EVO VII FQ-300
Graham Bell drives the officially tuned Evo VII
Yes, it's another saloon on Pistonheads, only this time it isn't some German badged executive barge but a performance icon from the land of the rising sun - a car that, despite having four doors and a large boot, basically exists for just one purpose - to win rallies for Mitsubishi.
And during its 10 year life that's something the Lancer Evo has excelled at, partnering Tommi Makinen to four World Rally Championships and taking the laurels in numerous national series, establishing a legendary status that remains strong despite the lacklustre results of the current version.
Ah yes, the current version. Compared with the two previous versions, the Evo VII with its integrated spotlights and subtle flaring of the wings to cover the 8x17" wheels with their 235/45 Yokohama A539s looks a bit tame. But looks can be deceptive, and while it might not look as tough as the car it replaces, it is in fact tougher, the new body being 50% more rigid. And let's face it, the rear wing and 5" tailpipe still make it pretty obvious that this is no family runabout.
The new body's more conservative styling has helped improve the Evo's aerodynamics, and even though it's bigger (wider track, longer wheelbase) and stronger, it's also lighter than the previous body. As for what's underneath that new body, well that's basically the same as before only better.
You can't tell by looking, but the familiar 4G63 engine now has hollow camshafts and magnesium cam cover to reduce weight. More obvious is that it now draws cold air from under the front edge of the bonnet, which along with a redesigned turbo and inlet manifold plus enlarged intercooler helps improve its performance.
In standard form the Evo VII has a very useful 276bhp, but there are always those who want more power (who said Pistonheads readers?) so for them Mitsubishi's UK preparation centre at Bristol make the FQ-300, which produces - go on, take a guess - 305bhp. Suppose they thought FQ-305 just didn't have the right ring to it. And in case you're wondering what the FQ stands for, the lady at Mitsubishi's press office might be too polite to say it, but the fact is it stands for ing Quick. Because it is. Mitsubishi give an unconfirmed 0-62 figure of 5.1 seconds, while top speed is limited to 157mph. Well, the speedo only goes round to 160…
Surprisingly, this extra power comes from simply fitting a more efficient 75mm exhaust system from the catalyst back, along with a unique high flow panel air filter. The engine management chip is unchanged. In addition to the power hike, maximum torque is also boosted from 282lb/ft to 300lb/ft with a similar 10% increase throughout the range from 3,000rpm upwards, with the turbo coming in earlier too.
Not surprisingly, this power is still fed through all four wheels, though again things have been improved, the previous model's Active Yaw Control (AYC) being joined by a new Active Centre Differential (ACD) with both AYC and ACD being governed by the same computer to provide an integrated drive control system. AYC compensates for differences in power delivery between the rear wheels to control yaw through bends, while ACD maintains the 50/50 front/rear drive split for improved acceleration and stability on varied surfaces or when cornering. What does that mean in plain terms? Fantastic traction off the line and loads of fun at roundabouts. More on that later…
The Evo VII also has what Mitsubishi term 'low slung suspension' which in more detail consists of MacPherson struts with inverted dampers, alloy suspension arms and anti-roll bar at the front and a multi-link set up with alloy arms and anti-roll bar at the rear. Interestingly, Mitsubishi's press spec sheet makes no mention of springs, and if you tried the standard MOT test of pushing down on the corners you might wonder if any were actually fitted because the car just doesn't budge.
It's Hard, It's Black and it's Made of Plastic
Along with the new body comes a new interior - though not one that's likely to stop criticism of Evo interiors being downmarket. There's a padded top to the dash and doors plus some flocked inserts in the door panels, but in the main the door panels, centre console and dashboard are all hard black plastic. Things are jazzed up slightly in the FQ-300 with a suitably monogrammed carbon-fibre dash insert in place of the standard 'evolution' badged one made of - er - black plastic.
