The Evolution VIII fully lives up to its name by being a very obvious development of the Evo VII, with only minor changes being made both inside and out. Look round the outside and the biggest, most obvious change is that new front end with its corporate pointy nose, which not only makes the car look more aggressive but also improves both cooling and aerodynamics. At the back end there are some revised lights along with that feature you can always count on with Evo development – a new rear wing - this having a narrower, carbon fibre blade.
Take a look inside and things are again much the same as the Evo VII, with changes largely limited to revised inserts in the middle of that black plastic dashboard. Previously the top insert housed both stereo and heater controls, whereas now the controls for the new air conditioning system are sited in the lower insert to provide space in the top one for the optional built-in satnav screen.
Take a look under the bonnet and – um – can’t spot any changes at all there. Actually, there are some, even if you can’t see them, with Mitsubishi having further developed the 4G63 engine, which comes with yet another redesigned turbocharger and inlet manifold plus the inevitable larger intercooler. And guess what? Yep, quoted power output of the standard version is still exactly the same 276bhp as the previous version. And the one before that. And the one before that. And, er, the one before that. Hmm. Quoted torque’s gone up though, from 282 lb ft at 3,500rpm to 289 lb ft at 3,500rpm, so those changes weren’t a complete waste of time...
But if ‘only 276bhp’ (honest guv) isn’t enough for you, worry not, because as with the Evo VII, Mitsubishi UK are offering a factory approved upgraded FQ-300 version which produces what they coyly describe as ‘in excess of 300bhp’. They’re equally vague about the torque, though admit it is ‘exceeding 300 lb ft’. At 4,500rpm. Or thereabouts.
They will say for certain that the new gearbox has exactly six forward gears, which is one more than on previous models. This isn’t just an overdrive cog added to the old gearbox either, but a whole new set of close ratios with the new top gear being only slightly higher than the old one, while first is now slightly lower, as is the final drive.
While they were fiddling in that general area, Mitsubishi’s engineers also had another fiddle with the Evo’s computer controlled four wheel drive system, revising both the rear LSD and the trick ACD (Active Centre Differential) introduced on the Evo VII. And while the Evo VII had AYC (Active Yaw Control) the Evo VIII has Super AYC, which can transfer twice the torque of the previous system, the advantage being, Mitsubishi say, that it reduces understeer - remember that.
One long overdue change for a car that only averages around 20mpg is that the previous Evos’ pathetically small 48 litre fuel tank has been replaced by one holding a slightly less pathetic 55 litres. The other annoyance that remains is that Mistsubishi have retained the light switch on the end of the indicator stalk that you switch off when operating the indicators during frantic roundabout moments.
More usefully, the suspension has been given a slight dose of lowering, but while it might be lower it’s certainly no softer as the first bump you hit in town makes blatantly obvious. And the second thing that hitting bumps in town makes blatantly obvious is that Mitsubishi haven’t cured the Evo’s tendency to kangaroo over rough ground at low speeds.
But you’re not really interested in what it’s like at low speeds are you? And yes, that was a rhetorical question...
What you will be interested in is that according to Mitsubishi’s unconfirmed timings, the FQ-300 featured here will do 0-62 in just 4.9 seconds as opposed to 5.1 seconds for the previous version, though top speed is still limited to the same 157mph. But you don’t need confirmed figures from a timing device to know that this car is massively quick – you just have to drive it. Admittedly it’s no quicker than your mum’s shopping car below 3,000rpm, but get the engine spinning in the 3,000-7,000rpm range where the turbo earns its keep and the FQ’s performance is simply awesome.
What’s more, keeping the engine in that range is easy thanks to those close ratios in that new six speed gearbox, and while the gearchange on this has come in for criticism from some people, I really don’t know why. Admittedly a few early attempts at rapid cross gate changes resulted in a box full of neutrals, but twig to the fact that the gearlever is heavily sprung for the middle gears and work with it and you’ll find the gearchange to be quick, slick and precise.
Now then, remember that bit about reducing understeer? Can’t say I ever found understeer to be a problem on the Evo VII, though admittedly I was somewhat preoccupied with power oversteer. Undoubtedly my fondest memory of the Evo VII is the way in which you can easily be a hooligan, putting it sideways at roundabouts whenever you want and corner tail out in a perfectly safe and beautifully controllable manner. I was looking forward to more of the same with its successor. Oh dear, big disappointment, because the Evo VIII just doesn’t want to play that game.
I tried it several times on dry roundabouts and all it resulted in was – understeer. I tried it on an expanse of dirty tarmac at Pistonfest and got more understeer. I tried it on a damp roundabout and got four wheel drift. The only way I could get the back end out on tarmac was to ermm... use the handbrake. I did manage it by turning across an area of chippings leading on to that expanse of tarmac and getting heavy with the throttle, but on anything resembling decent tarmac it just did not want to go sideways. Maybe I should have tried it on the grass at Pistonfest, but somebody mentioned something about a ‘no donuts’ rule – didn’t they Ted?
Now if this makes it sound like the Evo VIII has a serious understeer problem, it hasn’t. My standard 30mph tight right hander test turned out to be even tighter than usual thanks to the Evo’s super quick steering (just over 2 turns lock to lock) and while there was a little tyre squeal there was absolutely no trace of understeer, just very neutral cornering. In fact the only times I ever got understeer were when trying to induce power oversteer, which of course effectively means using too much throttle for the turn.
I assume that the computer controlling the revised four wheel drive system basically decides that the car should not be going sideways and so shifts the power delivery between the wheels to keep it in line. Let’s face it, sideways may be the most entertaining way to go round corners, but on tarmac it’s not the quickest, and going round corners quickly is something the Evo VIII does very well. In fact Mitsubishi say that skid pans tests show the Evo VIII’s cornering limit to be 10% higher than the Evo VII.
When it comes to going round corners quickly on the road, things are undoubtedly helped by that firm suspension. Admittedly this can be a pain at low speeds round town, but the trade off is its ability to minimise pitch and wallow at high speeds, so by the time you’re doing xxxmph along a winding A road you’re no longer bothered about the bumps, just the bends, which the Evo VIII enables you to tackle with confidence. Even in tricky conditions, because the massive grip and sure footedness provided by the 235/45x17 Yokohama A046s and that four wheel drive system mean that the Evo VIII can be powered out of bends along damp twisting roads with no fear of suddenly heading backwards through the hedgerows.
Not much fear of suddenly heading forwards through them either thanks to the superb stopping power of the 320mm front/300mm rear Brembo vented discs, which come with the safety net of ABS and allow you to brake late and hard approaching bends.
Overall, while the Evo VIII might not be as much fun on the road as the Evo VII, there’s little doubt it will be quicker on the track, and that’s probably more important to Mitsubishi as they work towards their return to world rallying next year. And if driving an Evo VIII doesn’t make you smile as much as driving an Evo VII, paying for one will because it’s cheaper, with a new standard spec. Evo VIII costing £26,995 and the FQ-300 costing £28,995. Not a lot of money for what a lot of performance.
It might not like going sideways, but its sheer grip, grunt and handling make the eighth generation Evo one of the best drivers' cars on the market, and Mitsubishi have already sold nearly half of the 900 allocated for the UK, so if you fancy one, better get your order in quickly before it’s too late.
But if you are too late don’t worry – the Evo IX will be out next year...
© Copyright Graham Bell 2003
Thanks to Phil Price Rally School for special stage locations. www.philprice.co.uk