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The Mitsubishi Evo X is an epic supersaloon, but needs a sixth gear. Manual FQ360 the best

It’s a strange coincidence that, after more than 10 years of simultaneous development, both the Subaru Impreza and the Mitsubishi Evo should go through such major model changes at the same time. The Impreza has gone from saloon to hatchback (and then to both), just as the Lancer saloon (from which the Evolution is derived) goes into its ninth generation since 1973. And both these Japanese rally refugees are further removed from their base models than ever – the Impreza nameplate has been dropped for hot Subarus and the standard Lancer is no longer sold in the UK.

The Evo, conceived as a rally homologation model for the faster-paced world of motorsport, is here notching only its 10th iteration since 1992. Perhaps the fascination with rally replicas is not what it once was, however. When Mitsubishi executives talk about rivals for the Evo, there’s almost an air of resignation about the inevitability of its comparison with the Subaru WRX STi. They now think, “Our car shapes up to the likes of premium German brands.” And that’s a taller order. It’s certainly moved upmarket in terms of its perceived quality and comfort, but just how good is the Evolution X?

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DESIGN & STYLING
Mitsubishi Evo X rubber roof fins

If the inevitable Subaru/Mitsubishi scrap includes an aesthetic judgement, then the Evolution X will steal an early victory. The Evo is based on the Lancer, itself a sharply and neatly styled car. Design changes to make it an Evo are all functional, but they end up seeming cohesively integrated into the basic, quite aggressive design.

All Evos come equipped with excellent adaptive bi-xenon headlamps and a huge rear wing. The latter improves the car’s aerodynamic properties, but does impinge on rearward visibility. There’s the usual selection of functional cooling vents in the front wings and bonnet, but it’s the front bumper that most sets the Evo apart.

The increased torsional rigidity - up 39 percent - is a key reason for the Evo's improved handling

It has a repositioned front numberplate to improve airflow to the radiator and front-mounted intercooler, and there’s a pair of suitably large and loud exhausts exiting from both corners of the rear bumper. Multi-spoke alloy wheels measuring 18in and 350mm ventilated discs gripped by Brembo calipers complete the visual impact.

The Evo X’s torsional rigidity is up 39 percent over its predecessor. It has a 25mm longer wheelbase and 30mm wider track, and the battery has been relocated to the boot to improve weight distribution. Once again, the Evo has an aluminium bonnet, wings and roof. Suspension is by MacPherson strut at the front, multi-link at the rear.

INTERIOR
Mitsubishi Evo X handbrake

This is one of the areas where the Mitsubishi Evo X follows a similar theme to its predecessors: the cabin is large and comfortable, but seemingly developed after most of the budget was spent on the oilier parts and dynamics. There’s still a large amount of plastic that feels cheap to the touch, and it’s perhaps here more than anywhere that the Evo fails to live up to its premium German rivals.

Still, other boxes are ticked: the boot is of a reasonable size, there’s room for adults in the rear seats and although cabin plastics are no more than reasonable, they’re still better than an Impreza’s, and are seemingly well assembled.

The cabin is large, but the plastics are not up to the same standard as German rivals

The driving position is good, too. The nicely sized steering wheel could do with a wider range of adjustment, although it’s not disastrous for tall drivers. The standard Recaro front seats are excellent, although they might be a little tight for the larger driver, and the seat itself is a little too high. The major driving controls move with well-weighted precision; of particular note is the quality and accuracy of the automatic gearshift in SST-equipped models.

For a car that piles on speed so quickly it’s slightly odd that the speedo reads in 20mph increments. But the switchgear and other dials are clear and, on our test car, the comprehensive Rockford Fosgate music server and navigation system was easy to find your way around – and very loud with a 25cm subwoofer in the boot.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE
Mitsubishi Evo X engine block

Previous generations of Mitsubishi Evolution have used derivatives of the same 4G63 engine, but the latest model’s is all new. The 4B11 unit has an aluminium head and block with floating pistons. It also sits 10mm lower than the Evo IX’s engine.

In its lowest power form in the FQ-300 tested here, the new engine has similar power to the IX’s (291bhp at 6500rpm), but more torque at low revs (300lb ft at 3500rpm). It drives through an SST, twin-clutch, robotised gearbox, then to all four wheels via a transmission controlled by Mitsubishi’s latest generation of Super-All-Wheel Control (S-AWC). That means a 4.7sec 0-62mph time and a top speed of 155mph.

New engine or not, there is no escaping the fact that even in its most docile form the Evo X produces 291bhp from an engine of just 1998cc. So it’s no surprise that the car still needs to be worked to deliver its best.

