No, the Mitsubishi Evolution Is the Best Rally Special of All Time

a couple of cars parked in front of a sand dune
Mitsubishi Evo: the Greatest Rally Specialillustrations by natalie foss
mitsubishi evolution
Rough riding and a bit darty, the Mitsubishi Evolution was nonetheless a stunningly capable road car.illustrations by natalie foss

Everything you need to know about the Lancer Evolution IX’s greatness is that Mitsu­bishi fitted the car with three limited-slip differentials but not cruise control.

This story originally appeared in Volume 22 of Road & Track.

The Evo did not result from consumer clinics or focus groups. It was single-minded and created to devour any road, anywhere, at any time. It fizzed with an unapologetic attitude and capability.

If the STI was civilized, the Evo was what you got when you smashed the glass panel labeled with a sign reading “Break in case of ass-hauling emergency.” It focused on point-to-point speed, all else be damned. The Evo shared little with the plebeian Lancer sedan upon which it was nominally based. The subframes, the suspension, the brakes, the seats, the steering wheel, and the whole damned drivetrain were unique to the Evo. Practically the only shared sheetmetal was the front doors.


Oh, you wanted stability control? Too bad. A comfort mode? Yeah, right! The only mode selector you get is for the active center differential’s terrain setting. That reminds us: The Evo IX came standard with an active center differential, capable of adjusting the rate and magnitude of lockup between the front and rear axles.

brian scotto
Brian Scotto “Has the fit and finish of a ham sandwich but was the most intuitive production car to drive on the edge.portrait by marina de santis

The Evo was always set to full kill, demanding just one thing from its operator: Drive it as hard and as often as possible. It wasn’t interested in commuting or slow driving of any kind, really. When you plodded around town, the steering was twitchy and hyperreactive off-center, the ride was busy, and the engine was flat-footed off boost, which was whenever its tach showed fewer than 3000 revs. In this context, you might wonder how you found yourself in such a cruddy car.

But driven in anger on a difficult road in tricky conditions, the Evo comes alive. What earlier felt like nervousness transforms into poise and cleareyed confidence. A taut suspension provides tight body control yet is unfazed by midcorner bumps. Lean hard on the front axle, and the Evo turns in with surprising tenacity, goading you to brake later, turn harder, and get on the gas sooner. Get into the rhythm, and as you blend those inputs, trailing the brakes to point the nose toward each apex and using the throttle to balance the tail’s trajectory away from them, the car reveals another layer. It begins to feel like an extension of you. Give it a proper caning here, and you wonder how anything could possibly keep up.

Two decades on, modern performance cars can eclipse the Evo’s pace. But even today its sharp driver engagement and transparent exuberance remain thrilling. If the Evo sounds like too much of a pure driver’s car for you, that’s okay. The STI is right over there.

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