Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. The ‘Evo’. Legend. Cult car. Bona-fide heroicism. Its nameplate spans a quarter century across ten generations, producing an armada of rally-bred road-going sport sedans – and the occasional wagon – with stove-hot performance and a mantra of giant-killing potential on a relative shoe-string budget.
Want to tyre-kick? A warning: Evo providence is a dizzying rabbit hole full of petrol hedonism. It’s a universe hard-wired for enthusiast geekery, with a history and breadth of production machinery that demands deep diving if you’re shopping for specifics.
Here, our overview blankets Evos seven (VII), eight (VIII) and nine (IX). Common is the underpinning (gen seven Lancer) CT9A platform that broadly groups the four doors – and CT9W for the wagon – as a technical generation of sorts.
The proceeding gen-six Lancer-based Evo XI/6.5 road cars, the linage’s most heroic and revered extrapolations, were hard-core Group A rally homologated. With Mitsubishi’s shift to looser WRC-based rally involvement, the VII’s arrival in 2001 introduced a new era of increasingly nicer, more well-rounded and more-sophisticated Evos base off the seventh-generation Lancer that continued through to 2007’s gen-eight-based Evo X, bringing a new engine and platform for what became go-very-fast Lancer’s swansong.
Firecracker on-boost response, pin-sharp dynamics and stunning point-to-point pace are all Evo hallmarks, retained in Evo VII guise reasonably faithfully from its manic forebear despite slightly softer and heavier execution. But unlike the 6.5 Tommi Makinen Edition, sold in Oz through Ralliart on very limited (98 units) volume, the Evo VII was never officially released locally. They’re all grey imports.
The VII is a cracker. Despite a weight spurt, the lithe all-paw sedan is renowned for its nimbleness, bringing an active centre differential and helical front differential to a thrash-fit package centred around Mitsubishi’s much-loved 4G63 turbocharged four, with 206kW and 380Nm advertised. The infamy around Japan’s domestic ‘280PS’ (206kW) ‘gentleman’s agreement’ is well documented and the Evo breed, like many turbo heroes of the times, was suspected of breaching it in certain model generations.
Brembo, Enkei, Recaro: both the road-oriented GSR and off-street-ready RS versions brought lots of name brand artillery to the proprietary Mitsubishi go-fast goodness, the lion’s share as five-speed manuals though a slushbox auto GT-A version – largely snubbed by enthusiasts – was also offered in VII guise.
Come 2004’s VIII, the Evo returned to Oz as an official release. But… Limited to 100 units annually, Australia got the Euro ‘tune’ of 195kW and 355Nm with a five-speed. Japan’s version, though, packed 206kW and 373Nm with a new six-speed. Still, its dynamic alacrity, leveraged largely through it complex active all-wheel trickery, and immediacy to march proved demonstrably quicker than its Subaru WRX STI nemeses of the time.
At $62k, the Aussie version was cheaper than the old 6.5 TME ($80k), bringing broader appeal. It had grown up, too, with less manic road manners and plusher appointments. The VIII rides nicer and is quieter, too. Today, buyers can, of course, opt for grey/SEVS import, notable higher standard performance, nicer six-speed transmissions, and either regular GSR (Grand Sport Rally) or tickled MR (Mitsubishi Racing) variants, the latter menu offering features such an alloy roof, Bilstein suspension mods, carbon trim work and various other niceties.
(There are also RS, or ‘Rally Sport’, versions, too, though as racecar donor variants these don’t comply with local road-going compliance requirements.)
True to its namesake, the IX, arriving in late 2005, was an evolution of minted formula with lots of polish and honing and few key hardware changes, other than the adoption of MIVEC valvetrain trickery for the 4G63 engine. Outputs were advertised at 214kW and 392Nm in some markets, if 206kW and 355Nm for Aussie spec. A $3700 Performance Pack, with firmer ‘race’ suspension and different wheels, was offered optionally, though buy-in for Evo was, at around $57k, around five-grand cheaper than its forebear.
Australia did, in a way, produce its own special: the Evo IX TMR 220, a juiced-up, factory warrantied version outputting 220kW (hence the name) and 400Nm from the Team Mitsubishi Ralliart skunkworks in Melbourne. Track suspension, 18s, huge brakes, it asked for a frosty $78k and targeted harder-core weekend warrior buyers and is, today, a used-car unicorn.
Something different? The IX series was the only Evo to offer a tasty wagon version, import only, in either manual or auto guise.
And that just scratches the surface when it comes to choosing a used Evo of this ‘WRC’ era. Do you want a local example, a landed ‘grey’, or import one of Japan’s myriad variants yourself. Are you after a mint original, something to mod or perhaps an example already stretching the lofty limits of Evo’s aftermarket tuned potential?
Narrowing down your preferences will surely dictate your tyre-kicking methodology. But as a general guide, the seven-to-nine linage did get progressively nicer and easier to live with, while still plying levels of pace and fun factor the Evo reputation is built upon and still thoroughly deserves today.
As for key danger signs to look out for, read on…