Mitsubishi’s long-awaited 21st century replacement for the Lancer Evolution is inching closer to reality.

But if it happens, Autocar can reveal, it won’t be an Evo as we know it but, in all likelihood, a 500bhp plug-in hybrid rival to the Nissan GT-R.

With the new-generation Lancer hatchback being readied for global launch next year and a plug-in hybrid version of that car already in the product plan, highly placed Mitsubishi executives are discussing options for a petrol-electric performance car. The model would inherit technology directly from the company’s MiEV Evolution II Pikes Peak prototype racer and take the Evo into a new performance dimension.

It’s still early days for the car, whose viability depends on market acceptance of Mitsubishi’s new plug-in hybrid PHEV technology. But with the company’s all-electric prototype demonstrating the sporting potential of a fully asymmetric electric powertrain for performance and handling at the Pikes Peak event, there is renewed interest in transferring that performance to the road.

The potential is for a high-end, technologically sophisticated sporting option with greater all-wheel drive performance than any Lancer Evo has had before, combined with low emissions and the option of all-electric running.

If it is built, the new Evo, whose styling is likely to be influenced by the Concept-RA shown at Detroit in 2008, will follow a less performance-orientated Lancer PHEV in the mould of the existing Outlander PHEV, itself due in the UK later this year. Like the hybrid Outlander, the Lancer PHEV is expected to combine a 2.0-litre petrol engine with two 80bhp electric motors. It should be capable of at least 150mpg and 50g/km on the European combined economy and CO2 emissions test and have an all-electric range approaching 40 miles.

If the market takes to that car, it leaves the door open for the new Evo, and the early signs are that the Lancer PHEV could be a success. The Outlander PHEV has only been launched in Japan and the Netherlands, but Mitsubishi has already received more orders for it than expected — a situation that has slowed the car’s market rollout elsewhere.

But it’s far from a certainty. As Mitsubishi Motors North America executive vice-president of electric vehicle operations Masatoshi Hasegawa explained, there are still obstacles surrounding charging infrastructure to be negotiated before Mitsubishi’s PHEV cars can reach their full global sales potential. 

"In North America particularly, agreement is slow to come on fast charging hardware," said Hasegawa. The USA’s domestic car makers are backing new fast charging hardware defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers, while Nissan and ourselves have been using the Chademo standard. There needs to be agreement before everyone can benefit from the investment in infrastructure.