Previous attempts to tone down the Lancer Evo experience have been at best disappointing and at worst woefully misguided – especially Mitsubishi’s decision to mate the world’s most savage saloon with an auto ’box in the Evo VII GT-A. So can the new Evo VIII 260 do what its predecessors couldn’t and provide Mitsubishi with a credible entry-level rival for the Subaru Impreza STi in the sub-£25k price bracket?
In terms of specification – blown 2.0-litre four, 1470kg kerbweight, active four-wheel drive – the 260 and STi are close enough to have been separated by cellular mitosis. At £23,999 on the road, however, the lesser-powered Evo costs £996 less than the STi.
Modifications to the engine management system and a new twin-catalyst exhaust system lower power by 14bhp to 262bhp at 6500rpm and torque by 27lb ft to 262lb ft at 3500rpm. No official figures are supplied, but expect an STi-matching 0-62mph time of 5.2 seconds and a top speed of 152mph.
Perhaps the most significant thing about the Evo mechanically, however, is that it heralds a comeback for the VII’s five-speed ’box. Slightly longer of throw, but undoubtedly sweeter and less crunchy than the VIII’s six-speeder, flicking through the ’box is like catching up with an old friend.
The longer fourth ratio combines with the aggressive third gear to create a devastatingly effective tag team capable of taking apart tortuous B-roads with casual precision. There are times when you’ll miss the frantically close gearing of the regular VIII, but the trade-off – slightly less lag and a smoother power delivery on part throttle openings – means that they’re few and far between.
As for the smaller spoiler and wider front seats, these will inevitably come down to personal taste. Even without its ironing-board spoiler, you’d never call the Evo a Q-car – but it certainly attracts less of the wrong type of attention.