Many great enthusiast cars have come and go in recent times. One such example is the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo. It’s unfortunate, but a combination of emission regulations and poor sales have killed off the best Lancer Evo Mitsubishi offered.
Mitsubishi is one of many that has succumbed to the fate of leaning out its products to appeal to the masses. It’s just how Mitsubishi is proceeding as a brand to survive in the distant future.
Mitsubishi is a household name in sports cars. Enthusiasts undoubtedly still remember fondly the Mitsubishi of years past.
The Lancer Evo
We have the green Eclipse from Fast and Furious and the Starion in the Cannonball Run 2. But no other Mitsubishis got quite as much screen time as the iconic Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
Originally a sports-infused sedan based on the Lancer, the Evo is actually a successor to the Galant VR-4. It’s an effort to compete with the increasingly competitive Group A World Rally Championship.
Of course, most also know it as the rival of the Subaru Impreza WRX STI, which has now outlived the Evo nameplate. It’s definitely one of the most iconic rivalries in the automotive world.
Also, intriguingly, the Lancer Evo is one of Jackie Chan’s favorite cars. It’s no secret of course since we almost always see one in every Jackie Chan film. Remember the yellow Evo III and 3000GT in Thunderbolt?
Not just that, the popular anime Initial D prominently featured the Lancer Evos. In fact, Takumi’s AE86 first loss was to the Pyrenees Black Evo III.
But this begs the question. With there being so many generations and variants of Lancer Evolution, which one is the best? Which one should you experience if given the opportunity?
Quick History Of The Lancer Evolution
We all know that there are ten distinct generations of the Lancer Evolution. However, it’s more accurate to label it as 4 distinct generations.
Lancer Evolution I, II And III
This is the dawn of the Lancer Evo. The first three models can be labeled as the first generation of the Lancer Evo. Enthusiasts love them as a simple, yet undoubtedly very capable platform.
All three models are based on the fifth-generation Mitsubishi Lancer, and it has set the standards for what people have come to expect when they buy a Lancer Evolution.
It’s a rugged, track-focused sedan that focuses on the driving experience more than anything else.
In fact, Mitsubishi put so much thought into optimizing the Evo for track use it spent millions on developing new tech specifically for it.
Also, the Evos have been powered by the 4G63T engines for a long time. It turned the engine into a household name for many.
While the Galant VR-4 used it prior to the Evolution models. However, the Galant never gained as much traction as the Evolutions.
When compared to the Impreza WRX STI of its generation, drivers remark the Evolution to be stiffer with more impressive cornering capability (less understeer).
Lancer Evolution IV, V And VI
Following that came one of the most well-known lineups of Lancer Evos. This is thanks to Tommi Mäkinen, who single-handedly brought Mitsubishi to relevance in the World Rally stage.
We have all seen him pilot the Evo III, IV, V, and VI. He flew through rally stages at ludicrous speeds dominating 4 consecutive years of the WRC. There’s no other word for it, it’s legendary.
Again, it’s powered by the same basic drivetrain. The 2.0-liter 4G63T turbocharged inline-4 mated to a 5-speed manual. It makes more power to offset the increased weight.
It’s not just a simple LSD, it’s one of the first torque vectoring systems of its kind. It takes into account inputs from various sensors littered throughout the car to control torque distribution independently.
It greatly improves the Evo’s cornering capability. Arguably, this system was paramount to Mitsubishi’s success in the WRC.
Torque vectoring is also what allows those AWD rally cars to rocket out of corners in a physics-defying manner.
Lancer Evolution VII, VIII, And IX
The next generation marks the beginning of the ‘modern’ Lancer Evo as we know it. The 2003 Lancer Evo VIII was the first Evo Mitsubishi officially imported into the US.
Like the previous models, the drivetrain remains familiar. The 4G63T 2.0-litre turbocharged engine is still here, and it makes even more power than before. Again, it’s a measure to counteract the weight gain.
