Wales to Ire­land

Six leg­ends vs An­gle­sey – then Evo IX drives Ire­land’s best roads

CAR (UK) - - Aftermarket - Words Ben Barry | Photography Char­lie Magee

IGH-PER­FOR­MANCE coupes, rugged tur­bod­iesel SUVs, world-beat­ing ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cials, plug-in hy­brids… in the 43 years since Mit­subishi first im­ported cars to the UK, the Ja­panese maker has sold them all. But this year ac­tu­ally marks a more sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone: it’s 100 years since Mit­subishi’s first car, the Model A of 1917. The Model A was Ja­pan’s first se­ries-pro­duc­tion car, and even then wore the dis­tinc­tive three-di­a­mond mo­tif on its nose. You’ll know Mit­subishi trans­lates as ‘three di­a­monds’ in Ja­panese, right?

Ja­pan’s first diesel en­gine and first four­wheel-drive ve­hi­cle fol­lowed in the 1930s, and in 1963 the Colt name was used for the first time. Then when Mit­subishi es­tab­lished a UK sub­sidiary in 1974, it be­came the Colt Car Com­pany and, later, the Colt be­came a sta­ple of the Mit­subishi range. The first Mit­subishi sold by the Colt Car Com­pany would in­tro­duce an­other now well es­tab­lished name: Lancer. Mit­subishi still owns the orig­i­nal press car, a two-door coupe in near-perfect con­di­tion.

The Lancer looks both alien and can’t-quite-put-your-fin­ger-on-it fa­mil­iar, with shades of Hill­man Avenger, Mk1 Es­cort and Mor­ris Ma­rina to its el­e­gant, un­adorned lines. Not nec­es­sar­ily the sex­i­est of names to drop, but all huge sell­ers – so as a kind of Tro­jan horse to give an un­fa­mil­iar mar­que a solid foot­ing over­seas, the logic was sound.

Open the driver’s door and you sit down low in black, flat vinyl seats stamped with what ap­pear to be tribal tat­toos, and you grip a thin bake­lite steer­ing wheel that frames three deeply re­cessed dials. This car feels on-point for the pe­riod: the 1.4-litre en­gine is peppy and sings tune­fully, the vari­able-ra­tio steer­ing is light, nicely weighted and feeds back faith­fully the load­ing go­ing through the front axle, and the four-speed gear­box slots through its ra­tios with a del­i­cate lit­tle clink, even if does feel like it needs an over­drive. The leaf-sprung rear gets a lit­tle bumpy on a B-road, but gen­er­ally it rides quite com­fort­ably. If I were one of the early-adopt­ing UK buy­ers, I’d have prob­a­bly felt pretty smug.

The Lancer made a con­vinc­ing case for its per­for­mance and re­li­a­bil­ity with top hon­ours at 1974’s takes-no-pris­on­ers Sa­fari Rally. And when the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Lancer ar­rived in

1979, the blood­line for what would be­come the Lancer Evo­lu­tion had al­ready be­gun, with the Lancer EX Turbo de­but­ing soon after. That car has a cult fol­low­ing to­day, but it was a dif­fer­ent kind of car that put Mit­subishi on the map for per­for­mance en­thu­si­asts: the Star­ion. In­tro­duced in 1982, at a time when Ja­panese man­u­fac­tur­ers hadn’t es­tab­lished the dis­tinc­tive breadth of de­sign lan­guage we know to­day, the Star­ion looks like Mit­subishi’s twist on the Amer­i­can mus­cle car, and that makes it in­de­cently de­sir­able. There are five-spoke 16-inch al­loys with a deeper dish on the rear, a Trans-Am T-Top-like chunk­i­ness to the B-pil­lar and wrap­around rear screen, and those pop-up head­lights gift the front some sleek lines. Above all, it’s the blis­tered arches that bulge from the body­work like Cato’s try­ing to karate chop his way out that re­ally de­fine the Star­ion – though a nar­row-body ver­sion with­out the blis­tered arches was also avail­able. In­side, op­tional black leather seats with ad­justable side bol­sters are po­si­tioned low to the floor and em­brace you snugly, and the pe­riod charm is ratch­eted up by seat­belts at­tached to the ‘power gets turbo styles, en­gine 2.6 Two and doors top four and win­dows’ dif­fer­ent to came billing (not an with a later un­usu­ally only the at 178bhp en­gines it­er­a­tion and the B-pil­lar), with cen­tre a turbo large the fit­ted were that wide switches of (for boost to of­fered, the ex­panded both body. four dash. gauge la­belled body cylin­ders) a The 2.0-litre the that 2.6 of­fered in­creas­ingly 2.0-litre more ea­ger ex­tra is widely unit; choked power in re­garded 1987, as per­for­mance, emis­sions Mit­subishi as the reg­u­la­tions sweeter, but billed the it the as road. the fastest That’s 2.0-litre the en­gine pro­duc­tion in our wide-body car on model, her­itage an­other fleet. Coded peach 4G63, plucked the from sin­gle-cam, Mit­subishi’s eight-valve en­gine is the pre­de­ces­sor to the dohc 16-valve mo­tor that pow­ers all Lancer Evo­lu­tion mod­els through to the IX. Change the oil ev­ery 3000 miles warns the sticker on the door cas­ing; let the car idle for 60 sec­onds or more after a hard drive. Those were the days. The Star­ion’s en­gine fires with a gruff, clearly tur­bocharged note, and hangs onto revs when you re­lease the throt­tle, like the rev nee­dle’s4

