BY ANDY ENRIGHT
The Lancer Evolution VII marked a change in focus for Mitsubishi's cult rally replica. Based on the Cedia rather than the Carisma platform, it was a more refined and less extrovert car than its direct predecessor, the Evo VI. Due to its less outrageous personality, the Evo VII was slow to find favour with core customers but they gradually appreciated what an excellent product it was. There are many different variants from which to choose and the internal politics of Mitsubishi's UK importers became a little confusing around the time the Evo VII was introduced, but don't let that stop you if you're considering plumping for a used example.
Models Covered: (4 dr saloon 2.0 petrol [GSR, RS, RSII, RS Sprint, GTA, Extreme, Extreme S, Extreme SC, FQ-300])
The first inkling that the much-loved Evo VI was about to be replaced came via an innocuous press release issued on the 26th January 2001. "Mitsubishi Motors Corporation announces that the Lancer Evolution VII sophisticated 4WD sports sedan will go on sale at Galant and Car Plaza dealer showrooms throughout Japan on Saturday 3rd February 2001". Of course, sophisticated is a relative term and almost anything would appear rather suave next to an Evo VI, itself hardly the sort of vehicle you'd pull up outside the Garrick Club in. The emphasis was on more sophisticated electronics, better aerodynamics, less weight in the engine, improved turbocharger and intercooler performance and an overall rise in perceived product quality. The first examples to land in the UK arrived via the usual grey import route. The mainstream model - again a relative term - is the GSR, a model with a host of fairly civilised refinements. There is also a stripped down RS model and an RSII that occupies the middle ground between the two versions. An RS Sprint also appeared in late 2001 which is a Ralliart tuned RS that develops 320bhp. The ultimate Evos were developed by Ralliart towards the end of 2001. The Evo VII Extreme (339bhp), Extreme S (357bhp) and Extreme SC(458bhp) aren't for the faint hearted. An automatic version of the Evo VII, the GTA, was announced in January 2002.Mitsubishi rationalised the range in 2002 by offering the 305bhp FQ-300 alongside the GSR. The Evo VII was superceded in January 2003 by the Evo VIII, a car that looked a little more aggressive.
What You Get
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VII may not be most people's idea of a pretty car, but it's certainly a good deal easier on the eye than either of its direct forebears, Evos V and VI. Evolution is said to refine the species, and it's certainly rounded off a lot of the rough edges of the Evo bloodline. However, anyone expecting a significant softening of the performance envelope could well be in for a rude awakening. Hardcore enthusiasts will still lust after the bumps, bulges, warts and wilful ugliness of the Evo VI, but they'd be missing out. The latest version of the Evo VII is a better car in so many ways that perhaps we can forgive its less aggressive mien. In a bid to stave off the inevitable flood of grey import models, official UK models boast a titanium turbo, full rustproofing and an ECU that's been remapped to clear our emissions regulations. A UK 'passport' served to identify the vehicle as an official car to any of the fifty UK Ralliart dealers who will honour the three-year warranty. Not only does this bring peace of mind, but it also guaranteed a healthy resale price for the car, its official status being a guarantee of known provenance and scrupulous upkeep. In theory. The development of the Evo species can most easily be appreciated from behind the chunky Momo steering wheel. The dash has some neat almost Focus-like angles to it, and the plastics quality is now a bit happier than the Happy Meal toy standard of the Evo VI. The 40kg weight penalty of the better interior and longer wheelbase body has been offset by a massive increase in rigidity and better technology to deploy the available power. Make no mistake, the Evo VII is both a nicer place to spend time and as quick from point to point as its predecessor. The Evo VII GTA mixes a manic engine with a middle-aged transmission and found few takers in the UK. Perm any of the RS, FQ-300 or Extreme models if you accept as inevitable that your driving history should be interspersed with six month spells as a pedestrian.