It’s advisable to keep it beyond 2500rpm, from where the momentum builds before hitting full stride at 3000rpm. Peak torque of 300lb ft is produced at 3500rpm, but in practice the torque curve is flat from 3000-5000rpm, and it’s within this range that the Evo feels most urgent.

What of Mitsubishi’s dual-clutch gearbox? Unless it is set to the most extreme of its three shift patterns, those seeking mechanical involvement will find there is just too little. But it does provide the Evo with a more adaptable character, and with it, we imagine, a broader audience.

Yet with the engine at its sweet spot and the gearbox delivering swift changes, the Evo feels so much quicker than the figures suggest. So effectively did it dispatch our cross-country test route that we retested the 0-60mph sprint – yet it went no faster.

The FQ-360 also makes do with just five transmission ratios rather than the six fitted to the Evo IX, because the five-speed gearbox is more resilient for competition use. There is more shove than you'd find in the lesser Evos – quite a bit more – but the FQ-360 remains linear in its delivery from 3000rpm to the redline. At full chat, the 2.0-litre four-pot produces 354bhp and at 3500rpm torque reaches 363lb ft, making the Evo good for a 4.1sec 0-62mph and a 155mph maximum.

RIDE & HANDLING
Mitsubishi Evo X rear cornering

Take a Mitsubishi Evo down a B-road and several things will be revealed. 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.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t tell you that at slow speeds the X rides really quite poorly, with a lot of intrusion into the cabin. But this drawback aside, ride and handling are quite exceptional.The steering is quick, without being nervous, and strong on feedback. Wieldy and nimble, the X turns into a corner with a keenness that excites, but then provides a seam of information so strong that it breeds confidence.

The truth is that in normal road driving, you’re not likely to come close to the Evo X’s limits. So much grip is produced by the stiff chassis and sticky Yokohama tyres, and so clever is the mechanical and electronic assistance, that the Evo will corner at monumental speeds. Where conditions allow a more committed driving style, ASC intervenes subtly to keep things tidy. It can be disabled in two stages; the first cuts traction and stability control, but retains individual wheel braking. The second cuts all assistance, and yet the Evo’s chassis remains delicate and delightfully neutral. Eventually it’s the front end that slips first, but it sends a clear warning through seat and steering, and a gentle lift brings the X back on line. Be more provocative mid-corner with a sudden lift or tightened line and the Evo can be felt to pivot around its mid point, the rear axle being worked harder. It’s not oversteer, more a four-wheel drift.

S-AWC exploits and manages the car’s movement. It incorporates all of the electronically controlled transmission aids: an Active Centre Differential (varying front-rear torque split), Active Yaw Control (a limited-slip rear differential), stability control and ABS. The mode selector that controls S-AWC once again allows it to be put in Tarmac, gravel or snow settings, which adjust its operation to suit how much traction and grip are available.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Mitsubishi Evo X

Mitsubishi Evos have never been cheap cars to buy and run, and the X is no exception. The list price for the base FQ-300 is slightly lower than for the equivalent Subaru, but compared to the BMW M3 or Audi RS3 that Mitsubishi says the Evo is an alternative to, it looks a bargain. It’s well equipped, too, with climate control, cruise control, a 30Gb hard disc music server and Recaro seats all supplied as standard. It’ll also retain more of its value than an Impreza on the used market.

No Evo will be cheap to insure, and the car needs a 1000-mile first oil change, although after that services are required once every 10,000 miles, which is far longer apart than Evos of old. Expect frequent fuel stops – we returned 6.9mpg while driving an FQ-300 hard, but 27.1mpg is possible at a cruise.

VERDICT
4 star Mitsubishi Evo X

The Mitsubishi Evo X might have grown up, but the undeniable brilliance of traction, power and practicality remain. It is crushingly effective.

You only need to look at the Evo X to know that the rebel has grown up, but can it really rival the German sports saloons and coupés? No, not really. While interior quality is better, there remains a sizeable gap to the premium competition. It’s good news, then, that the chassis, both in its set-up and its torque-shuffling gadgetry, is as impressive as ever.

It is with the engine and gearbox that the X differs most from its predecessors. While the new engine has lost some of the tuned feel of old, and some character, in its place comes more flexibility and refinement.

Although outright acceleration times for the FQ-300 are slightly disappointing, this is more to do with the SST gearbox’s aversion to launches. But for those (most likely owners of previous-generation models) who think the X is missing a bit of the old Evo spirit, then there’s the FQ-360. It’s as mad as the last Evo IX, but with an even better chassis.In real-world driving, the Evo remains crushingly effective and still very much justifies its FQ tag.

Mitsubishi Evo X 2008-2011 First drives