Evolution of the Evo


Images: Mitsubishi Press

Evolution is the right word. The look of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution has nothing whatsoever to do with latte-sipping men in black rollnecks and everything to do with dirty-handed blokes in overalls.

This purposeful product started as a porridge, three-box Japanese saloon with a wing and got progressively more steroidal as its power multiplied. It has always been as ugly as it is fast, but like a broken nose or a cauliflower ear its deformities have always signalled its intentions and been part of its appeal.

The Evo was actually an evolution from the Colt 2000 Turbo (above), whose badge it wore at the beginning of the journey in 1981. The looks have a clear link to the Evo, but the engine is the real bond; this was the first to use the legendary, endlessly-tunable 4G63 2-litre turbo four which would remain an Evo constant until the introduction of the Evo X in 2007. It made around 168bhp here, but eventually would be stretched to over 800bhp. Mirror-script lettering on the front spoiler – ‘Turbo 2000’ in this case – urgently needs to make a comeback.

Evo I
Built as the basis of the World Rally Car, and the first to carry the Evo name and number. Arrived in Japan in 1992, making around 240bhp. The II and III were pretty similar (to non-Evo geeks, anyway).

Evo anoraks take note: what follows is just a few of our personal highlights, and not an exhaustive history.

Evo V
The Evo IV introduced in 1996 was an all-new car and the basis of the Evo V and VI, but it was these later cars that started to arrive in Europe in numbers, first from grey importers and, eventually, officially through Mitsu’s importers here. Sparked the Evo-Impreza wars that dominated car magazine covers in the late nineties and early noughties.

Another all-new car in 2001; it was heavier but kept getting quicker and cleverer. The short-lived GTA automatic version – which came with an auto gearbox and could be specified with a luxury leather interior, chrome door handles and without a wing, was a personal lowlight. Deservedly rare.

Evo VIII FQ400
Having resisted importing the Evo for too long, the UK distributor then embraced it a bit too enthusiastically with the FQ – or effing quick – series. It was an extraordinary name for a big corporation to give a car, but it was an extraordinary car. It was hard-tuned Evo with a warranty that you could order from a showroom; as the name suggests it had 400bhp and could nut out a three-second 60mph dash. With 200bhp per litre, very regular servicing was essential.

Evo X
All change, again. This time the Evo gets a bespoke body, its looks defined by fancy designers in Europe but with due deference shown to the past. All change under the bonnet too: emissions regs finally killed the 4G63, but the 4B11 is a worthy replacement and proved robust enough for the loons at Mitsu UK to offer another FQ400. The SST sequential-manual gearbox is the other big departure.

Evo XI?
Um, not sure yet. The Evo X will be discontinued from March and there’s no clear plan from Mitsu on what will assume the Evo name, but rumours from the Tokyo motor show suggest it will be a long wait and it won’t be turbocharged saloon. Something green seems the best bet, possibly usng the in-wheel electric motors Mitsu has been experimenting with for a while. So lots of torque and four wheel-drive still…