Here’s the good news about the new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII MR FQ-320, to give it its full and monumentally clumsy official monicker (and by the way, MR stands for Mitsubishi Racing, not Muchos Reincarnations, as one or two more cynical folk have suggested chez Autocar): this is very probably the best, and certainly the most civilised, of all the Evos to drive so far.
How so? Because Mitsubishi has made several small but crucial tweaks to the suspension, including fitting new Bilstein dampers and reducing unsprung weight, always a dead giveaway that someone somewhere knows what they’re doing. They’ve also reduced the kerbweight by around 10kg and replaced various bits of steel with carbon, only some of which work from a visual point of view. The result is an Evo that’s (almost) soothing to drive, in a firm but forgiving kind of way.
For example, I don’t think I’ve ever driven an Evo that stops so cleanly; there’s no tramlining, no brake screech when you hit the pedal hard. Instead there’s just monster response, and the sort of feel that Rubens Barrichello would kill for over the last five laps of a GP. Even things like gearchange and steering response now seem smoother, while the reaction of the throttle is also less frenetic/more polished, all of which makes the MR a far more calming, grown up kind of machine to drive than, say, our long-term FQ-330.
But here’s the rub; despite improving in many ways over what the various ‘standard’ Evos can do, there’s something oddly outdated about the Evo MR experience. It feels like we’ve been here so many times before that the thrill factor, although as strong as ever in isolation, has been diluted. So, despite the fact that it is still one of the fastest cars in which to attack a favourite road (especially when wet), the MR feels like yesterday’s car.
That’s probably very unfair to the people who have worked on this car and turned it into the best of its kind. But looking at it from a broader perspective, Mitsubishi needs something genuinely new to progress the Evo’s appeal, otherwise the sense of deja-vu could become just a teensy bit predictable.