OK, so the Evo's interior might not be luxurious, but it's certainly practical, with plenty of stowage space in the centre console, door pockets and glove box. Roomy too, the five inches of surplus headroom and three inches of extra seat travel available with my average size frame indicating that it should easily accommodate drivers who are somewhat on the long side. But don't even consider it if you're somewhat on the wide side, because even for average types those heavily bolstered Recaros (new for the Evo VII) are decidedly snug.
The steering column adjusts for height but not reach, and just two turns of that airbagged Momo takes you from lock to lock. This well-weighted super-quick steering is a pleasure to use, though as is often the case with power assisted set ups, it doesn't transmit as much feedback from the road as one might like.
No such problem with the suspension though, which faithfully transmits the feeling of every change in road surface up through the seat to your bum, and considering how hard that suspension is, the ride is pretty good so long as you avoid potholes and the like. More important for the likes of us is that it really lets you feel what the car is doing and keeps roll and wallow to a minimum when you're pushing it through the bends.
Entering the Turbo Zone
When it comes to pushing it in a straight line, nothing exciting happens until just under 3,000rpm, when a whine from beneath the bonnet announces that you've just entered the Turbo Zone…
Once in the Turbo Zone the FQ-300 turns into a storming supercar with enough acceleration to blur the world around it, and with peak torque at 4,500rpm and maximum power at 6,500rpm, the further into the Turbo Zone you go, the more blurred your surroundings become. Keep the FQ-300 deep in the Turbo Zone as you go up through the slick shifting five speed box and your speed's way beyond the outer limits before you know it.
Naturally a powerful car needs powerful brakes, the Evo's 320mm front/302mm rear vented discs (clamped by 4 pot and 2 pot alloy callipers respectively) coming from Brembo. Although lacking initial bite, they produced sufficient deceleration during a full-on high speed brake test to subject the underside of the car to a noisy barrage as it catapulted forward all the gravel the car had collected during earlier acceleration tests.
Which brings us back to that trick four-wheel drive system. As mentioned earlier, this provides fantastic traction off the line and the ACD even has different settings for tarmac, gravel or snow. I tried the gravel setting on a section of broken surfaced concrete that was covered with the stuff, and even though it was like driving on marbles the Evo still launched with enough acceleration to push me back into the seat.
Then there's that other aspect of the four-wheel drive system mentioned earlier. Roundabouts provide a great way of seeing how a car handles at the limit without having to use stupid speeds, and car no I've tested has been more benignly entertaining in its behaviour than the Evo. Thanks to that four-wheel drive system it's just so well balanced and confidence inspiring that you push it round (and round) every clear tight open roundabout in second with the engine in the Turbo Zone just to see what it'll do.
The usual situation once your speed has overcome the grip of the Yokohamas is that it adopts a nicely balanced four-wheel drift, with AYC and ACD ensuring all four tyres are working equally to pull you round. However, if you really want to play, wind on a bit more lock, apply some more power and you can get the back end out. At that point you can simply balance it on the steering and throttle safe in the knowledge that the Evo's taut chassis, super-quick steering and trick four-wheel drive system will easily enable you to adjust its attitude and place it just where you want with no risk of major dramas. Chews up the outside edge of the nearside tyres something rotten, but hell it's fun.
Of course it's not all roses. The Evo can be prone to embarrassing kangarooing when setting off, the rotating light switch on the end of the indicator stalk is too easy to turn off when operating the indicators, and if you drive it in a suitably enthusiastic way it has a voracious thirst for super unleaded, which with the fuel tank holding only 48 litres means lots of stops. However, these are minor niggles that any Pistonhead would gladly live with in a car that drives like this one does.
I'd never even sat in an Evo before testing this one, but now I can see why it's so highly rated. It provides fantastic performance for a car costing £29,995 (£31,449 for the FQ-300) - and the way its four-wheel drive system enables you to slide it around under complete control can make even an average driver feel as good as Tommi Makinen. In a championship winning year.