MITSUBISHI LANCER EVOLUTION IX FQ-340
Revised suspension and engine make Mitsu’s latest Evo the best yet, as Andrew Noakes discovers
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX FQ-340
All sorts of things have inspired names for performance cars over the years, from animals and winds to exotic locations, mythical beasts and motor racing personalities. But if the Lancer Evo IX and its eight predecessors are anything to go by, whoever chooses the names at Mitsubishi is a fan of Limahl and Men Without Hats, and thus has a complete collection of Now That’s What I Call Music albums.
At first glance the latest Evo looks much the same as the Evo VIII. Externally there’s nothing to see except a new front grille/bumper moulding, 10-spoke Enkei wheels in place of the old six-spoke rims and an increment to the Roman numerals on the bootlid. But beneath the funky new colours are a series of improvements which together make the Evo IX a far more convincing car than its predecessor.
The IX inherits weight-saving features from the limited-edition Evo VIII MR, including an aluminium alloy roof (which saves 4kg) and side-impact bars (saving another 3.5kg). More importantly the alloy roof lowers the Evo’s centre of gravity, apparently having the same effect as lowering the roof height by 50mm. A tyre re-inflation kit replaces the spare wheel, and even the carbon-fibre rear wing, introduced on the Evo VIII, has been on a diet: it’s now hollow, saving another precious few ounces.
Underpinnings and motivation
Nordschleife-honed Bilstein suspension is a development of that first seen in the MR. There’s no change to the basic layout, with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear end, but the rear springs are now shorter to improve stability and give the Super AYC yaw-control system, which transfers torque across the rear differential to kill any understeer, a chance to do its job. The Evo IX uses the MR’s four-wheel drive control strategy which continues to manage the centre differential and yaw control when the ABS system is in operation. That means a press-on driver can now use the brakes to alter the attitude of the car.
The engine is the 1997cc 4G63 in-line four which has been around since 1987, but now carrying MIVEC variable inlet valve timing which improves fuel economy and top-end power. It also cleans up the engine’s emissions, which means smaller cats are needed, and Mitsubishi claims that these help to improve low-rev throttle response.
The addition of intake temperature and pressure sensors allows the ECU to more precisely control fuelling and ignition timing, and further improvements are gained by lengthening the diffuser in the turbocharger’s compressor housing, which boosts low-end torque. As a result, the ‘basic’ FQ-300 generates up to 305bhp and 297lb ft, while the FQ-320 has 326bhp and 305lb ft thanks to freer-breathing induction and exhaust systems developed by Ralliart and HKS.
The top-spec FQ-340 we’ve just been tossed the keys to is basically the same, but with remapped fuelling and ignition which pushes maximum power up to 345bhp at 6800rpm and peak torque to 321lb ft at a high 4600rpm.
Behind the wheel
Settle behind the wheel and there’s little to tell you that this is an Evo IX rather than an Evo VIII. Purposeful controls like the mode selector for the centre differential, and the six-speed gearchange gate, are clues that this is more than just a roomy family saloon. There’s a chunky Momo wheel and shoulder-hugging Recaros with leather and Alcantara trim but, if cabin ambience is what you’re after, your £32,999 (the same price as the outgoing Evo VIII) is better spent elsewhere.
On the other hand, if performance is your priority, this is a pretty good place to spend it. From 3,000rpm, the turbo four pulls with real authority round to the red sector of the tacho beginning at 7,000rpm, and the narrower gaps between gears in the six-speed box make it easy to keep the turbo spinning.
All three Evo IXs will rocket to 60mph from rest in under five seconds, and Mitsubishi estimates the FQ-340’s time at 4.3sec. A good track surface and a cold day might see it get there even quicker, and it’s still impressive even when conditions aren’t perfect. Full-bore standing starts in the wet spin all four wheels if you try hard enough, but even then the Evo does not deviate from the chosen line.
Add bends to the equation and the Evo IX plays its trump card, the revised Bilstein suspension. Mitsubishi isn’t letting on, but I suspect the spring rates are softer and the damping stiffer than before. While the stiff-riding Evo VIII was unpredictable at best on a bumpy road, the Evo IX seems to take every sort of surface in its stride. Bumps do little to upset its composure in mid-corner, and neither does a prod of the right foot to deploy the mountain of mid-range torque. Driver confidence is further boosted by the talkative steering: the four-wheel drive chassis does its work and you can feel power feeding through to the front wheels, yet the helm never fights in your hands.
Like Now That’s What I Call Music the Evo IX has an impressive array of talents, but also some notable flaws. Drive-train shunt as you come off the throttle makes it impossible to drive smoothly in stop-start traffic. The throaty exhaust note is purposeful rather than inspiring and, though the noise level at full chat is fair enough, the Evo could profitably be quieter when ambling. And like many a big in-line four it suffers from an over-run boom, in this case at about 3,500rpm, which limits its ability to cruise in comfort. But it has to be said that few Evo owners are likely to care.
The latest Evo is the fastest, and the best, of a line which began back in 1992, and it won’t be the last. Already we’ve seen a concept version of the next-generation Evo X, which is expected some time in 2007 and is said to be ‘radically different’. At the last count NTWICM was up to edition 61, which gives Mitsubishi something to shoot for.
Who knows how many more Evos there might be?