However, after the Evo VII, buyers can now spec their Evolution with a 5-speed automatic transmission. Those are the touring models. The Evo VIII MR Edition received a 6-speed manual transmission.
Even More Tech
Much like previous models, Mitsubishi incorporated innovations to further enhance the Evo’s capability. The key selling point is the new active center differential (ACD).
The new ACD is yet another electro-hydraulically operated center differential. Thanks to that, it allows for even more control over the torque distribution between the front and rear axles.
It shares the sensors used in the AYC system. Despite that, it’s still a 50:50 bias differential, but the electronic operation allows intelligent control of the locking ratio.
Torque delivery between the front and rear axle can be varied depending on the driving conditions.
This is why there’s a snow, gravel, and tarmac indicator at the instrument cluster. The driver selects the driving condition with a switch.
Much like the AYC system, the ACD improves the Evo’s cornering prowess.
The Evolution VIII brought along a revised Super Active Yaw Control (Super AYC) system. Despite the ‘Super’ in its name, it’s largely identical to its predecessor.
But instead of a bevel gear, Mitsubishi switched to a planetary gear differential. This allows the Evo VIII to transfer twice the amount of torque between the rear wheels. This reduces understeer effectively.
Lancer Evolution X
Finally, we have the Lancer Evolution X. This is the last Evo Mitsubishi ever made, and it is radically different from the previous Evos. It gained even more weight as Mitsubishi implemented the latest tech it could muster.
For once, Mitsubishi has finally retired the enduring and beloved 4G63T (in the Evo). Instead, the Evo X uses the new 4B11T 2.0-liter turbocharged inline 4.
It’s all-aluminum, meaning that the engine block is 26 lbs lighter than before. Aluminum is also better at heat transfer, reducing operating temperature. Thus, NOx emissions can be kept lower.
The other big difference is that the 4B11T is a square engine, compared to the under square 4G63T. This improves mid to top-end power. And finally, Mitsubishi switched to a timing chain.
While an under square design helps with the low-end torque, the 4B11T has MIVEC on both cams and a revised turbo. This meant that the 4B11T makes more power than the 4G63T throughout the rev range.
It’s not just the engine, the Evo X can now be equipped with a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission (TC-SST). A 5-speed manual is still available though.
The other major change is the Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC) system. It’s a revision of the old AWC system used in previous Evos.
It refers to the culmination of the ACD, AYC, Active Stability Control (ASC), and Sports ABS. The AYC system can now modulate torque and braking force at each wheel. For its time, it’s a brilliant AWD system.
The Best Lancer Evos
So which one is the best Lancer Evo? We’re going to take a look at some of the finest Evos that Mitsubishi has produced. This can either mean a limited-production Evo or just a variant of a particular Evo generation.
After all, opinions on the best Evo generation vary wildly depending on who you ask. So it’s a better idea to define the definitive Evo.
We’ll also be naming the best Evo for different categories, and what I think is the outright best. This is the Evo that perfectly encapsulates what the Evo was.
Best Lancer Evo If You Can Only Have One – Lancer Evolution IX Wagon
If you could only have one Evo to do it all, then your best bet would ideally be a wagon. Fortunately, Mitsubishi produced one, and it’s one of the rarest Evo models you can find.
It’s an amalgamation of the Evo IX and the Lancer Wagon. Basically, Mitsubishi took the underpinnings of the Evo IX and melded it with a reinforced Lancer Wagon’s body.
Mitsubishi unfortunately never sold it officially outside of Japan. But it’s noteworthy because it’s literally a Lancer Evolution IX, just extra practical.
This means that you get all of the Evo IX’s goodness. It uses the 4G63T which makes 276 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque.
The One-Off Evo
Mitsubishi produced the Wagon in GT and GT-A variants, which uses a 6-speed manual and 5-speed automatic, respectively.
