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Retro drive: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Makinen Edition. Image by Mitsubishi.

Retro drive: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Makinen Edition
Has the passage of time been kind to the old rally-rep warrior?


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Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Makinen Edition

Good points: Just about the whole damned lot - this car is dynamically everything you could hope and dream for, and a little bit more besides

Not so good: Cabin plastics, bland four-cylinder soundtrack, you can no longer get hold of 'em in as fantastic a condition as this...

Key Facts

Model tested: Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Makinen Edition
Price: When new in 2000, 32,995; for No.006, it's difficult to say...
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: four-wheel drive, five-speed manual
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: N/A (qualifies for pre-March 1, 2001 road tax rules based on engine capacity; VED 225 annually)
Combined economy: 23.5mpg
Top speed: 150mph
0-62mph: 4.6 seconds
Power: 280hp at 6,500rpm
Torque: 373Nm at 3,000rpm

Our view:

It's terrible journalistic form and all that, but I'm going to have to selfishly couch this rambling Retro Drive review of the totemic Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Makinen Edition (let's boil it down to Evo VI TME, eh?) in the terms of my own personal back story regarding 'the one that got away'. Back in 2004, a promotion at work - and a simply tragic personal life, in which I was single, devoid of any interesting hobbies and living in cheap rented accommodation - meant I suddenly had something I'd never seen before, and nor have I seen since: disposable income.

I was also in my mid-20s and about as good with money as Nick Leeson was with the investments of Barings Bank, so rather than do the sensible thing and plunge my spare cash into property, I decided I was going to splurge it on an exciting new motor. At the time I was the editor of a magazine about a certain Bavarian marque that has a penchant for the letter 'M', but I was also a big fan of Japanese cars and, in particular, a Hondamentalist. My then- transport was a high-mileage 1991 JDM Prelude 2.2 Si with the fancy four-wheel steering, 'Jaguar XJS' rear lights and a pretty damned impressive 197hp engine. I loved it.

But I nevertheless felt it was time to have something a bit more powerful. So, a budget of 25,000 was set (according to what I might be able to unrealistically stretch to on finance) and - after a brief dalliance with an early BMW Z4 3.0i, thanks to my day job - it came down to a two-horse race between a pair of Japanese motors: these being a nearly-new Honda S2000 GT, for rather obvious Honda-fan reasons; or a used Evo VI TME.

I was firmly in the Mitsubishi camp in the Impreza v Evo Wars of the 1990s; not that the Subaru was without its merits, of course. But something about the Lancer's phenomenal electronic chassis trickery and its wholly uncompromising appearance made it something to lust after, as an impressionable petrolhead with a weakness for the Gran Turismo computer games.

Honestly, it was a very close battle between the pair, as needless hours of research into each were frittered away. But in the end, some sort of rationality played its part in the purchase. Whichever car I chose was going to be my only form of wheels, not a second car that I could use on high days and holidays, and back then I did more than 10,000 miles per annum travelling all over the country. That meant the TME's crippling 4,500-mile service intervals scuppered its chances of being the eventual winner.

As a brief side note, I don't regret for a single second buying the S2000; it has been a truly sensational machine and, 13 years later, it's still in my garage. Granted, it's now technically The Wife's car, as her name is on the V5C, and it does little more than sit stationary as we wait desperately for it to appreciate in value, but it has its own special, sentimental value to us as it's actually one of the very rare cases where the car got the girl. I met my missus at Castle Combe for 2006's Japfest event, where she was looking to buy a Honda S2000. I took her out on track in it, asked her on a date a week later and the rest, as they say, is history. But I digress.

It doesn't stop me thinking about the TME, though, as something that slipped through my fingers. Mrs R cheerfully tells me that if I'd been at Combe in the Evo in 2006, she would never have talked to me in the first place, so there's that... y'know... obviously, having her as my wife and everything, but... well, sheesh, it was a Tommi Mak I was considering, so... ahem. Anyway, the point is that I never got the chance to try an Evo VI TME when it was new or nearly new. But what would one be like to drive today?

Mercifully for you, I'm not going to go into the full history lesson on the Evo VI TME here. You should know all about this car's gestation and its special status in relation to the 'regular' Evo VI GSR by now, and if you don't, simply put 'Evo VI Tommi Makinen Edition' into Google and soak up the search results. This is more about what this incredibly special, incredibly rare Evo VI is like to drive in the here and now.

Let's be clear on one thing straight away - it hasn't lost a single scintilla of its visual drama. If anything, it's actually even more desirable today than it was back in 2000. Foregoing the immensely boring and highly erroneous 'hur hur, looks like it has driven through a branch of Halfords' nonsense that every ill-informed observer seems to throw at any vehicle with a big rear wing, the Evo VI TME is jaw-droppingly attractive. That's right, I said attractive. Come on, look at it!

