Mitsu had brought along a variety of flavors for us to check out, from the comfort-biased base model EVO IX, to the track-ready RS, plus the all-encompassing MR, and then adding to the glee of all the journalists on-hand we were given virtually unlimited track time on the aforementioned racecourse. Kudos to Mitsubishi for understanding that it takes more than three laps (which is sometimes all a given manufacturer will allow) to get a feel for the track let alone to figure out how the car is going to manage its varied sets of corners, undulating sections and straights. We were offered the same respect when the EVO VIII MR was launched in Vancouver the year before, although the track available to us was nowhere near as enjoyable as Portlands.
Before I get into the on-course details, I need to mention how much more I like the new cars styling. OK, its still hardly a head turner from the back even with its modified rear bumpers, although I suppose it causes its fair share of rubbernecking thanks to that gargantuan rear wing that makes those who arent in the know shake their heads in disbelief, wondering what its all for. You and I realize, however, that it actually is critically important on this vehicle, harnessing its power by pressing its tail to the road at high speeds. The taillights are still pretty frumpy, however, and despite its restyled grille (that looks rather menacing) and reworked front bumper that allows greater cooling performance and high aerodynamic qualities, its general shape is about as thrilling as a... Subaru Impreza WRX STi. Yes, its exciting to stare at only because I know what it can do, kind of like meeting Mitsubishis unimposing world rally driver Fumio Nutahara, or for that matter his boyish teammate, Simone Campedelli.
So what can it do? Pretty well run circles around anything in most classes, let alone its entry-level compact sedan segment. Sure, its entry price is hardly entry-level, so we should expect something brilliant, but most are shocked at just how gloriously balanced the EVO is. Again, those whove had the opportunity to wring its neck on a backcountry road or, better yet, a racetrack like PIR, will often choose the EVO as their favorite four-door ride.
For instance, I was down in Las Vegas this week, not to attend SEMA, although I would have loved to have had time to do so, but to test drive Lotus new Exige S and the updated 2007 Elise, and when asking Matt Becker (who might have the best job in the world as test driver for Lotus) what some of his favorite cars were other than those made by Lotus (regarding his credibility to answer this question, the Elise and Exige are two of the best handling cars anywhere, for any price and he helped to developed them) and he gave me that all-knowing, almost reverent smile when the EVO came up in conversation. Its a regular favorite when a bunch of journalists contemplate the subject (in case you were wondering what gearhead writers talk about on their way to and from the airport or over dinner).
Although Im going to wait a few more days for the Lotus hired-gun photographers pictures to arrive before I share my feelings about the new Exige S (OK, I cant wait... its freakin amazing!), although not as long as Ive kept my thoughts on the EVO IX to myself, it was this conversation with Matt that reminded me that I needed to cover this car before the EVO X arrives (whenever that will actually happen).
Mitsubishis been pretty smart in packaging its latest EVO, by causing potential buyers to get wrapped up in choosing which specific EVO trim level they want, rather than whether they want an EVO or something else, like a Subaru WRX STi or even a VW GTI R32. Its the first rule in sales. When setting up an appointment, you dont ask a prospect if or when theyd like to have a meeting, but you force them to choose between two or three potential dates. With the EVO IX, Mitsubishi wants you to choose from the three flavors I mentioned earlier, rather than have you look for a more luxurious or, on the other side of the equation, a more track-ready competitor.
To go over the three EVO IX designations again, the first is the more comfort-oriented EVO IX, which features Mitsubishis fabulous active differential. ACD disengages the differential during extremely tight corners in order to maintain optimal traction. Why is this needed? Well, the outside wheels of any car inherently roll faster than the inside wheels, which causes a four-wheel drive system to break grip in order to compensate. ACD maximizes adhesion by momentarily cutting off power to the four-wheel drive system. The regular EVO IX also features active yaw control and sport-tuned ABS, for optimal control in less than ideal conditions. Additionally, it gets a 6-speed manual, making the most of the powerful MIVEC variable valve timing enhanced 4G63 2.0-litre intercooled and turbocharged four-cylinder, which incidentally makes the same 286 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque, up from 274-hp and 295 lb-ft of torque last year, in all trim levels.
Next on the list is the motorsport-specification RS, which sports a special lightweight body, a new titanium-magnesium turbocharger, 5-speed gearbox and ACD making the most of the Yokohama Advan tires, as well as mechanical rear limited-slip differential (LSD) all-wheel control. Some will balk at the LSD system, but when testing this one on the makeshift autocross course at the centre of the track, it constantly produced better times than either the six-speed equipped regular IX or for that matter the MR.
Yes, I suppose my personal favorite was once again EVO IX MR, which combines the edginess of the RS with the regular IXs drivetrain specification and comfort-bias body plus enhanced sound deadening.
As with previous EVOs, owners can customize their cars to individual tastes with a comprehensive range of factory- and dealer-fitted options, plus Ralliart tuning and cosmetic parts, which makes choosing between the three models even more difficult.