It has everything the normal Evo IX has bar the Super AYC. That means you get the AWD system with ACD, the same basic suspension setup, the same brakes, and even the same wheels and tires.
It weighs just a bit more than the stock Evo IX though, about 44 lbs. But make no mistake, its cornering performance definitely compares to the sedans.
What sets it apart from the Evo IX is the 530-liters storage space in the boot. This is with 5 occupants and no seats folded.
Back in its day, the Evo Wagon was truly revolutionary. No other wagons back then could be so capable in the corners while carrying so much cargo.
To give you an idea, the Evo Wagon clocked a lap time of 1 minute and 7 seconds around the Tsukuba circuit. That’s just one second off from the sedan variant.
Mitsubishi only made 2,500 examples of the Evo Wagon, with approximately a 50/50 split between GT and GT-A models.
About a year later, Mitsubishi produced the Evo MR Wagon, once again in GT and GT-A variants. The GT now has a 6-speed manual though, while the GT-A remains unchanged. 1,500 Wagon MR models were made.
Best Lancer Evo To Daily – Lancer Evolution X MR Touring
For a daily driver, you don’t want something that’s too rare. However, you still want a fast Evo that’s comfortable to drive. Hence, the Lancer Evo X MR Touring is the ideal choice.
It’s based on the Evo X MR. This means you still get the 4B11T 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that makes 291 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque.
The 4B11T is married to the 6-speed twin-clutch transmission, meaning that it’ll go from 0 to 62 mph in a little over 5 seconds onto a top speed of 150 mph.
Other than that, it’s toned down a notch from the MR. First, it loses the giant rear wing that the normal MR has. Mitsubishi improved the materials found in the interior to emulate a luxurious feel.
Luxury In An Evo?
It’s not just leather. You get more sound deadening, an insulated windshield, heated seats, and a powered glass sunroof. The instrument cluster has a full-color LCD providing vital driver information.
But make no mistake, it’s not dulled to the point that it’s lost the Evo edge. The MR Touring still gets all the MR chassis enhancements.
That includes the 18″ BBS wheels, uprated Bilstein shocks with Eibach springs, and bigger Brembo brakes with 2-piece rotors.
Despite the ‘Touring’ name, it will still grip hard around corners and accelerate with urgency. It stops and steers as an Evo X should. The seats are still Recaros that hug you tight. After all, it’s only 30 lbs heavier.
But the additional amenities and sound insulation blunt the edge a bit. You can still hear the engine once you push the car but you’ll come to appreciate the quieter highway cruising.
Therefore, the Evo X MR Touring is the most ‘touring’ worthy Evos out of them all. It also helps that the Evo X is already less intense than previous iterations. It might still be too firm to be a proper touring car though.
If you want an Evo to put the miles on, one that you can do canyon runs in and devour highway miles, try the Evo X MR Touring. You certainly won’t be disappointed.
Best Lancer Evo For Shows – Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Mäkinen Edition
This is the most expensive and the most desirable Evos out of them all. The Evo VI TME (sometimes referred to as the Evo 6.5). It’s the ultimate ‘classic’ Evo.
Powered by the 4G63T 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, it puts out 276 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque. It’s fitted to a 5-speed manual, going from 0 to 62 mph in approximately 5 seconds.
Despite being the typical 5-speed, the gear ratios are revised heavily for track use. The final drive ratio is shorter than the Evo VI at 4.529, while the 3rd, 4th, and 5th gears are close-ratio.
Despite being limited to 2,500 units, buyers could still customize their Evo VI TME to a certain degree. You have plenty of color options but Passion Red was by far the most popular choice.
Buyers could also spec the GSR with Mitsubishi rally decals from the factory.
Drive and Look the Part
3 trims levels were available – RS, RS2, and GSR. Much like other Evos, the RS is the most stripped-out, built to be converted into a bona fide rally car.
