Photos: Mitsubishi. Click image to enlarge
By Laurance Yap
New York, New York – There were many questions I could have asked Rich Gilligan, who now heads up Mitsubishi’s North American team. I could have asked him how the company’s revitalization plan – a strategy to turn around the business and stem the flow of red ink in the next couple of years – is going. I could have asked him about future product, or how he expects the new Eclipse and Raider to do. But all I really wanted to know was when the Evo is finally going to make it to Canada.
Turns out the answer is “not quite yet.”
Which is a shame, because Mitsubishi launched the latest version of its legendary Lancer Evolution at the recent New York auto show. The Evolution IX is, as its name has always suggested, an evolution of the Evolution (an evo of the Evo, so to speak) that came before it: a little bit faster, with a little more visual aggression, more technology, and feature content. And like every Evolution that has gone before, it will remain off-limits to Canada, at least for now.
Officially, the reason the Evo IX isn’t coming to Canada is the same as before. Its intercooler, mounted down in the bottom half of the front bumper, is vulnerable to damage in our 8 km/h frontal crash tests, which stipulate that a car should be able to hit something at that speed and not be damaged. The same test in the States is less stringent. One wonders, though, how difficult it would have been to reinforce the Evo’s bumper to meet the requirement. Audi still slaps a set of bumper extenders on every TT that comes to Canada, and the Dodge SRT-4, which has a similar intercooler installation and (at least visually) similarly short front bumper, is sold here without any problems.
Mitsubishi, a company that’s coming back from the brink of financial hardship, probably could make the Evo legal in Canada, but it would not be without risk. Canada’s a notoriously value-oriented car market, and sales volume for a $40,000 import hot rod with a big wing and performance tires would probably be fairly low and probably not enough to justify the cost, especially when Subaru’s WRX and STi have had this market to themselves for a few years already. Conversely, the fact that Subaru managed to shift over 1,000 of them (325 of which were the $50,000 STi) would suggest there would be room for Mitsubishi to sell a couple of hundred Evos at least, establishing a beachhead in the performance-car market and lifting the image of the overall brand as a whole.
That would be especially true if they brought the Evo along in three versions, like it is sold in the States. The new 286 hp Evolution IX (a 20-plus horsepower increase over the previous Evo) is still available in three trim levels: a base RS version with basic cloth seats and radio-less interior that is designed to be stripped out and raced; a standard Evolution IX with power goodies, Recaro seats, rear spoiler, and audio system; and an uplevel Evo IX MR which is the refined, touring-grade Evo. It’s just as fast as the other models, but contains more creature comforts, has a better-finished interior with high-end sound, and Bilstein shock absorbers which ride more smoothly than the other versions’ standard suspension.
Other than that, the three new Evos’ mechanical spec is pretty similar: the engine is a basic 2.0-litre four-cylinder with a big whacking turbocharger strapped to it. In the RS and basic Evo, it drives all four wheels through a five-speed manual that, if my previous experience in a couple of 2003 Evos is any indication, is one of the nicest in the business. Where the three models vary is in the tuning of the all-wheel-drive system. The RS features a helical limited-slip front differential to better get the power to the ground (though it also creates more torque steer); the Evo has an open front diff; and the MR not only features a switchable Active Yaw Control system with settings for gravel, tarmac, and snow, but also a six-speed in place of the five-speed. All models have 17-inch alloy wheels (BBS on the MR), Brembo four-wheel disc brakes, and ABS.
Other than the extra power and some improved suspension tuning, there isn’t much to distinguish the new Evos from their forebears. They still look like Lancers on steroids, but in a good way. Their interiors have been upgraded with higher-quality trim, particularly in the Evo MR, but are still fairly plasticky and dim (especially in the instrument panel) for cars this expensive – the bare-bones RS goes for around $27,000 (U.S.), while the Evo is around $30,000 and the MR a couple thousand more than that.
Still, I can tell you from experience that a drive in an Evo is one of the finest experiences in the automotive world. It’s a combination of the car’s amazing capabilities – its speed, its grip, and nimble handling balance – combined with the fact that, at heart, it’s still basically an economy car. An Evo is a real testament to the basic Lancer’s inherent toughness and ability, as well as a legitimate performance vehicle in its own right.
And it really hurts that we can’t have it here.