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An Evo for everyone: the VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.

An Evo for everyone: the VIII 260
We have much to thank the WRC for: pioneering four-wheel drive systems, bonkers homologation specials and cars like this: the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8. Basically, the Evo is a road going version of the full-on world rally car and is part of a breed with a cult-like following amongst enthusiasts.

 



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We have much to thank the WRC for: pioneering four-wheel drive systems, bonkers homologation specials and cars like this: the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8. Basically, the Evo is a road going version of the full-on world rally car and is part of a breed with a cult-like following amongst enthusiasts. The Car Enthusiast has driven many examples in the past, but this is my first encounter, in the driving seat at least. We have all driven plenty of Gran Turismo versions; I know what they can do on paper and on the screen, but what is the Evo VIII like in real life?

From some angles the Evo looks mean; any front or three-quarter view from the front is aggressive. The big bonnet duct, the beak-shaped nose and the trademark large intercooler low down in the front spoiler make the Evo 8 an effective clearer of lanes on the motorway. From other angles it's surprisingly low key; the Lancer Evolution sits very low to the ground, but other than that from the side or rear it could be a cooking family saloon; the VIII 260 features a significantly smaller spoiler than the more powerful variants and I like the subtlety of it, unlike some of the more brash Subarus and more powerful Evos. Our test car was finished in a fittingly menacing black, though the relatively sober looks don't give away the performance on tap.

This version, the Lancer Evolution VIII 260, packs the same basic 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine as previous Lancer Evos, but in this case, as the name suggests it "only" has 260bhp. This is the lowest powered Evo since the IV by my reckoning, but let's face it, I don't think you normally put the word "only" before the number 260 and the letters bhp, not in the context of a four-door saloon at any rate; certainly not in the world of the Evo. An output of 260bhp in this package means 0-60mph in a whisker over 6 seconds and 0-100mph in 14, on the way to a maximum speed on the other side of 150mph. Not exactly tardy is it?

The way it is delivered is of more interest than the raw numbers. There is a little lag but it's nowhere near what you get in the bigger horsepower motors. This is probably relative as the storm after the calm is only a major tropical one as opposed to the blow-your-house over alternative. It is still serious though, building from as little as 2000rpm. By 3500rpm it's pulling hard and doesn't stop until the 7000rpm red line. The delivery is such that you don't have to work it hard; the mid-range is strong enough to depend on in most circumstances. For most enjoyment drop it into fourth at 30mph, put foot to firewall and wait... a faint whistle ensues before the kick in the back arrives and you find yourself involuntarily admiring the back of the sun visor. Good old fashioned, rumble, whistle, whoosh, and rasp power: grin on face fixed; go and find a good road.

It's here that the rally replica sets itself apart. The Evo VIII's specification sheet reads like an acronym lover's delight, but the important ones are AYC (Active Yaw Control) and ACD (Active Centre Differential). What do these mean in real life? Essentially they provide the Evo's core strength and the way it apportions the power to the wheel with the most grip and/or where it thinks you need it most. It can split power front to rear via the ACD and side to side at the rear thanks to the AYC; what this means is surreal handling and cornering.

On previous generations of the Evo the full trickery wasn't armed on the brakes but the 260 is different. The technology never sleeps and you're never more aware of it than the first time you turn into a corner; then have to wind off some lock: so sharp is the turn in that it verges on oversteer. I've never driven any car that turns in faster, the Lotus Exige probably matches it, but it's no better. The cleverness continues once you're into the corner as the differentials do their thing and help you hold your line. You should know that I'm writing this in November, when roads are wet, leafy and muddy.

The chassis has settings for Tarmac, Gravel (or wet tarmac) and Snow (for mud and slush). I previously thought that all four-wheel drive chassis basically understeered; someone has apparently forgotten to tell Mitsubishi. It resolutely refuses to relinquish grip at the front as it indulges you in a whiff of oversteer under power on the way out of corners. It's addictive, compelling and genuinely startling fun. Playing with those ACD settings reveals some very different personalities. The Tarmac setting offers simply startling ability in the dry, as close to a video game as Iíve ever experienced in terms of sheer go-where-you-point-it driving. Gravel allows you to play about a little on the throttle and brakes to induce grin-inducing slides at will in the wet or dry: not the quickest method of travel, but huge fun. It was too dry for snow to do its stuff whilst we had the car and all we got for our experimentation was clunks from the differentials.

The brakes on our car were slightly warped before we took delivery, which prevented a true judgement on feel, though outright power is never an issue and the ABS leaves it until the last second to cut in (even here the AYC and ADC are still working). The steering is perhaps a fraction light but nonetheless communicative and full of feel, and the standard-fit Momo wheel is a joy to use. The 'box only has five gears, but such is the torque of the engine that it is never really an issue. The shift itself is on the heavy side; this suits the car's character and the change is quick and accurate. The pedals are positioned perfectly and nicely weighted: just because the Evo performs like a supercar doesn't mean it has to be hard to drive.

The interior is probably the only minor weak point in the Lancer: the Recaro buckets are great, as is the steering wheel and everything is laid out as it should be, but the dash looks a little cheap, and the fiddly CD player in particular was the source of much ridicule and frustration. The materials probably aren't of the same quality as some £20k premium hatches, but that isn't the point is it? The money has been spent elsewhere, in the chassis and engine, where enthusiasts want it most.

Be in no doubt: enthusiasts would want this car. Just because it doesn't pack the same power as the bigger FQ versions doesn't mean it should be overlooked. In the real world this probably means you hold onto your license longer. Needless to say 22mpg in our hands is an excellent result you'd struggle to match in a fast hatch, never mind a quasi rally car. If you have £24,000 to spend you probably hadn't considered an Evo, but you should, especially as for the remainder of 2004 the 260 is only £23,000 and comes with 3 years free servicing.

The immediacy of its response sets it apart from virtually any other performance saloon and a premium front drive hot hatch just does not compare. In the dry, the front-driver may be able to offer something like 70% of the ability; in the wet it's nearer 17%. The intimacy and accessibility of the Lancer's performance is also a rare joy and is such that I find myself preferring this lesser model to the 300bhp plus Impreza STi. All in all, the Evo VIII 260 is a performance bargain, a family car with the laugh-out-loud fun factor regardless of prevailing weather and road conditions. Astounding.

Dave Jenkins - 20 Nov 2004









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2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII specifications: (260)
Price: £23,999 on-the-road (£22,999 until the end of 2004).
0-62mph: 6.1 seconds
Top speed: 152mph
Combined economy: 25.9mpg
Emissions: 258g/km
Kerb weight: 1470kg

Full technical specifications

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.



2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260. Image by Shane O' Donoghue.
 






 

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