Years be­fore the Dis­cov­ery ar­rived the Shogun com­bined off-road and lux­ury

in zero grav­ity. Un­for­tu­nately this car isn’t quite on song, so the turbo kick that should take hold at around 2500rpm doesn’t ar­rive un­til 4500rpm. Per­haps that’s why the Star­ion feels much more GT than sports car, per­haps the slug­gish­ness ex­ac­er­bates the feel­ing of rel­a­tively soft sus­pen­sion and a ten­dency to un­der­steer; there’s cer­tainly no chance of kick­ing out the tail on the power to­day. But evoca­tive and of its era, a car to cher­ish and en­joy? I’d love one.

Was the name re­ally a mis­pro­nun­ci­a­tion of Stal­lion, as leg­end sug­gests? It’s a plau­si­ble as­sump­tion, given the Star­ion’s po­si­tion­ing as a Ja­panese Ford Mus­tang, other Mit­subishi names with an equine bent, and the horse’s head that ap­pears at the end of the pe­riod ad­vert you’ll find on YouTube. But it’s no­table that in­sid­ers put the em­pha­sis on the sec­ond syl­la­ble, and the of­fi­cial word has it that Star­ion is a con­trac­tion of Star of Orion.

Cer­tainly Mit­subishi UK took no chances with its next big hit: the Shogun. The small SUV was re­named in some mar­kets, when some­one no­ticed the orig­i­nal Pa­jero badge would cause of­fence or laugh­ter in the Span­ish lan­guage. The UK set­tled on a name that meant Ja­panese mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor: Shogun.

It’s hard to un­der­state the im­pact the Shogun made when it launched in the early 1980s. Re­li­able, well equipped and strong value, the first Mit­subishi SUV to reach the UK proved an in­stant suc­cess. Years be­fore the Land Rover Dis­cov­ery ar­rived, the Shogun com­bined rugged off-road sta­ples like body-on-frame con­struc­tion and a live rear axle with a com­par­a­tively lux­u­ri­ous cabin, power steer­ing, double-wish­bone front sus­pen­sion and a four-cylin­der tur­bod­iesel en­gine.

Though far from pi­o­neer­ing, the sawn-off shot­gun pro­por­tions and a glasshouse that’s al­most as deep as the body­work of this short-wheel­base Shogun – long-wheel­base mod­els came later – are im­me­di­ately recog­nis­able. You step up into a cabin that com­bines blue plas­tics, blue car­pet and blue velour and you set­tle down into the sprung seat, the X of the mech­a­nism com­press­ing un­der your weight, ad­justable in its cushi­ness. You no­tice the al­time­ter in the cen­tre of the dash, a gim­mick to il­lus­trate the tilt an­gle of the Shogun like a bub­ble in a spirit level, and the huge grab han­dle on the pas­sen­ger side that hints at wild off-road ex­cur­sions. But it’s the two gear levers that are re­ally sug­ges­tive of off-road prow­ess: the taller wand con­trol­ling the five-speed gear­box, its smaller sib­ling al­low­ing you to flick be­tween two- and four-wheel drive, and high and low ra­tios, just as you can in the L200 pick-up to­day.

