The first Lancer EVO 1 was built as a homologation special in order for Mitsubishi to participate in the WRC.
Ten generations of the Lancer Evolution were built.
The final EVO X bowed out of service in 2015.
In its 23-year lifespan, the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO was the definitive hero car, the Japanese brand’s flagship, and aspirational car. Sadly, we may never see the likes of an Evolution from Mitsubishi again.
The story of the Mitsubishi Lancer dates back to 1973 and although it did race and win quite a bit, it’s the entirely rally-bred Evolution model that is of particular interest. The first Evolution, the EVO 1, was introduced in 1992 with a turbocharged 244 horsepower 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine, a 5-speed manual gearbox and AWD. Weighing roughly 1,200 kg (2,640 lbs), it was fast, nimble, agile, and defined fun-to-drive.
Its success spawned both an EVO II and an EVO III, with mild chassis improvements and bumps in power, up to 270 horsepower for the III. Although EVOs 1 through 3 created a huge following for themselves, the Lancer Evolution’s true global stage was to be set by the all-new EVO IV.
For 1996, Mitsubishi released this all-new Lancer and with it, the next Evolution. The new platform now encompassed extra bracing, new technologies including active yaw control, and far more. The result was a slightly heavier Lancer EVO but this was offset with another output increase to the tune of 276 horsepower.
Mitsubishi, with Tommi Mäkinen at the wheel, won the 1996 WRC championship with an EVO III. However, it was with the EVO IV, the first to include Active Yaw Control (AYC) that the same driver took the top podium set on nine separate occasions in 1997. In 1998, it was much the same as both driver and car (EVO IV and EVO V) were all but unstoppable.
The Lancer EVO V was a considerably upgraded EVO IV despite being produced for only one year. One element that stands out was the large fog lights that would come to visually define the car. Along with the lights, this EVO grew in capability and power. The EVO VI, designed by Ralliart, was once more upgraded mostly for durability. It also marked the end of the Mitsubishi/Mäkinen era which concluded with a Tommi Mäkinen Edition.
The 2001 Mitsubishi Lancer EVO VII ushered the 4-door super sports car into a new epoch. The new larger platform permitted Mitsubishi to now integrate all of its technical know-how and make this EVO even better at going fast in all conditions. It was still powered by a turbocharged 276 horsepower 2.0-litre engine but now featured an active center differential, and limited-slip differentials at both ends. This is the car Paul Walker famously drove in 2 Fast 2 Furious.
The EVO VIII and EVO IX are the Lancer Evolution versions that enforced the car’s dominance among all sport compact cars. Various trims and versions of these cars now regularly featured components from Bilstein, Brembo, Recaro, Enkei, BBS, and all of this brought the car out of the near-underground into the mainstream.
The EVO VIII was the first to land in the US and following the movie, it’s clout and fame reached new heights. And although Top Gear had driven EVOs before, a 2004 episode which featured an EVO VIII (an FQ 400 available from Ralliart UK) vs. a Lamborghini Murciélago, at least in my opinion, lifted Mitsubishi Lancer EVO to super-stardom.
Now with 286 horsepower from its boosted 2.0-litre engine, the EVO IX once more promised affordable super-car busting performance. It became a favorite not only for performance enthusiasts and tuners, but handily dethroned the Subaru WRX STI as the hottest compact car in the land. With its 6-speed manual transmission, and active center differential, the EVO IX could hit 60 mph (96 km/h) in as little as 4.2 seconds. It was mighty.
Then came the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X, the first EVO for Canada. It arrived for the 2008 model year and was to be the climax, the ultimate EVO now that Mitsubishi had more than 20 years of experience in building this car. The EVO X was and wasn’t. Power was not an issue the same 2.0-litre now delivering 291 horsepower. It still featured a fully tricked out AWD system (S-AWC) and as always, it could be driven in a point-and-squirt manner and as hard as the driver dared. This was a dedicated high-speed track car, and it was brilliant.
The two main versions were the GSR and the MR. If you wanted a manual gearbox, the GSR delivered 5 forward gears, and not 6, which was available with the MR EVO IX. The transmission’s gearing was setup for acceleration, as the ratios were close. This meant that cruising on the highway in 5th gear kept engine revs at an uncomfortably high level. The other downside was that at about 110 km/h, a gentle throttle dip would see speeds increase to 145-150 km/h in a matter of seconds. The driving experience was, in a word, sharp. But tiring as well.
The MR, the more civilized MR, included a 6-speed TC-SST (twin-clutch) transmission which was far more at ease on the highway. It also featured Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers, leather seats and it was the faster of the two EVOs. And honestly, it wasn’t the EVO the market wanted exactly. It’s possible the folks at Mitsubishi intended to cater to older buyers with this iteration, at the expense of diehard and typically broke fanboys and fangirls. It was still epically gifted at carving corners.
The EVO X remained in production longer than any other before it and although it was an exceptionally fast and competent car, and that all those who got to drive it loved it, I suspect that true enthusiasts wanted a 6-speed manual in both iterations. I guess nothing can be perfect. By 2015, the Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X’s time had run its course. Only 1,600 Final Edition models were sold, based off the GSR, and all got a power boost to 303 horsepower and 305 lb.-ft. of torque.
For many, when the EVO was removed from Mitsubishi’s lineup, the light, the fire beneath the brand went with it. In the years since, rumours have circulated about Mitsubishi bringing the Evolution back to market however the current climate and financial situation at the Nissan-Renault-Alliance certainly does not seem conducive to its return.