It’s becoming quite a repetitive statement: we hate marketing and prefer no-nonsense, focused and real cars to more digital-infested ones. In the end, we’re like surfers, constantly searching for that perfect wave: our endless search for the ultimate driving experience is reflected to the commitment we brought to Escape on Wheels. We live for our next drive: our excitement grows as we approach a corner, downshift, pitch the car into the apex and floor the gas towards the exit and repeat it all as many times as possible.
We’re growing a bit distant from the world we used to love. As 15 year olds we were just thriving for each year’s new cars and commented every news with excitement and genuine interest. Perhaps now we do not feel the same drive as cars are becoming more marketing tools rather than magical creatures born straight out racing departments. We’re romantics, nostalgic fools who feel emotion in front of cars which are stripped down to the bare essentials and scream to the world their only purpose: driving.
In the end, our passion for the automobile made us look through the annals of history and pick a series of cars that we would like to have in our dream garage. As you might expect we amassed quite a huge quantity of rally cars. “Why?” you would ask and the answer is very simple: they’re the best to drive on ordinary roads. Conceived to be real-world performers and made to homologate cars driven by world champions, they’re usable and a pain in the arse for any so-called supercar. The Mitsubishi Lancer Evo is one of those cars, with its aura of mysticism and the fame for being Subaru’s arch rival in both the WRC and on ordinary roads. It’s rarer than an STi and it’s seldom seen in the wild. Discontinued 4 years ago, it was one of the most successful rally cars ever to race in the WRC Championship. It has always been part of that magical, rally-car dichotomy that dominated arguments for many petrolheads for the last 20 years. Raw, more crude and less refined than the STi, it has always represented the choice for the enthusiast rather than being the common rally fan’s car. Those few who have regarded the Ralliart’s EVO’s red livery being as important to the Subaru blue one have always been the kind of people which represent the soul and the passion for this sport. For 4 years, the Lancer dominated the world of rallying. From 1996 to 1999 Tommi Makinen was the undisputed king of kings, and Mitsubishi was the team to beat. The EVO was successful both on rally track as it was on the road and thanks to its raw and brutal behavior.
In 2001, the EVO 6 was succeeded by the EVO VII, which was based on the Cedia series, which launched a year before. Conceived to be a contender against Peugeot and Subaru, the 7 featured a wider body and longer wheelbase than its predecessor. The 4G63 turbocharged l-4 engine was given a broader torque range thanks to a new intercooler and air intake. New magnesium rocker covers and hollow camshafts were used to take weight off the engine’s top end and in order to reduce back-pressure from the exhaust, the engineers used a spherical joint for the front piping, allowing to have straighter tubings. While the engine produced still 276 bhp, it produced more torque than the old EVO VI’s unit, topping at 282 lb ft at 3500 rpm. The VII’s response was less brutal than its predecessor and more user friendly. The press criticized this and the added weight, claiming that a return to the good old Makinen days was needed in order to retain’s the EVO signature fiery attitude. Cornering performance was improved by increasing the bump stroke by 15mm, by using fatter tires and a new active center differential, which used an electronically controlled variable multi-plate clutch to vary the torque split between front and rear. This system allowed to tailor the slippage to the different conditions and it was controllable by the driver via a single button on the console, which allowed the selection of tarmac, gravel and snow settings. Besides its distinctive aggressive looks and bespoke styling, the EVO VII looked like your average sedan on steroids: this is what a rally car should be. Funny to think that nowadays what was once considered a mild version of a great car now feels like that breath of fresh air that we love so much. This car is simple and straightforward in a way that it’s now lost. It’s definitely the one that we would take year round to go out for drives, trips and occasional commuting.
While once was a sight to behold for petrolheads, it now passes almost unnoticed, which is the perfect antithesis for the world of today, where everyone seems to be desperate for attention. Like surfers going out on an early morning session between the waves, we eased out the EVO from its shelter and drove in the freezing cold of the Dolomites, in a beautiful day in January. You enter the cockpit and there’s ample visibility out, almost panoramic. The thin pillars allow you for an excellent view out, giving you a clear sensation of the car’s position on the road. The interior is basic and there are no concessions in the world of comfort: no radio and just a pair of bucket seats up front! The example we had during our testing was fitted with an hydraulic emergency brake, just for the sake of having more fun during U turns than your average Subaru. There’s a sheer pleasure in hearing the hum of the exhaust and watching the steam rising from the pipes as the car slowly warms up to operating temperature. Driving slowly out of town, on the deserted roads of fancy Cortina d’Ampezzo to reach the forests around the Lake of Misurina is like knowing that the world around you has no idea of what it’s missing. The EVO is a bit tricky at low speeds, thanks to its very harsh clutch which takes some time to modulate. Ride is not rigid by any means and it’s well calibrated for use on any road imaginable. Despite its rally car quirks, the EVO VII is very user friendly and intuitive in its controls: 1 button to switch the differential modes and… that’s it. No “race” or “hyperpower” modes are available, only a nice, tractable engine and a lovely gearbox.
As the road unfolds into a series of turns and as the oil temperature rises, it’s so easy to get in tune with the car that it instantaneously becomes addictive. There’s plenty of traction and the turbo spools up nicely and very progressively, with a relentless push towards the red line. It’s easy to pitch into the corner and drive it fast in icy conditions…and this is true only until you use 90% of its potential. If you truly want to dare to explore its 10% of pure rally-heritage, you’ll soon realize what kind of car you have between your hands. Focused and uncompromising as few cars have ever been and in desperate need of an empty road. Ice? Snow? Rain? The VII just doesn’t care. All you know is that you’ll soon find yourself gunning down the forest at breakneck speed. The EVO VII feels like it was made for the Dolomites, with perfect gearing and broad power band. It grips relentlessly and you’re always going fast with minimal use of the gearbox. It’s a joy to drive, really. It’s not as fancy and not as achingly gorgeous like the Ferrari GTO, but it’s a raw and genuine car that comes directly from the engineers that defined an era of rallying and most likely will not be back. Now, we have the new and exciting Toyota GR Yaris which will restore hope for all of us enthusiasts: 4×4, rally technology and an attitude to be as mean as its predecessors.
Yet, still, in the realm of everyday enthusiasts, the Lancer EVO VII is one of those all-rounders that will never fail to amaze and will truly stand as one of the true great driver’s cars of all times.