Look at the stance. Look at its compact proportions. Look at the socking great intercooler pushing the front number plate over to one side. Look at those 17-inch white Enkei alloys. Look at the Evo V rear light clusters that bleed into the boot lid (the VI GSR didn't have these, its lamps doing without the inner fillets and thus being roughly triangular in shape as a result). This Evo is magnificent to behold. Absolutely, and utterly, magnificent.

The interior is not, of course. Slide into anything that's 17 years old and the cabin quality will likely leave you breathless with disappointment. But Japanese cars have never been cutting edge in the haptics department, and the Lancer Evo isn't even a very good example if referenced purely in terms of Asian interior architecture. Grief, it's pretty abject in here. OK, the stunning 'T. Makinen Edition'-branded Recaros, the Momo steering wheel and the little rocker switch for the intercooler spray (down by the handbrake) are all nice touches, but other than that, this is a primitive environment. Worse still, the driver's seat - while beautifully comfortable and supportive - feels like it's mounted about 10mm too high, which doesn't allow you to feel ensconced within the Mitsubishi's grasp.

Never mind. Turn the fixed-blade key in the Lancer's ignition barrel and the mighty 4G63 four-cylinder engine coughs into life, before settling into a quiet and rather anodyne idle. Ah. This must be why so many contemporary GSRs sported back boxes with colossal-diameter exit pipes back in the day, then.

I won't lie, at this point I'm hardly weeping with regret at having missed out on 13 years owning one of these things. So far, apart from the aura the TME projects and its brilliantly bullish kerb appeal, matters are not progressing swimmingly for the Evo VI... but then you drive it. And you drive it some more. And you drive it some more, all while your face cracks into an ever-bigger, totally stupefied, gormless grin. It takes about five miles in the Evo VI TME to make the cruddy cabin plastics, the too-high seating position, the nasal blare of the 2.0-litre engine and the years of matrimonial strife... sorry, I mean, wedded bliss, to all fall away into complete irrelevance.

This. Thing. Is. Sublime. Take every contemporary road test you've ever read of the Evo VI TME and times the glowing praise for it by a factor of ten. And also ignore some of the supposed weaknesses the car purportedly possessed, like numb steering (it's brimming with feedback and it's also wonderfully weighted) and a harsh ride (I've not been in many cars that felt more graceful, fluid and composed across atrocious Cotswold road surfaces that were streaming with biblical British summer rainfall than this) - you will simply not find many more cohesive performance cars in the world than this old Mitsu.

It just feels so balanced in every possible way. Every facet of the car works perfectly with everything else. The engine, while a bit laggy, nevertheless doles out its 280hp and 373Nm in such a fabulous, linear fashion once on song that you know you can always rely on it to respond instantly to hefty throttle inputs, firing the Evo forward with an alacrity that feels every bit as strong and rabid as you'd get in the latest Audi RS 3 or Mercedes-AMG A 45 hyper-hatches. And that big-hearted motor will happily rev right out to 7,000rpm too, which is an impressive feat for an old turbo 2.0-litre running in a high state of tune. Thus, without strapping timing gear to it, I'm happy to say the Mitsu's 4.6-second 0-62mph claim feels entirely plausible, and not a little bit pessimistic.

Astoundingly, you can amble about in the Evo VI quite happily, because it's a docile thing at low revs and perfectly easy to drive smoothly, thanks to great visibility out, easy-going primary controls and a decent five-speed manual transmission with a light clutch. It's got four doors, it's got a big boot - how much more practicality do you want from your iconic rally rep, anyway?

However, I've deviated there. You don't care about the urban manners; you care about the way it carves up A- and B-roads. And this is where the Evo veers into an electrifying, otherworldly realm of near-limitless driver involvement and entertainment. Never, ever will you encounter anything so grippy and unshakeable in the face of extreme provocation. I can't emphasise enough how wet it was on the day I drove the Lancer, but even in such sopping conditions, I can tell you that it's perfectly safe to plant the throttle hard in second, third and fourth, point the car to where you want it to go, and marvel agog as it just goes there, with no fuss or nonsense. It will cross adverse cambers, the crown of the road, vicious longitudinal ruts caused by HGVs as if they simply didn't exist; there's no hint of crashy-damping, camber-hunting or torque-steer to have to work through.

