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Mitsubishi Lancer EVO VIII - Review - Whoosh


SEE ALSO: Mitsubushi Buyer's Guide


Admit it. If you're any kind of car enthusiast, you've had the fantasy of having a race car as your daily driver. Thirty years or more ago, with enough money, it might even have been possible. Sports prototypes were technically streetable, with regulations requiring lights, horns, and even luggage and passenger space. Stock cars were actually based on stock, regular-production cars. But in either category, even then, comfort, practicality, and state vehicle codes made such an attempt difficult. And, since 1970, race cars in nearly all categories have diverged considerably from their street-legal brethren.

But there is still one category of competition in which the cars are not too different from you might drive every day, and that is the World Rally Championship (WRC) Group A class. Benefiting enthusiasts, regulations require a certain number of street-legal replicas of the race cars to be sold to the public. Note, however, that ``street-legal'' is not the same around the world. Europe and Japan are not the USA.

Mitsubishi's WRC weapon since 1992 has been the Lancer Evolution, series I through VIII. If you haven't heard of the Lancer Evos, as they are nicknamed, you're excused. The Lancer was called the Mirage here, and the Mirage, while a pleasant little economy sedan or coupe, was never any sort of performance machine. Before its American introduction earlier this year, you would have had to have been an avid follower of the WRC or a player of some popular racing video games to have heard of the Lancer Evo. The EPA and DOT didn't want to hear about it at all.

When the Mirage morphed into the Lancer here for the 2002 model year, there were hopes that a U.S.-legal Evolution would appear. Those hopes have now been fulfilled. Note, however, that while the basic Lancer is designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of people looking for fun, economical transportation, the Evo VIII is a very different machine. It is a seriously fast machine, definitely not a car for everyone.

I've just spent a week with a Lancer Evo VIII. It is remarkably civilized, but requires that its driver be serious, attentive, and committed. It is less a race replica than a high-strung race car slightly tamed for the street, yet has almost all of the comforts expected in a contemporary car.

APPEARANCE: Similar, yet different...very different. There is no question that the Lancer Evo VIII is a serious performance machine. Although its passenger cabin is the same as that of the regular Lancer, and the body shape is generally similar, aluminum fenders, blistered to fit the Evo's wider track and wider tires, replace the heavier steel panels of the stock Lancer. Ditto for the lightweight aluminum hood, vented for engine cooling and aerodynamic efficiency. Extra openings in the front fascia direct cooling air to the intercooler and brakes, and an air dam reduces lift. At the rear, an available and very large wing does more to reduce visibility than create downforce at legal speeds, but it is made of genuine carbon fiber. Enkei alloy wheels and huge Brembo brakes are not designer-label poseur items, they are the real deal for maximum performance.

COMFORT: The Lancer Evo VIII is luxuriously appointed - for a race car. It's fine for day-to-day street use, too, building on the standard Lancer interior. As with the wheels and brakes, Mitsubishi has gone to competition suppliers where necessary, in this case to Recaro(r) for sports seats. Although they are very well-bolstered for lateral support, and do have racing harness strap holes, they are wider and less-bolstered than real competition seats - a good thing if you're not built like a jockey. They are no harder to get into or out of than any other seats, and provide excellent support and comfort. A leather-rimmed MOMO(r) steering wheel and properly- placed, short-throw shift lever complete the ``racer's office'' ambiance. The instrument panel gets red-lit chrome-bezeled gauges, and the titanium-look center stack has certain items not usually found in a race car - air conditioning and a 140-watt AM/FM/CD stereo. Power windows, doorlocks, and mirrors are also not competition-spec, but do make life in the real world more pleasant. Four doors, a rear seat that can hold two people, and a large trunk make the Lancer Evo VIII a practical small sedan - that just happens to have near-supercar performance.

SAFETY: Obviously, since it's sold in the U.S., the Lancer Evo VIII meets all Federal passive safety requirements. It also has an impressive array of active safety equipment, including all-wheel drive traction, huge four-wheel antilock Brembo brakes with 4- piston front and 2-piston rear calipers, and plenty of power for avoiding trouble. For best use, see your local performance driving school for instruction.

ROADABILITY: Since few Lancer Evo VIIIs will be used for rally driving on forest roads, as delivered the car is set up for real-world pavement. With five and a half inches of ground clearance and good approach and departure angles, it can deal with hazards like gutters, steep driveways, and chuckholes better than most sports cars. The chassis is reinforced over that of the regular Lancer, for greater strength and rigidity and consequent improved handling. Suspension is by inverted struts in front - with a strut brace - and a multilink system in the rear; forged aluminum control arms reduce unsprung weight for better response. A quick-ratio steering box transmits driver commands instantly to the front wheels. On the road, the Evo feels much like a race car - nervous and intense, with a firm but supple ride quality. The steering and suspension geometry are optimized for cornering at speed, not sedate driving in a straight line. This is not a relaxing car to drive, and requires that the driver pay strict attention. Such is life with a race car, and the rewards are great. Response is nearly telepathic, and the cornering limits are very high.

PERFORMANCE: The dual overhead cam, 16-valve four-cylinder 2.0-liter 4G63 engine has powered Lancer Evolutions since the beginning, and has benefited from continuous development. Forged pistons and connecting rods help it withstand 19 lbs of turbo boost, to produce 271 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, with 273 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm. Thanks to modern electronic controls and fuel injection, it's US-legal, idles smoothly and is easily drivable even in frustrating traffic. Low-end power is surprisingly good. But it's at its best above 3500 rpm. At that point, hold on and pay attention, because acceleration is intense and very quick. With a light flywheel, precise shift linkage to the five-speed transmission, and good pedal arrangement, shifting is quick and smooth. There is no need to bury the tach needle into the rev limiter. All-wheel drive traction gets the power to the ground efficiently. Many people got their first look at the Lancer Evo in a video game, which is appropriate. Driving one quickly is like playing an intense, high- speed video game - things happen fast. Pay attention and don't be distracted.

CONCLUSIONS: The legend is true. Mitsubishi's Lancer Evolution VIII gives a real race car experience in a street-legal car.

SPECIFICATIONS Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII

Base Price $ 28,987
Price As Tested $ 30,812
Engine Type dual overhead cam 16-valve turbocharged
and intercooled inline 4-cylinder Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower 271 @ 6500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 273 @ 3500 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length 103.3 in. / x in.
Curb Weight 3298 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 12.2
Fuel Capacity 14 gal.
Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires P235/45 ZR17 Yokohama ADVAN A-046
Brakes, front/rear vented disc, 4-piston calipers / vented disc, 2-piston calipers, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear independent inverted MacPherson strut / independent multilink
Drivetrain front engine, all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 18 / 26 / 19
0 to 60 mph 5 sec

Power glass sunroof $ 750
Carbon-fiber spoiler $ 480
Destination charge $ 595