The X Factor


words & pictures: Michael Fordham

Back in the primordial soup of post war Japan – a nation demoralised and devastated by unimagined military defeat, there was a little seed of determination left in the Japanese people despite the suffering endured. The phoenix rose, industry boomed and an economic miracle ensued.

This remarkable turnaround was motored primarily by the Japanese capacity for making stuff that people all over the world people wanted to buy. Especially the cars.

The Japanese automotive aesthetic might repel as many as it attracts, but in terms of sheer numbers and influence, Japan continues to be, along with Germany, the major exporter of automotive machinery on the earth. But more than that, in the darker corners of car and bike culture it the Jap thing reaches deep into the corners, as well as basking in the sunlight of the mass market.

And one of the most cultish, delightfully understandable corners of the world of Japanese car cult is that of the Evo. Having Evolved from the workaday Colt way back at the end of the seventies, the Evo has gone through a multitude of suitably evolutionary jumps.

So when we got to play with its latest manifestation, the final and numerically resonant Evo X, we felt as if we were in a position to look at the last of a great lineage of superbly appealing everyman heroes.

//The Looks//
Simple. Proletarian. Uninspiring. Badass. Boring. Boy racer-ish. These are the most common appellations we heard whilst spending a week with the Lancer EvoLution X SST FQ 330. It’s a keyboardful of signifiers that means the following: this is the tenth manifestation of the Lancer Evo, it’s rather quick, comes with a dual clutch semi-auto box with flappy paddles and packs 330 horsepower.

What it amounts to at skin level is a very old fashioned format, the three box, four door three-pillared formula that arch rivals Subaru ditched last time out for their Heavy-Industry flagship the Prezza, and probably to their regret.

The fact that now the three box Scooby is back is testament to its enduring appeal, and its one you can’t imagine Mitsubishi ever losing sight of. But at either end of the Evo X there are of course telltale pantomimes of its far-from-complacent DNA. Most obvious is that wing, of course. It’s a bevelled, three level piece of steel whose obvious utilitarian aspect is obscured by the car’s otherwise workaday stance. and the fact that it at times obscures rear visibility.

At the front of course, the various gapes, louvres and wide-open grillage whispers of the need for oxygen. From the front it is unmistakably rally-bred. On the standard version there’s no carbon fibre additions, just simple steel trimmed with plastic.

It sits relatively high so that the shocks an do their job, too, and the Yokohamas that come as standard have enough profile on them to help smooth the bumbles and keep it moving quickly in the right direction.

From the rear three quarter the car is at its most unspectacular, and with standard colourways, and nice but commonplace Alloy style, the layman could easily miss the explosive potential of this tight, wheezing, fizzing driving machine.

//The Drive//
There a simple test we’ve adopted to rate a cars practical use/fun value. On the school run, there a really appealing sequence of double-bumps at the top of a long, steep, sweeping hill. The kids want you to get air. Shameful, I know, but how can you deny the little lovelies?

Put it this way. The ‘willy feeling funny’ factor was rated ten out of ten. Read into this all you want, but dropping the left paddle on the SST twin clutch selector into second and a pre-kicker ckick back up into third, pushing the revs up into the red, will shore up real and tangible hang time. Now you’re torquing.

This car isn’t even the madman 360, let alone the full-blown mentalist that is the FQ400. But mark you, this entry level EVO is powerful enough to match most things that even vaguely resemble it and other everyman cars. Though, it has been said, on the more extreme manifestations of the car a more traditional box needs to be stirred to handle the affect, in the 330 and for your correspondent, the flappy paddles work brilliantly.

Call me a neo-fetishist, but I fail to see why they shouldn’t be standard on every car you’ll ever drive. On the Evo X it makes sense most of all, and adds to that preternatural feeling of responsiveness that even the still present turbo lag can’t really eradicate. When you push the selctor forward into Sport mode and pull the stick toward you to select manual shifting, it seems that all you have to do is think a manoeuvre and it happens. In the rough roads of the Eppynt range north of Brecon very quick changes of direction in sideways sleet were handled superbly. In fact, we doubt there is a better handling car in these sorts of roads on the entire planet.

The engine revs right through soaringly to the eight thousand range, and the slingshot response from second to third and fourth is thrilling.

Stopping is incredible too, thanks to those vented discs and Brembo calipers, so that you can stomp the brake thirty or forty yards later than you would think possible and scrub off all that’s required. Balanced, confident and calm in the most challenging of situations, this thing deals with the inconsistencies better than any saloon we have ever driven.

If anything and surprisingly, the first thing to go when you push it is the front. There’s a hint of washout that surprises, especially as it is so difficult to get the back end out. What’s more common is a nicely controllable four wheel drift, stepping out to the side. This is ultimately enjoyable because it’s easy to correct.

We read somewhere that the Evo would be the quickest cross-country car in the world. We think whoever wrote that was spot on.