England vs. Germany, Blur vs. Oasis, still vs. sparkling. History is littered with great rivalries, yet few have been as hard-fought or divisive as Evo vs. Impreza: the battle of Japanese super saloons.
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru Impreza Turbo (latterly WRX) used four-wheel drive and highly-tuned turbocharged engines to deliver Porsche-baiting pace. They fought on the stages of the World Rally Championship and on the streets of Saturday-night suburbia. And they influenced popular culture, too – including the Gran Turismo games and Fast and Furious films.
The heyday of Evo vs. Impreza was the late 1990s. By the time the tenth-generation Evo X arrived in 2007, these road-going rally cars had fallen from fashion. Yet their spirit lives on in cars such as the Ford Focus RS and Volkswagen Golf R: four-wheel-drive hot hatchbacks that push 300hp+ performance even further into the mainstream.
The (deep breath) Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X FQ-440 MR we’re driving today is perhaps the ultimate Evo, one of 40 built to mark 40 years of Mitsubishi in the UK – and the end of the Evo bloodline. As the badge suggests, it packs 440hp: an incredible 220hp per litre from a 1,998cc four-cylinder turbo. And the ‘FQ’? Popular wisdom dictates this stands for ‘f***ing quick’, something Mitsubishi has never officially denied. Let’s see just how ‘FQ’ it really is…
How does it drive?
Wait for it… wait for it… BOOOOST. That’s the old-school turbocharged experience, and one you might reasonably expect to find here. After all, this upstart family four-door produces the same horsepower as an Aston Martin DB9 from an engine a third of the size.
In truth, there is some lag: the 4B11 unit feels a little flat below 3,000rpm. But beyond that, the FQ-440 wakes up with relentless, sledgehammer shove that scrambles your synapses. From 5,000rpm to the red paint at 8,000rpm, it’s utterly manic: the real-world equivalent of the Fast and Furious nitrous-button boost. You hardly dare blink.
A 0-62mph in the low threes is impressive, but doesn’t do justice to how quickly a typical driver can – to use that phrase beloved of driving instructors – ‘make progress’. The Evo, remember, is a relatively compact car with an upright driving position and good all-round visibility. It has beefed-up Alcon brakes and four-wheel drive with Active Yaw Control to aid stability. Hell, this version even has Mitsubishi’s SST semi-automatic gearbox. Your grandmother could drive it.
Whether she’d want to is another matter. With a custom intake system, intercooler pipes and exhaust manifold from Janspeed, plus four bazooka-sized tailpipes, the FQ-440 is LOUD. And it hardly looks subtle either: spot the lowered suspension, BBS alloys, carbon front spoiler and air-cleaving vortex generator on the roof.
Inside, the Evo feels markedly less exotic, with plenty of hard black plastics and naff orange logos on the seats. Even the plentiful standard equipment (sat nav, climate control, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker Rockford Fosgate hi-fi, since you ask) can’t hide its humble origins. An Audi RS4 this ain’t.
Tell me about buying one
When the final Evo was launched, internet forums were abuzz with talk of its ‘data recorder’. This electronic device stored data on how and where the car was driven, and its fitment was a condition of the warranty. However, all 40 cars are now beyond their three-year factory warranty period, so you no longer need to worry about Mitsubishi snooping on your antics. Even if you do have have to worry about servicing bills.
Ah yes, servicing. After the initial 1,000-mile oil change, Mitsubishi recommends a workshop visit every 4,500 miles or six months, whichever comes first. The engine is highly-strung, and tyres, clutch and brakes will all take a pounding. So an Evo won’t be cheap to run – but neither is any car with comparable performance.
The FQ-440 cost a not-inconsiderable £50,000 when new, and a good example won’t have depreciated much – if at all. Finding one may be your biggest problem: there were just four for sale at the time of writing, priced between £41,000 and £50,000.
Most FQ-440s will have low mileages and well-heeled enthusiast owners. Nonetheless, a history check is essential, and we’d also suggest a professional inspection to rule-out crash damage. Avoid any cars that have been modified or used on-track, and insist on a meticulous service record.
This may be the ultimate Evo on paper, but most critics (ourselves included), consider the 1999 Evo VI Tommi Makinen Edition to be the best of the breed.
Sure, the FQ-440 is fun, but it’s more of a point-and-squirt machine; the delicious balance and throttle-adjustability of older Evos, or indeed the Focus RS, isn’t quite there. And while it’s blisteringly quick, it doesn’t leap into hyperspace like a Nissan GT-R: a car that’s available used for similar money, remember.
Nonetheless, the mighty Mitsi is a formidable and very exciting car. Its place in history – and investment potential – is assured, and buying one will bestow God-like status upon you among JDM fanboys. You’d certainly earn our respect, too.