When the Lancer Evolution VII was revealed at the 2001 New York International Auto Show, the racecar was fitted with a 280-horsepower engine and all-wheel drive (AWD). At the time, Pierre Gagnon, American Mitsubishis president and chief operating officer, was hoping it could someday be on North American streets.
That day is coming, as a production version of the Evolution VIII debuted at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show in early January 2003. Also dubbed the Evo, the rally sports-inspired model is actually the eighth in a line of Evolution cars that first appeared in 1992. The first one competed in the World Rally Championship in Monte Carlo, Monaco, in 1993. Each prior version has been available in Japan, but the Evolution VIII will be the first one offered at U.S. dealerships.
As described by Mitsubishi, this entire family of highly developed sedans exists for the sole purpose of domination in competition. The Evolution sedan is a thoroughbred performance car that challenges enthusiast and race drivers to go fast harder, compete harder and find fulfillment behind the wheel.
The specifications have changed a bit with the emergence of the Evolution VIII sedan. Breathing through an intercooled turbocharger, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is equipped with four valves per cylinder; it makes 271 hp and works with a five-speed-manual transmission and full-time AWD. The automaker claims this car can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in just 5 seconds, after which a set of big Brembo brakes can bring it to a swift halt. Gas mileage is another bonus: 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway, according to EPA estimates. Mitsubishi credits the unibody construction for part of the Evolutions sterling performance.
The Evolution VIII went on sale in February 2003 with a starting sticker price of $28,987. Mitsubishi expects to sell about 6,500 cars per year in the United States.
The Evos styling is similar to that of the regular Mitsubishi Lancer sedan, starting with its split grille. However, the Evo adds many noticeable extras that befit its performance orientation. Widened, blistered aluminum front fenders and headlight assemblies help project a stronger appearance and improve aerodynamics. A lightweight aluminum hood with a large vent opening helps evacuate engine heat. A new bumper meets stricter front-impact requirements and is said to improve airflow and intercooler efficiency.
The horizontal and vertical wings of the rear spoiler are made entirely of carbon fiber reinforced plastic to help keep weight down. Due to additionally reinforced construction, the Lancer Evolution VIIIs torsional rigidity is said to be double that of a regular Lancer. The Lancer Evolution VIII is 178.5 inches long overall and 57.1 inches tall. Enkei alloy wheels hold 17-inch tires. High-intensity-discharge headlights have an auto-off feature. A sunroof is optional.
The Evolution VIII looks very similar on the inside as any Lancer sedan. Seating is provided for four occupants, with front Recaro bucket seats. Leather trim with black stitching is used on the three-spoke Momo steering wheel, gearshift knob and boot, and parking brake lever. Round performance gauges are illuminating full time with a red hue, and a 9,000-rpm tachometer is positioned in the center of the dashboard.
Standard equipment includes a six-speaker CD stereo system and power locks and windows. An in-dash six-CD changer will be available in April 2003.
Under the Hood
Equipped with an intercooled turbocharger, Mitsubishis 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine generates 271 hp at 6,500 rpm and 273 pounds-feet of torque at 3,500 rpm. A five-speed-manual gearbox mates with full-time AWD, and a single 4-inch tailpipe is visible at the rear.
Four-channel antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution is standard. Side-impact airbags are not available.