With cushy sus­pen­sion and re­laxed power steer­ing, the Shogun isn’t in its nat­u­ral habi­tat door-han­dling around the An­gle­sey race cir­cuit, but the tur­bod­iesel pulls keenly at the kind of low revs where a Lancer Evo­lu­tion snoozes soundly, and as a daily driver to check on cat­tle, nav­i­gate a bumpy farm track and lug shop­ping back from town, it must’ve seemed a com­fort­able, ver­sa­tile all-rounder at the time. And as a retro off-roader to­day, it has bags of ap­peal.

Mit­subishi em­bel­lished the Shogun’s rep­u­ta­tion with vic­tory in the Dakar desert race in 1985, when French driver Patrick Zaniroli claimed vic­tory in Sene­gal by the mar­gin of 26 min­utes from his team-mate An­drew Cowan. Mit­subishi is Dakar’s most suc­cess­ful car maker ever, but the Lancer was also a rally favourite, syn­ony­mous with Mit­subishi mo­tor­sport cam­paigns.

De­spite stretch­ing to 10 evo­lu­tions (all de­noted by Ro­man nu­mer­als, al­most al­ways re­ferred to as sim­ply Evo), there are four key gen­er­a­tions of Lancer Evo­lu­tion. The Evo I, II and III were all based on the same plat­form, and took the 2.0-litre 16-valve tur­bocharged4

four-cylin­der – the own they was a You’ll formula larger al­ready weren’t in ral­ly­ing. see Galant, that early bring­ing of­fi­cially en­gine would Evos which and in im­ported. ad­ver­tised de­fine the also all-wheel-drive Im­preza found ev­ery Ri­val in suc­cess Evo the Turbo, Subaru UK, – sys­tem from of but its though, Cham­pi­onship, clinch­ing mak­ing the 1995 fa­mously its ti­tle. name But in with the the Colin late World 1990s McRae Rally was to in be an Mit­subishi’s era when Group turn A to rules dom­i­nate in­sisted the that WRC, 2500 closely re­lated pro­duc­tion cars had to be built be­fore a car could com­pete. Tommi Mäki­nen kick-started the suc­cess when he drove an Evo III to the 1996 cham­pi­onship. The Evo­lu­tion switched plat­forms for the IV, V and VI from 1996, and later be­gan to come to the UK through the Ral­liart dealer net­work. Th­ese cars turned the trans­verse en­gine through 180 de­grees and of­fered Ac­tive Yaw Con­trol, which jug­gled torque across the rear axle in ac­cord with steer­ing in­put, yaw an­gle and throt­tle po­si­tion. Mäki­nen drove th­ese mod­els to three more con­sec­u­tive cham­pi­onships in ’97, ’98 and ’99. To hon­our his suc­cess, Mit­subishi pro­duced the Tommi Mäki­nen Edi­tion. De­tail changes were sub­tle and mainly cos­metic, though Mäki­nen mod­els did also get lower sus­pen­sion, faster steer­ing and a ti­ta­nium tur­bocharger tur­bine for swifter re­sponse. Of­ten re­ferred to as the 6.5, to­day th­ese cars are in­cred­i­bly sought after. Even at low speeds, the Mäki­nen feels like a se­ri­ous ma­chine, with weighty steer­ing, a meaty clutch, rest­less ride, ter­ri­ble plas­tics and seats that perch you far too high but grip like vel­cro. But this is also a car full of char­ac­ter and feel with an ad­dic­tively rowdy edge: there’s gritty de­tail to the steer­ing as it shrugs off its weight with speed, and a sense of un­en­cum­bered light­ness as the Evo stops, ac­cel­er­ates and turns. There’s lit­tle per­for­mance be­low 3500rpm, but con­tin­u­ing be­yond that is like pulling the pin from a hand grenade, and you ride a vis­ceral kick of turbo boost to 6000rpm. On track, you in­stinc­tively keep the Evo in that win­dow, flick­ing up and down through the gear­box with its short ra­tios but stiff en­gage­ment, blip­ping the throt­tle as you stand hard on the ex­cel­lent Brembo brakes. All-wheel drive means there’s no fuss in4

The Evo VI is a car full of char­ac­ter and feel, with an ad­dic­tively rowdy edge

The Evo IX has a more grown-up feel but re­tains much of the ear­lier cars’ raw per­son­al­ity

get­ting power to the ground, and yet the Evo is still an in­cred­i­bly play­ful ma­chine, turn­ing in keenly, with its well-con­trolled but no­tice­able body roll giv­ing you op­tions to play with the weight trans­fer and over­steer through turns. It’s such a unique driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, no won­der th­ese cars are so cov­eted.

