Audi may have done it first with the Quattro, and Subaru’s long had ‘em beat in the sales department with the WRX STi, but to millions of gearheads around the world, the three most fearsome letters in all-wheel drive performance are E-V-O. Since 1992, Mitsubishi’s Evolution cars have been some of the most feared and sought after performance cars in the world, with a cachet that rivals the Nissan Skyline GT-R when it comes to the JDM’s all-time greats.
Based on the humble Lancer sedan, the Evo cars are stripped down, turbocharged, all-wheel drive rally-fighters that are just civilized enough for the street. They get more powerful with every iteration, while still staying affordable enough for the common man. They only came as far west as Europe until 2003, when after years of hearing of incredible exploits in the World Rally Championship and drooling over them in Gran Turismo, Mitsubishi finally brought the Evo VIII over our way.
The old cliché is that you’re never supposed to drive your heroes, but the Evo was everything we could’ve imagined and then some. With 271 horsepower going to all four wheels, it punched so far above its weight that Top Gear ran a segment showing it keeping up with a Lamborghini Murciélago on its track. What’s more, with a starting price of around $30,000, it was a huge sales hit for Mitsubishi, something that carried over into the Evo IX 2005 and the Evo X of 2007. And then it all fell apart.
For the past eight years, the Evo has been stuck at X, and if Mitsubishi has its way, that’s how it’s going to be forever. On the surface, nothing looks wrong: still all-wheel drive, still turbocharged, 291 horsepower, still one of the best performance values in the world, even if the price has crept above the $40,000 mark. But you’d be hard pressed to find an older model on the market than the Evo, and when Mitsubishi announced that they’d be updating the Lancer for 2016, it dropped a bombshell: A new Evo wasn’t coming along with it.
The final 1,000 Evos, imaginatively named the “Final Edition” cars, are leaving this world the way they came in 23 years ago: as Japanese domestic models only. Because of everything we know about the Evos — the performance, the racing pedigree, the cult of personality behind them — there’s a certain level of unexpected poignancy to this short film released by Mitsubishi, showing the final cars rolling off the assembly line. After seeing the care going into each car, It’s hard to connect these lovingly assembled sedans with the screaming beasts pushed to their limits on punishing rally courses or flogged and abused by legions of boy racers — a fate that many an Evo has met at the end of its life.
But it’s unlikely that many Final Edition cars will be ridden hard and put away wet. Most likely, they’ve been snapped up by collectors, or enthusiasts that will treat them with the respect they deserve. To differentiate them from the standard Evo X, the Final Edition models have a revised black chrome grille and gloss black trim. It was only available in red, white, blue, black, or gray (with an optional black or white roof), with 18-inch BBS wheels and a lot of Final Edition badges. Inside, Recaro bucket seats came standard with red accent stitching, and under the hood, the 2.0 liter four gets new exhaust valves, a reprogrammed computer, and an HKS turbo, boosting horsepower to well over the 300 mark — and mated to a five-speed manual transmission.
Think of how much the automotive world has changed in eight years. Should the Evo X have been put out to pasture? Yes, probably about five years ago. But the end of the Evo is a big loss for the performance car world. For nearly a quarter century it was the giant-killer that nobody saw coming until its cartoonish rear wing blew by you and faded over the horizon. Mitsubishi has a long road ahead of it if it hopes to regain its footing in the world (especially in the U.S.), but every brand should have a halo car. Here’s hoping that the company can come to its senses and release an Evo XI somewhere down the line.
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