And the cornering is preternaturally gifted. You chuck the Mitsubishi into a bend at a preposterous attack vector and it merely grips hard, corners flat and stays neutral. You can feel the Active Yaw Control working its magic and the front diff throwing torque left and right to keep the Lancer munching away at a section of intricate road at an absolutely barmy pace. If the unyielding cabin plastics leave you breathless, the limber, exquisite way the Evo can dance through corners is plain breathtaking. It doesn't become flustered or unruly in the curves, yet it never removes the driver from the absolute centre of the action. It even has fabulous brakes. Normally the brakes are a weak point of a near-20-year-old car like this, but in the Evo's case, these stoppers are calibrated spectacularly well, and they have no trouble reining in 1,360kg of Japanese four-door.

In truth, the Lancer has retained all of its magic and mythos. It remains thoroughly remarkable and so completely compelling, even today, where it feels far nimbler and more vivacious than even the best four-wheel drive cars you can buy. For example, a Volkswagen Golf R is an excellent performance car, but the TME makes it feel leaden and uninvolving by comparison.

So, you want one. As do I. Let's talk pounds and pence. Pricing this particular example, No.006, up now? That's a near impossible task. Mitsubishi UK is the model of discretion and won't reveal how much it paid for this VI TME, or how much folding it would require to have the company seriously thinking about parting company with Y851 GHW. You can find used Tommi Maks for as little as 15,000 if you scour the classifieds hard enough, but the reality is this is an appreciating classic - finding genuine, unmolested models now is getting tricky, and expensive if you do stumble across a rare gem. By all means, pay 15 grand for one; you're going to have to accept, though, that such money won't buy you a low-mileage mint example in the resplendent special-order red paint, complete with decals and the oh-so-brilliant white Enkeis.

This one on Mitsu's heritage fleet has covered little more than 6,000 miles (or, put in another remarkable way, just one service based on mileage alone). It is pristine. Perfect. Practically impossible to replicate or source anywhere else, you could argue that it's almost priceless. We'd be ready to bet 50,000 would be a good place to start, when trying to peg down a value, but to be honest this Mitsubishi is worth what someone would be prepared to pay to have the honour of owning it. And if that just so happens to be six figures, so be it. It wouldn't be madness to imagine it changing hands for that sort of cash, in the current used classic cars climate that's seen a Peugeot 205 GTi flogged for 38,000...

The reason why the Evo VI TME is such a commodity is its undeniable, coruscating genius. It still feels supremely capable and engaging today, standing comparison with some of the greatest modern machines that are on sale right now. So it must have been dementedly good back in its heyday, when the Golf R32 was just a glint in VW's eye and Ford was still a year or two away from the MkI Focus RS. The Evo VI is a mesmerising thing, another one of those cars that's so all-of-a-piece and exhibiting near-perfect equilibrium that it's extremely hard to even recall the few minor flaws it has. The last thing I drove which felt as special as the Evo VI was Honda's similar heritage NSX - and to compare the Evo to possibly Japan's finest-ever automotive creation is some accolade to lay at the door of what is in essence a four-door saloon with a humdrum four-cylinder engine.

Do I regret having not spent more than a decade in the company of the Evo VI Tommi Makinen? Of course I do. Life in general would have taken an entirely different path had I purchased the mad, bewinged monster, though, so I have to factor that into account... and I'll bore anyone within range to tears by obsequiously extolling the virtues of the 2004MY Honda S2000, given half a chance... but the Evo VI TME is a bona fide legend.

So what if it'll give you a mere double-digit range, if you're driving it hard on its meagre 50-litre tank of Super Unleaded? So what if some braindeads who haven't got the first clue about aerodynamics and rally heritage take one look at its exterior and erroneously think you've badly modified some old tat, using nothing more than a Demon Tweeks catalogue and a complete lack of self-control? This is motoring royalty. This is how technologically-obsessed Japan does sensational driving involvement. This is a driver's car that belongs among the most exalted echelons of the automotive fraternity. The Evo VI TME: another one of those hyper-rare machines that's extraordinarily close to driving heaven. Blimey do I wish it was 2004 again... and I sincerely hope my wife isn't reading this.

Matt Robinson - 6 Sep 2017    - Mitsubishi road tests
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- Lancer Evolution VI images

2000 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI TME retro drive. Image by Mitsubishi.2000 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI TME retro drive. Image by Mitsubishi.2000 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI TME retro drive. Image by Mitsubishi.2000 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI TME retro drive. Image by Mitsubishi.2000 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI TME retro drive. Image by Mitsubishi.

2000 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI TME retro drive. Image by Mitsubishi.2000 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI TME retro drive. Image by Mitsubishi.2000 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI TME retro drive. Image by Mitsubishi.2000 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI TME retro drive. Image by Mitsubishi.2000 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI TME retro drive. Image by Mitsubishi.


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