Steering Column 03.04.09
I’ve been driving one of the quickest cars on the road. It’ll reach 62mph sooner than James Bond’s Aston Martin DBS, Audi’s elegant R8 and Ferrari’s iconic F430 and yet it costs under £40,000, has five useable seats and a reasonably sized boot, and it’s capable of giving you a genuine 28mpg average fuel consumption on a sensible cross-country run.
It’s made by Mitsubishi and its full name is the Lancer Evolution X FQ-360 GSR. To you and me though it’s known as the “Evo Ten”.
I’ve been touring England and Wales in the beast and over a thousand miles of motoring I don’t recall seeing another one on the road, so despite its achievable price tag, it still carries a degree of exclusivity.
Square and silver as if hewn from a block of steel, its performance is every bit as uncompromising. All four wheels rip the 1.5 tonne car forwards, its turbocharged, two-litre engine milling out 354 bhp and 363lb.ft. of torque in an attempt to catch up with the horizon.
And yet it combines brute power with saintly manners. Here at last is an Evo that can be driven comfortably at sedate speeds, yet leave smoke in the face of performance cars costing three times as much and more.
Other Evos have been quick, but in the past they’ve been as rough as a sack of spanners until you get above the speed limit when they suddenly start making sense. Fine for track days, but utterly pointless for the rest of life. Not so with the Evo X.
The first impression as you slip into the body-hugging suede and fabric seats is that there might be a lot of plastic, but there’s leather on the steering wheel, carbon-fibre and aluminium on the gearknob and handbrake, and sensible and functional buttons and knobs in all the right places across the dash.
Starting the engine doesn’t rattle the neighbour’s windows, slipping it into gear doesn’t feel like you’re cocking an assault rifle, and easing the clutch doesn’t snatch your sanity away. Sure everything feels machined and tuned, and yes the suspension is as solid as English oak, but the beast isn’t straining at the chain all the time. It can happily pad along like a panther, but when you slip the leash – my goodness it’s quick.
The acceleration from standstill or from a roll is ferocious. This I found out on an airport perimeter road, somewhere in Cornwall. Stuffed back into the seat, hand stirring the cog-stick, it blurred the landscape as it snapped up through the gears. I didn’t push it to the 155mph limited top speed, but as the strip ran out and I stood on the stop pedal, the bright-red brake calipers gripped the tray-sized discs and the deceleration was just as impressive.
You don’t have to live with this concussive driving style, but when you’re overtaking, emerging at junctions into traffic or just switching lanes on a busy motorway, it’s comforting to know the performance is there if you need it.
It’s not a car for the shy and retiring. I think it’s about the most aggressive looking saloon on the road. It scowls out at the landscape, its gaping maw looking for all the world like it would have your leg off if you stood too close. There’s a carbon-fibre spoiler to hoover the thing down onto the road, the bonnet is ventilated with two small exit grilles and one central nostril, the flanks swell with muscularity around the wheel-arches and there’s a massive wing mounted on the tail. Multi-spoke 18-inch alloys with low profile Yokohama tyres, twin exhaust ports, tinted rear glass and frowning back lights bring the whole thing to a masterpiece in brutalitarianism.
Indoors I loved the music system that’s given extra oomph by the huge sub-woofer in the boot and given extra elegance by the way it records your CDs to memory so you only have to feed them through once and your music’s there till you delete it. I loved the seats almost as much. I’d get out after a full day’s driving feeling as fresh as the moment I’d got in.
After that trip up through the heart of England, across into Snowdonia, down to the Severn and out into the West Country, I wished the road could go on for ever.
Only a handful of things worried me about the car; first, the tax disc with its £400 price stamp; second, the wing on the boot that’s perfectly placed to blot out any sensible view of the cars behind; and third, the theft alarm that’s a bit too sensitive and can apparently be triggered by the rumble of a passing lorry.
Accommodation and equipment you could discuss for hours, but Evos are primarily about performance and pound for pound the FQ-360 is astonishing value for money. It’s easy to see why police forces across the country are deploying the Evolution X as an interceptor. In the hands of a trained driver there’s almost nothing under £150,000 that will escape it. Take one to the Unst Thrash and you’ll win every competition you enter.