The Evo switched plat­forms again for the VII, VIII and IX that fol­lowed from 2001 to 2007, and this era’s slightly longer wheel­base, up­dated de­sign and rel­a­tively up­mar­ket in­te­rior set th­ese cars clearly apart; the ad­vent of new WRC rules also re­moved the di­rect link be­tween road and stage, ex­plain­ing how we saw Mar­cus Grön­holm ral­ly­ing a Peu­geot coupe con­vert­ible of sorts. The Evo con­tin­ued to com­pete, but the suc­cess of the Group A days couldn’t be repli­cated. Shame, be­cause the road cars still feel phe­nom­e­nal.

New tech­nol­ogy in­cluded an ac­tive cen­tre diff, and the in­creased di­men­sions and ex­tra equip­ment in­evitably added weight, if only a lit­tle: at 1400kg, the Evo IX FQ-360 car­ries just 40kg more than the Mäki­nen, but punches 90bhp harder. That ex­tra power – along with a more grown-up feel that re­tains much of the ear­lier cars’ raw per­son­al­ity – makes it even more thrilling to ex­ploit the han­dling bal­ance on track and, for me, the IX is the bet­ter of the two cars.

In FQ-360 guise, the IX was the last Lancer Evo­lu­tion be­fore a new, more rounded ver­sion ar­rived on an all-new plat­form. Sadly, the new X was the last of the breed, as Mit­subishi steered away from high per­for­mance and com­bined its ex­per­tise in SUVs with plug-in hy­brid driv­e­trains. But the new fo­cus also paved the way for a re­mark­able resur­gence in re­cent years, and there’s a fair chance you’ll know some­one who owns an Out­lander PHEV. In­tro­duced in 2014, it quickly be­came Bri­tain’s best-sell­ing plug-in hy­brid in 2015, with 11,000 units shifted. It’s still do­ing the busi­ness to­day.

The PHEV uses a 2.0-litre to drive the front wheels, with an un­der­nour­ished-sound­ing 119bhp, but it also adds a 60kW elec­tric mo­tor on each axle to boost per­for­mance and bring four-wheel-drive ca­pa­bil­ity with­out a prop­shaft con­nect­ing front and rear axles. The 11sec 0-62mph time might dis­ap­point, but there’s cer­tainly a strong shove in your back through the mid-range and plenty of poke for over­tak­ing.

Given a full charge, the PHEV can man­age up to 32 miles in pure EV mode, and travel at over 70mph with­out burn­ing a drop of fuel. But it’s with the busi­ness maths that the PHEV re­ally scores, es­pe­cially its 7% Ben­e­fit-in-Kind rat­ing, which saves some com­pany car driv­ers thou­sands. A more re­cent up­date has seen com­bined mpg climb from 148 to 156mpg; yes, a stretch tar­get in real-world driv­ing, but keep it charged, do short trips and you’ll see the ben­e­fits.

As a fam­ily car, the Out­lander PHEV makes a lot of sense, with acres of space, great com­fort, and in­te­rior qual­ity and re­fine­ment that’s a gi­ant leap on from ear­lier prod­ucts. And while it in­evitably can’t make your nerve-end­ings fizz like an Evo, the Out­lander tar­gets a very dif­fer­ent kind of driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, one that’s like­able in its own way and bet­ter suited to stress-free longer jour­neys with its sup­ple sus­pen­sion and easy ac­cel­er­a­tion.

The brakes – key to har­vest­ing wasted en­ergy, re­mem­ber – feel too fierce at first, the steer­ing a lit­tle wooden, but there’s some­thing very sat­is­fy­ing about waft­ing away silently in a large SUV pow­ered by noth­ing but elec­tric­ity.

But as we wrap up our day at An­gle­sey, it’s Mit­subishi’s high-per­for­mance his­tory that tugs harder on my heart strings. And when I’m asked to pick one to take over to Ire­land to con­tinue our Six Na­tions tour, there’s an ob­vi­ous choice. Read on for the next leg: an ad­ven­ture in the bril­liant Lancer Evo­lu­tion MR FQ-360.

Suc­cess of the lit­tle Lancer gave Mit­subishi li­cence to let rip with the Star­ion

VI brings the drama, but IX is the bet­ter per­for­mance car

Mäki­nen edi­tion aped WRC car’s vi­su­als, mi­nus Marl­boro logo

Evo IX’s ex­tra 90bhp eas­ily over­comes the 40kg weight gain … and he’s o. Ben Barry didn’t take long to pick his favourite

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