Other than that, Mitsubishi revised it to improve its rally capabilities. It has a revised turbocharger with a titanium alloy turbine wheel and a smaller compressor wheel, improving low-end torque.
Mitsubishi also dropped the ride height by 10mm, while installing a suspension tower strut and quicker steering.
Most of the changes are apparent from the outside. The front bumper is extended with ducts to feed air to cool various components. The 17″ alloys mimic the WRC Group A design.
The Evo VI TME is a splendid example of a limited production car. However, technically, it’s not too dissimilar to the stock Evo VI. And its value is already through the roof, so it’s beyond the capabilities of most enthusiasts.
Best Lancer Evo For The Track- Lancer Evolution III RS
A modern Evo is already a track-focused car, now imagine the classics. If you want to experience the unadulterated Evo experience, then the Lancer Evo III might just be the best Evo to have.
It still uses the familiar 4G63T 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, producing 270 horsepower and 228 lb-ft of torque. And that engine is still paired to a 5-speed manual transmission, with no other options available.
Despite making less power than contemporary Evos, it’s just about as fast as modern Evos. For one, the RS Evo III is about 2,630 lbs, which is 500 lbs lighter than the most lightweight Evo X.
That lack of weight definitely affects the Evo III’s driving experience. It feels like a proper rally car should, lightweight, turbocharged, and driven at all four wheels.
It’s a very mechanical car. There’s no AYC or ACD, all you have are standard viscous center LSD, rear plated LSD, and optional front LSD.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it makes the Evo III RS a very consistent car to drive, and one that you can learn to drive fast in. It’ll feel properly visceral. The later Evos never quite preserved the experience that the featherweight classic Evos had.
And the best thing? You can import one to the US now, so owning one in the US is not out of the question. You’d still be paying a decent amount, and deal with a car that has all the old car quirks.
The Best Lancer Evo – Lancer Evolution VIII MR
For me, the best lancer Evo is a toss-up between the Evo VIII MR and the Evo IX MR. The reasoning for me is that I think they are the most readily available Evo you can buy in the US that’s the closest to the Evo ethos.
Again, the powertrain is the same. You’ll find the 4G63T 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 making 276 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque.
You can have the MR with a 6-speed transmission. It has all the tech that has made the Evo such a significant driver’s car.
This means the ACD, Super AYC, and Sports ABS are all available. It’ll drive as well as any modern Evo, if not better.
It’s The Evo 8.5
Many regard the Evo VIII MR to have just enough subtle tweaks to be named the Evo 8.5. It’s sporty enough to be capable on a track day, but not so sporty that you break your spine hitting a pothole.
Some of the main tweaks involve an aluminum roof, the first in a production car from Japan. You’ll also notice the dark gray BBS alloys that nicely complement the car’s design.
All of that reduces the weight of the Evo VIII MR by 44 lbs, and keeps the center of gravity low. The chassis also received bracing to improve overall rigidity.
The MR also receives a set of Bilstein shocks that actually strikes a balance between too firm and too soft. It’ll absorb road undulations yet provide markedly better cornering mien.
And I think that most people would agree that the Evo VIII is a good-looking car. The MR builds upon this basis. It makes no modifications to the body but adds just enough accents to differentiate the MR.
The Evo VIII MR in my opinion maintains the original Evo spirit while still being sufficiently modern. If you can afford it, the Evo IX MR is also a great alternative.
With that said, the Evo VIII is just a great first Evo to have. Even the RS or GSR models are great cars. The former is much lighter but it might be a tad too barren for a daily driver.
And the best news? Evo VIIIs have not appreciated a ton in price yet. It’s still justifiable in the grand scheme, and prices can only head up from here.
It’s also not so rare that you can’t find one for sale anymore. Parts are plentiful and there’s a massive tuning aftermarket to improve its potential.
To me, the best Lancer Evo should provide the rally car experience, but remain affordable and practical. That’s why I reckon that the Evo VIII MR is the best Lancer Evo to own.
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