Mitsubishi puts the Lancer through another Evolution with a few tweaks and tricks borrowed from its rally technology to create a street rocket
The smooth new face of pure Evo Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII -- PHOTO: MITSUBISHI

LAST month in Japan, Mitsubishi officially launched the Lancer Evolution VII, the latest in the line of Mitsubishi's awesome, rally-bred giant-killers.

The new Evo VII, like the six Evo cars before it, will have been created for one purpose: to bring Mitsubishi's rally technology to the road.

The Evolution is meant to be a roadgoing companion to the Group A rally cars to be raced by the Mitsubishi Ralliart works team in the second half of this year's World Rally Championship, and its on-paper specifications point to a devastatingly fast machine.

As before, the heart of the car is its 2-litre turbocharged engine, a development of the 4G63 unit from the Evo VI (itself a refinement of the engine used in the very first Lancer Evolution of 1992).

Although power output remains unchanged at 280 bhp, the Evo VII's engine has more mid-range pulling power than before, with no less than 350 Nm of torque between 2,750 rpm and 5,500 rpm, with a peak of 383 Nm at 3,500 rpm.

That makes the engine as grunty as a 4-litre V8, and should endow the car with fearsome acceleration combined with breathtaking overtaking ability.

The engine tweaks that bring about the increase in torque include a reworked intake system that is 20 per cent freer-flowing, a reworked turbo that spools up faster, and an intercooler with a 20 mm wider core.

The water-spray system for the intercooler now has three nozzles instead of two, and allows both manual and automatic operation. A larger oil cooler enhances heat extraction by 15 per cent.

Exhaust back-pressure has also been reduced by the use of straighter pipes, as well as a clever two-mode muffler with a variable valve that closes for low noise emissions at low revs, and opens up for maximum exhaust flow at high revs.

The end result is more useable power across the engine's rev band.

To cope with the extra torque, the gearbox has been uprated as well, with a beefed-up clutch and gears made of stronger materials.

First gear has also been shortened, giving the car quicker acceleration off the line than before.

Sprinting to 100 kmh in less than five seconds should be no problem for the Evo VII.

At the same time, fifth gear is taller than on the previous car, allowing for quieter cruising and lower highway fuel consumption.

Helping to put the tremendous power down onto the road cleanly is a new all wheel-drive set-up with an Active Centre Differential (ACD) system that works in tandem with the Evo's existing Active Yaw Control system. When the Evo slows for a corner from high speed, the centre differential locks up progressively to keep the car stable as it decelerates, while the AYC directs torque to the inside rear wheel to reduce the chances of a tail slide.

As the car enters the corner, the centre differential increases slippage according to how much and how rapidly the steering wheel is turned, helping to sharpen steering response.

Simultaneously, the AYC directs torque to the outside rear wheel in order to reduce understeer.

When the driver exits the corner, the centre differential locks up again progressively, for added traction and a quick, clean getaway.

The ACD is capable of other tricks as well. Should the driver yank on the handbrake, it disconnects drive to the rear wheels, allowing them to lock up for easier handbrake turns.

It also features a switch that allows the driver to choose between three modes of operation for tarmac, gravel and snowy conditions.

The Evo VII's suspension system carries over the MacPherson strut and double wishbone set-ups for the front and rear respectively, but spring and damper rates have all been revised in view of the car's larger dimensions.

The range-topping GSR version also has a wider track than the Tommi Makinen Edition of the Evolution VI, and wears fat, sticky 235/45ZR17 tyres on all four wheels.

The Brembo brakes of the Evo VI are also carried over, but the new car has a larger brake servo, as well as cooling ducts in front to reduce the chances of brake fade. A new anti-lock system also uses information from steering angle sensors to apportion braking forces in order to keep the car from running wide if the driver stomps on the anchors in the middle of a corner.

Then there is the styling. At first glance, the looks of the Evolution VII seem disappointingly tame in comparison to its predecessor, which had bulged wheel arches and a huge, shovel-like chin.

The new car's lines are altogether smoother, its styling far more restrained.

The singularity of purpose remains, though. The rear wing may be simpler than before, but it weighs less and the element that reduces lift to stabilise the rear-end is larger.

There is also an undertray that covers the bottom of the engine bay, reducing aerodynamic drag while cutting lift, keeping the nose of the car better planted at high speed. Among the more obsessive measures are hollow camshafts and the use of magnesium instead of aluminium for the engine cam cover.

The sum total of all that attention to detail is a street rocket that should be one of the fastest ways to get from point-to-point on the road.

The best news is, the Evo VII is headed your way. It could be on sale as early as May this year, although a spokesperson from Cycle & Carriage is quick to stress that a later launch date is possible, while the company hammers out the details with Mitsubishi in Japan.

Although final allocation and pricing details are still being negotiated, the Evolution VII is likely to be available here in the stripped-out RS or top-of-the-line GSR versions, with seven colours to choose from.

Tentatively, Cycle & Carriage says the car should cost about $190,000 with COE, at today's COE prices and currency values.