo is intertwined with Mitsubishi downfall, and is a complicated topic.
While the Evo held its own in the niche, the rest of Mitsubishi wasn't doing so hot, and having many different cars between markets meant they had high development costs, so they paired down, only developing what sold. The Eclipse was quick to go, and all of Mitsubishis small cars were replaced by the mirage (barring asia). The Lancer and the Evo held on, but buy 2016 the lancer was losing market to SUVs and even the mirage, and while the Evo could sell, it couldn't do what it was created to do, sell the rest of the range. Motorsport wasn't translating into sales, so Mitsubishi switched to selling cars at face value, the mirage as cheap brand new and trendy, and the SUVs as good value hybrids, and so there was no need for the Evo anymore. Mitsubishi isn't interested in fun cars as fun cars don't sell like they used to, that's the unfortunate truth of the Mitsubishi story.
Jim Linwood Follow
There current strategy works, there sales have consistently risen (not including covid)from there low in 2012, and the Evo wasn't part of that, and was just along for the ride. Its a miracle the Evo survived stateside, as until the very end of the eclipse the Evo was absolutely destroyed by it sales wise (US sales).
And so the 4 door supercar was no more, the book is closed on the Lancer Evolution story. Lets just hope for a Mirage based sequel.