Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 8 MR

Test venue: Shropshire, the Cotswolds and Royal Berkshire

Mitsubishi launched the latest version of its potent 'rally car for the road' earlier this year and the Evolution 8 MR has quickly developed an awesome reputation as one of the most desirable performance road cars in the world.

If you can cope with an appalling turning circle, hideous fuel consumption and the risk of losing your driving licence every time you venture on to the highway, this is the car that will take you across rural Wales in the dead of night quicker and safer, perhaps, than any other standard road car on the planet.

Prices for the latest MR FQ-300 start from 27,999, but that price tag rises to 29,999 for the 326 bhp FQ 320 I tested recently and 32,999 for the awesome and brutal FQ-340.

The car was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show last year and is already achieving success on the world's rally special stages in Group N trim. MR stands for Mitsubishi Racing and that is exactly what the new Lancer is capable of. But be warned, as much as the temptation is there to press this car to its limit, there are all too few places in the UK where this can be carried out safely and legally.

My test FQ-320 was supplied in a subtle and stylish Gun Metal grey. It was fitted with Mitsubishi's new Bilstein suspension system, eye-catching and lighter Team Dynamics alloy wheels and technological improvements to the four-wheel drive system. The wheels have been developed from a design and construction used in the British Touring Car Championship.

A new aluminium roof is claimed to reduce weight by a further 7.5 kgs and improves the centre of gravity and engine modifications have further enhanced the performance of the highly-tuned 2.0-litre, turbocharged engine, which we tested for the first time in the original Evolution 8 at Stapleford Park in the summer of 2003. This engine will now freely reach the red line in the rev band and there is bags of power further up the rev range.

The new Evolution is a stunning looking car with an enviable presence on the road. Stop at the traffic lights or cruise sedately through town and you will catch the envious glances of numerous automotive enthusiasts. But does the new model live up to its reputation on the road?

Fire the engine into life, sit back in the figure-hugging sports seat and prepare to be impressed. Acceleration through the lower gears is staggering, with the new Evo FQ-320 heading into illegal speeds in under five seconds. Mitsubishi claims performance figures of 0.60 mph in 4.4 seconds for the more powerful FQ 340.

These times are largely incidental, because you will be hanging on to the wheel and trying to keep up with the necessary gearchanges before you realise that you are about to hit three figures. Extra power for the 320 and 340 models comes from an improved induction kit, intercooler piping, a new exhaust and down pipe and engine management system revisions.

The surge and the power is relentless, but this is no 'straight-line charlie'. The Lancer Evolution was originally developed for world rallying and this car handles superbly. There is no body roll, the suspension is fit for a bumpy tarmac road in Ireland and there is no lag from the turbo. A small complaint would be the rather jerky manual gearchange when driven on the limit. A sequential or paddle transmission system would transform this car completely.

The MR's grip in unquestionable. What may appear to the driver of a normal car as a tight corner can be taken at a canter in the Evo and the massive Brembo brakes stop you on a sixpence should the need arise. The MR is fitted with an improved four-wheel drive system, Active Yaw Control (AYC), Sport ABS and an Active Centre Differential. There are also extra traction control settings for gravel and snow driving.

But don't go ordering the new model unless you have shares in a fuel station. The FQ-320 and 340 models have an insatiable appetite for super unleaded fuel. I used a tank driving sedately from Shropshire to Cardiff, a similar amount between Cardiff and Watford and a third tank to return to Shropshire via the Cotswolds. Mitsubishi claims a mere 10 mpg on the extra urban mode and around 17 in traffic - that is the same as a tuned American big-block V8 engine.

All models have a capped maximum speed of 157 mph and staggering torque figures of between 392 Nm for the FQ-300 to 413 Nm for the FQ-340. That equates to neck-jarring acceleration through all the forward gears with no turbo lag.

Several of my acquaintances nicknamed this car 'the beast' when they saw the subtle exterior revisions which have been made to the styling. It is fitted with a carbon fibre rear wing and new lamp surrounds. Carbon fibre trim is also used in the interior, in addition to a Momo steering wheel and Recaro seats.

Given the choice of the Evo, a BMW Z4, a Porsche Boxster or a Nissan 350 Z, there is no question that the latest derivative from Mitsubishi's product range beats them all hands down in terms of driving appeal and brute performance. Personally, I found it addictive to drive and exhilarating to push hard, but it is impractical, expensive to run and all too likely to attract the attention of the local thief and, more importanly, the local constabularly. Sadly, it may become a victim of the times.


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