By all indications, the next Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution will do nothing but reinforce its status as a high-performance icon.

Called Concept X, the show car you see here was unveiled at Detroit's North American International Auto Show in January 2007. Yet with a few small changes, it is essentially Evolution X, the all-new Lancer Evolution production car.

The Evo traces its roots to Mitsubishi's World Rally Championship program, and has long since achieved cult status among hard-core driving enthusiasts around the world. The term evolution has traditionally been used in rallying to describe the latest generation rally car. In Europe, rally cars are the ultimate hot rods. Here, the Evo is a compact sedan that beats up on serious sports cars.

The Lancer Evo X goes on sale in January 2008, and Mitsubishi promises the biggest leap in performance potential ever achieved from one evolution to the next.

The Evo X is based on the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer, which goes on sale in March 2007. As such, it's a bit less boxy than its predecessors, though slightly larger in most dimensions.

The Evo X boasts some subtle styling tweaks, of course: a giant hood scoop, oversized fenders and the trademark rear wing. High-tech LED turn signals are imbedded in the side mirrors. Only one styling element on Concept X will not appear on the production Evo X: The 20-inch wheels are a bit too large for street use on a car this size. The production version will come with 18-inchers.

Underneath the flashy body, the Evo X will be loaded with the latest in running gear. The engine remains a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, but it's all new, and much lighter than the previous version. It's also mounted lower in the car to lower the center of gravity. Just the thing for fast gravel stages. (We're inquiring about a long-term test car.) Mitsubishi has not released production figures, but we'll predict at least 300 pound-feet of torque and 300 horsepower, give or take 10.

The Evo X will feature a new six-speed automated manual transmission. While it offers a fully automatic mode, it's not a conventional automatic with a torque converter. Rather, it's more like a manual with a clutch that operates electrically, like those in Ferraris and other exotic machines. This transmission can be shifted with magnesium levers on the steering column.

Buyers who prefer a conventional manual with clutch pedal can choose a five-speed. In rallying, strong, close-ratio gearboxes are often harder to get than powerful engines.

The drive system is as trick as they come. Called Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC), this fulltime four-wheel system integrates electronic stability control and an active rear differential.

The Evo X gets forged aluminum suspension components, rather than the stamped steel parts on a standard Lancer. Its suspension will no doubt be much firmer. Yet Mitsubishi engineers say they've focused on making the Evo more comfortable and less demanding for everyday use. Because the integrated body/chassis is much stiffer than before, the engineers say they have actually softened the suspension settings, allowing a more comfortable ride without losing the response or handling enthusiast drivers expect.

Inside, the Evo X will offer firmer bucket seats with huge bolsters to keep occupants firmly in place. Unfortunately, the suede-like Alcantara dash inserts and neon trim inside Concept X won't make the production version. Yet keeping with the daily driver theme, the Evo X will offer more creature comforts than ever, including Mitsubishi's 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate audio system, a touch-screen navigation system, Bluetooth cell phone interface, steering wheel audio controls and an automatic climate control system. The only thing we couldn't find on the list was a co-driver.

Like the upcoming 2008 Lancer, the Evo X will offer passive safety features that set a new class benchmark: front seat-mounted side-impact air bags, curtain-style head protection airbags front and rear, and a driver's knee-protection airbag.

 

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Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

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