Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Evolutionary thinking

About the most difficult question I was asked by a friend after the SMMT test day was what my favourite car of the day had been. How on earth could I choose between the varied delights of the Jaguar XK8 and the Fiat 500? Something coarse but entertaining, like the Vauxhall Astra VXR Nurburgring or civilised and satisfying like the Audi A4 3.2FSI SE.

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X SST was the only car that could stand a chance of being the best at almost everything and so, by default, the Evo had to be my favourite. Don’t, however, think that I was less than keen on it. In fact I enjoyed the Evo intensely – so much more, in fact, because it was more civilised than I expected. The twin-clutch sequential transmission must have helped; how could a dreaded “flappy paddle” gearbox shuffle forward and back at parking speed with such suavity?

Never mind parking, this is a car for whizzing, charging, zipping and dashing. How beautifully it danced on Millbrook’s hill route, up and down hills, around ever tighter corners. The transmission worked well as an automatic but was pure bliss when changing gear manually. With the gear changes at the second fastest setting (I never tried the fastest) the response to the paddles felt instant. The only complaint I had was that second gear could have been higher as dropping down from 3rd gear always seemed to have the engine screaming its head off.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X SST

It was the engine and transmission that dominated the experience. The steering and brakes must have been fine, the ergonomics acceptable. I do remember that the driver’s seat was good. I certainly can’t think of anything that was wrong with it.

Before I drove the Mitsubishi Evo I wondered what the appeal might be. Surely sticking a powerful engine in a family saloon was a mistake, diverting it from the proper purpose of being sensible family transport. In fact the way it goes is positively addictive, I just want another go, I need to feel that gear change again and the G-forces as the Evo charges round another corner. And maybe I need to try the manual version too for good measure.

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