1999-2001 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI GSR Review

This story originally appeared in the January 2000 issue of AUTOMOBILE.

WELSH FRANKTON, England — My 88-year-old mother could drive this car. She would appreciate its four doors, five seats, capacious trunk, excellent all-around visibility, and light, progressive clutch. But she would be advised to go easy with her right foot, because the simple, startling fact is that the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI GSR will hyper-drive from 0 to 80 mph in the time I take to type its name. It will also cover 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, at which point you are nosing ahead of Ferrari’s heroically swift 550 Maranello, and go on to 100 mph in 11.2 seconds, by which time the plutocrat in the Aston Martin DB7 Vantage is getting a good view of Mitsubishi’s tail.
1999 2001 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI GSR Front Three Quarter1

Where acceleration really matters, such as when a passing opportunity presents itself on a writhing road, you can slot second and crack the whip to catapult the Evo from 40 to 60 mph in just under 2 seconds. A little higher up the range, I was ambling along in fifth, listening to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart while observing the speed limit on a road notorious for radar-toting cops, when a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter panel van stormed up and started sniffing my tail. No need to shift. Just flex the ankle, mutter the magic words — “Torque your way out of this, buster!” — and the Mercedes dwindled to a distant dot as 60 mph became 80 mph in barely 5 seconds. The risk of swallowing teeth is complemented by bizarre visions of eyeballs ping-ponging the windshield, because rapier-thrusting acceleration that’s sharp enough to make you gasp and squeal is matched by huge, ventilated Brembo brakes with blood-red, four-pot calipers. They are efficient enough for 60 mph to become no speed at all — “You must be mistaken, officer” — in 2.5 seconds. That’s right. The Evo VI can get you from 0 to 60 mph and back to a standstill while a Mercedes-Benz SLK230 is straining every sinew to reach the mile-a-minute mark.

I could keep forking performance figures down your throat forever, but you get the message. This sedan establishes new standards, certainly in my book, by matching all but the most outrageous supercars in a straight line and — vastly more significant and impressive — outrunning them in conditions where power has to be allied with poise. When everything is taken into account, including price, this is the most astonishing street car I have driven since first crunching gears in the family’s Austin A40 Somerset, soon after Noah’s ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. That verdict includes the McLaren F1, which reaches more than 230 mph from its 627-hp V-12. Although a technological tour de force, the McLaren is as practical as a napalm-filled fire extinguisher and, when new in 1994, cost about 30 times more than Mitsubishi now asks for an Evo VI. Slightly closer to the real world, if car prices in Britain can be described as such, this four-door phenomenon costs little more than a fifth of what Ferrari asks for the 550 Maranello and is well under half the price of a Porsche 911 GT3.

1999 2001 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI GSR Front Three Quarter2

Mitsubishi’s star driver, Tommi Makinen, won the World Rally Championship in 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999 — a feat unprecedented in the sport’s history. Prompted by ecstatic eulogies from friends who own these cars, I collected a roadgoing version of the flying Finn’s contender from the Ralliart UK Car Sales offshoot of Mitsubishi Ralliart Europe, which runs the rally team. The Evo VI looks over-the-top enough to have been tricked-up by someone with a warped sense of humor — the exhaust pipe, for instance, is almost 5 inches in diameter — but sharp eyes realize that the biplane rear wing’s top deck can be adjusted to provide more or less downforce. That detail spells s-e-r-i-o-u-s in any dictionary.

Although frustrating, the first few miles of treacle-thick urban traffic proved the Mitsubishi’s ability to maintain its composure while moving slower than elderly pedestrians. Poor surfaces made the wheels feel a bit hexagonal, but my critical faculties were being overwhelmed by visions of what would happen when we reached a quiet road. Sure enough, I really was startled and excited enough to shout something unprintable as the Evo responded to my request for an instant thrill. The 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, 16-valve, turbocharged engine delivers 276 hp at 6,500 rpm and 274 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm — more than adequate for a 3,000-pound car — and feeds all that good stuff through a four-wheel-drive transmission to O.Z. Racing wheels wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza 225/45R-17 rubber. The ride smoothed out as speed increased, and roadside grass became a smear of green. When I reached Wales, where Britain’s round of the World Rally Championship has been won and lost, my brain worked overtime to reconcile theoretically familiar roads with the Evo’s surreal speed. The car is so taut, responsive, tempting, and encouraging, so easy to drive very fast, and short straights cease to exist. The wheel is constantly moving as you slingshot from corner to corner.

1999 2001 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI GSR Tommi Makinen

One reason the Evo is so trustworthy and predictable is its active yaw control. Operating in cahoots with permanent four-wheel drive, which splits torque equally between the front and rear wheels, except when adjusting itself for slippery surfaces, this box of tricks uses sensors to monitor throttle, steering, braking, and lateral acceleration. Information gleaned from those sources gives the front and rear differentials their marching orders, which virtually eliminate oversteer and understeer.

They say there’s no fool like an old fool, but this grandfather was just about wise enough to realize that Mitsubishi does not provide a switch to turn off the basic laws of the universe. The temptation to push harder and harder on those deserted mountain roads was curbed by visions of trying to avoid a scampering sheep or encountering a deep, wheel-wrenching, hydroplaning puddle on an apex. That said, 45 ecstatic minutes accounted for a road that I would normally be pleased to drive in an hour. Narrow sections that snaked between stone walls drew attention to the Evo’s compactness, while all-around visibility was a constant reminder that being a few inches from the road is a disadvantage when driving a wide, mid-engine supercar.

Plans to visit Ireland were abandoned due to lack of time, but I compromised by spurring the Evo to Holyhead, the port from which ferries sail across the Irish Sea to Dublin. I wanted to photograph the Mitsubishi alongside another of my favorite machines, Stena Line’s sci-fi HSS, which squeezes the 52 miles into 99 minutes. Big enough to swallow 375 cars, the catamaran is wafted over the waves by jet engines more commonly associated with a Boeing 747. Welshmen are great rally enthusiasts, so the Evo almost brought Holyhead to a standstill when parked alongside the HSS. One of the dock workers examined it from nose to tail, asked umpteen questions, noted the rear wing’s adjustability, and said, “Tidy. Very tidy!”

1999 2001 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI GSR

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