One of the most trustworthy barometers against which to judge a car’s potential for future classic status is its motorsport pedigree. Countless road-going versions of World Rally Championship stars help prove the rule, and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo’s dominance through the mid-to-late nineties suggests that its values of the road-going versions are only going to creep one way.
UK buyers often shunned the Evo in favour of the Subaru Impreza throughout the Nineties - thank the exploits of Messrs McRae and Burns for that. However, the Evo was not only more successful in competition courtesy of Tommi Mäkinen’s four consecutive WRC titles, but contemporary road tests almost unanimously agree that the Evo feels sharper and more exciting to drive than the Impreza.
The cabins may have dated horribly since their release (only sports seats and steering wheels set the Evos apart from basic Lancers) yet the driving experience feels as modern as ever. The steering is crisp, and the suspension - particularly on earlier models - feels supple without compromising body control. Evo IV models onwards were equipped with an active yaw-sensing rear differential - by pitching the car from the rear on turn-in it further exaggerated the razor sharp feel.
Power outputs remain similar to today’s hot hatches, so ground-covering ability remains deeply impressive. Regardless of the edition, the noise from the 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder lump could never be considered tuneful, but its angry-sounding blare, complete with turbo whistles and pops from the exhaust, certainly brings with it a sense of urgency.
Which Mitsubishi Evo to buy?
Four distinct generations of the Lancer were used to underpin various Evo modes - as a result the most extensive changes both mechanically and cosmetically to the Evo came with the VI, the VII and the X.
First-generation Lancer Evolutions began life with 244bhp, with each subsequent model gaining a gradual increase, first up to the Japanese mandated (yet almost certainly understated) 276bhp output of the Evos IV to VI and beyond to the extreme UK-only limited run specials like the 440bhp FQ-440 MR.
Arguably the peak of the Evo line came with the VI. The first to be officially imported to the UK, it was released towards the end of Tommi Mäkinen’s reign over the WRC. It took the highly-rated V and refined details like the intercooler, engine internals and turbocharger components. The V’s enormous front spotlights were replaced for smaller units, allowing for a larger front bumper aperture to improve airflow.
The Evo VI Tommi Mäkinen Edition is often referred to as an Evo 6.5, thanks to the extent of the upgrades – the wheels, suspension, turbine, and steering rack were all tweaked, and a front bumper, strut brace, and front seats were all new. Optional WRC car-aping decals made it look that little bit more special from the outside.
A similar step up was made mid-generation for the VIII too. The MR was even sharper than the model which first debuted in 2003 thanks to a trick set of Bilstein dampers, BBS alloy wheels and an aluminum roof to drop the centre of gravity.
Every Evo generation is available in the pared-out RS trim specifically marketed at customers who intended to take their cars onto the rally stage. The changes vary slightly in each version, but generally include thinner window glass, the inclusion of a mechanical limited-slip differential and the removal of hefty creature comforts (electric windows, air conditioning etc). Smaller-diameter steel wheels - more suitable for gravel stages - took the place of the standard alloys.
More unusual production models to look out for include the the Evo VII GT-A - a mildly softer Evo with an auto gearbox and the option of a smaller rear spoiler (or none at all) - and the Evo IX Wagon - a big-booted alternative which all of the saloon's performance.
Evos of all ages are popular among tuners, so it’s often tricky to find an original example. If you wish to venture down the tuning route, it’s possible to extract a reliable 400bhp from intake, exhaust and ECU modifications. Above that figure, it’s likely that more serious engine and drivetrain work will be required to ensure smooth running.
Performance and specs
Mitsubishi Evo VI GSR
Engine 1997cc inline four
Power 276bhp @ 6500rpm
Torque 275lb ft @ 3000rpm
Top speed 150mph
Fuel consumption approx 23mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• Such high performance cars – particularly ones which are so popular with tuners – are likely to have ed a hard life. Search for blue smoke from the exhaust – a result of oil leaking into places it probably shouldn't – damaged cylinder liners are a likely culprit. Grey smoke, meanwhile, could be a result of a damaged turbo
• Likewise, high performance and relatively affordable machines are likely to have become a little too familiar with a hedge at some point in their lives. Check the chassis legs, beneath the boot carpet and under the bonnet for any signs of crash damage/poor repairs
• Clutches can wear very quickly if driven enthusiastically. It’s not uncommon for a hard-worked modified example to go through clutches in a couple of thousand miles, though more sympathetically treated clutches will last much longer
• Warped brake discs are a well-known issue for the Evo VI in particular - they’ll make their presence felt via juddering through the pedal.
• Regardless of the generation, very little should go wrong with the suspension. Creaks and groans are usually a result of worn bushes, and are a cheap fix
• The chassis is very sensitive to changes in geometry, so the tracking needs to be accurately configured both to get the best from the car and to minimise uneven tyre wear
• Imported cars do have the same level of rust protection as UK cars. Check the body has been undersealed, or budget for preventative work to be carried out on a fresh import. The most common places for rot are the rear chassis legs, but it’s also worth checking the floorpan in general
• Evos have a 4,500 mile recommended service interval, (and tuned models will need to be seen to more frequently), so a detailed history is important.
Oct 92: Evo I debuts
Jan 94: Evo II takes the place of the original. Power rises by 8bhp to 252bhp, and suspension geometry is revised
Feb 95: Evo III’s revisions include a more aggressive body kit and another increase in power, to 270bhp
Aug 96: Evo IV released. Gains all-new chassis, and power output now at 276bhp
Jan 98: Evo V refines the previous model, gaining revisions to the bumpers, bonnet vent, wheels, Recaro seats, a wider track, bigger brakes and tougher engine internals
Jan 99: Evo VI gains redesigned aero package, larger intercooler and tougher pistons
Dec 99: Special edition Evo VI Tommi Mäkinen Edition debuts, sharpening up the VI courtesy of chassis bracing, a quicker steering rack and new alloy wheels
Mar 01: Evo VII debuts an all-new platform. Active centre differential allows drive to be tweaked according to road surface, and changes to the 2.0-litre engine boosts torque
Jan 03: The Evo VIII replaces the VII with a more aggressive body kit and tougher Bilstein dampers
Mar 05: Evo IX ups power to an official 287bhp courtesy of variable valve timing and a revised turbo
Oct 07: Evo X sits upon a completely changed chassis, and the 2.0-litre engine is all new
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Evo models from I through to V remain fairly affordable at the moment, with condition, mileage and the level of modification varying their values from anywhere between £5000 to £10,000. Sixes are marginally pricier, particularly Makinen editions - the cleanest examples fetch up to £20,000
Evo IX and X models, as the most recent (and in the case of the UK-only FQ models, among the rarest) are the priciest, with typical prices standing around £25-£30,000.
As long as tuning work has been carried out by reputable specialists, tweaked Evos are often worth more than original cars with an equivalent mileage. However, the money spent on modifications isn’t recouped in the total value of the car, so there’s less of an incentive to carry out work yourself - search for ready-fettled models from respected specialists instead.
Words: Alex Ingram