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Evo VII is a tough car and even better screwed together than its predecessor. The interior is especially well built and suffers from far fewer of the squeaks, twitters and rattles that plague the Evo VI. Despite the standard versions boasting between 276 and 458bhp, the engine is untemperamental and has yet to develop any significant faults. Tyre bills can be massive, as the Evo rewards an unsophisticated 'chuck and drift' style of cornering. Likewise, it would be prudent to check the suspension and also to have a good look for any signs of crash repair. The key thing to look out for is that the car is what it purports to be. Ralliart dealers concede that any Evo VII variant can be turned into any other quite readily if the owner knows what he or she is doing (RS models masquerading as RS Sprints for example). The two key variants, the GSR and the cheaper RS, are identifiable in a number of ways. The RS has black door handles and wing mirrors, no rear wiper or front fog lamps, usually runs on 15-inch steel wheels, has no climate control and electric windows and the seats are deeper. It has a closer ratio gearbox and only came in one colour - Scotia White - so it shouldn't be too difficult to spot what you're getting. Identifying the Sprint version is a little trickier as the differences only ran to a tuned electronic control unit, different conrod bolts and an HKS air filter and exhaust. Look for aftermarket fuel cuts or cable ties around the turbo hoses to stop them expanding. These are signs that the owner is looking to 'overclock' the turbo boost. If you're looking at an import car make sure it's been undersealed, that the rear foglight has been correctly fitted, the 112mph speed restrictor removed and that the speedometer and odometer have been converted to read in mph. Look for accident damage such as misaligned panels and paint overspray and ask whether the owner has fitted the aftermarket fix to the Recaro seats that stops them slowly reclining over time. Also make sure that the car has been serviced at an authorised Ralliart dealer as the Automatic Yaw Control system fitted on most models requires an expensive proprietary diagnostic tool known as a MUT-II. Your local spanner monkey will not have one.
(approx based on a 1998 Evo VI GSR) The Lancer Evo VII is a very expensive car to run. It requires frequent servicing which arrive at the 1,000, 4,500, 9,000, 18,000 and 45,000 mile marks. All things being otherwise hunky dory, the 9,000 mile service will come to around £275, the 18,000 mile service £350 and the 45,000 mile job £780. This excludes the cost of consumables such as tyres, brake discs, clutch kits and brake pads. Factor this in on top of a hefty insurance premium and a stiff thirst and you'll appreciate that despite being an otherwise unassuming four-door two-litre Japanese saloon, the Lancer Evo VII will probably cost more to keep on the road than a Porsche Boxster.
On the Road
The Evo VII is not a car rich in subtlety. It does not possess layers of talent that must be probed and explored before you see the point. Drop down into the Recaro seats, shut the tinny door and fire up the engine and you'll probably realise what the Evo's all about in the first 200 metres. There are table football games with less direct actions than the short throw gearbox, and the steering feels similarly hardwired. Although there are only two turns from lock to lock, the car never feels nervous or skittish, instead the wheel engenders a disdainful approach to corners. Perhaps disdain is too mild. The Lancer Evo VII beats corners into whimpering submission, seeing them as an opportunity to carve the shoulders off its big Yokohama tyres and to pump the driver chock full of feel-good endorphins. Understeer doesn't figure in the Evo VII's vocabulary, the steering holding a line with dogged determination. Find a safe enough place to explore the handling envelope and the Evo will astound with its sheer grip. At the extreme margins it will run wide with all four wheels drifting together the Active Centre Differential and Active Yaw Control directing the drive to whichever corner the car's brain thinks most capable of deploying it. Unlike the systems in a Nissan Skyline which let give you a margin of heroic oversteer to play with, the Mitsubishi prefers to corner all of a piece, perhaps limiting its appeal to those who seek ultimate entertainment from a car. Only genuinely furious driving will unsettle the rear end. It's the pace of the thing that still astonishes, the innocuous sounding 2.0-litre 16-valve engine capable of delivering a 276bhp knockout punch. That's if you go for the RSII version. Here, the engine is good for 5.3 seconds to 60mph and a top speed of 150mph. If you want more, there's also an Evo VII FQ-300 version quick enough to take half a second off the sprint to sixty. This can be distinguished from the standard car by a carbon fibre dash and switch panels, carbon fibre gear knob and carbon fibre rear spoiler end plates. There's also the toned down Evo VII GT-A with (shock horror!) an automatic gearbox. Whichever version you go for, there's still some turbo lag, but the ride is vastly improved over the crashy Evo VI and the interior has come on in leaps and bounds.
If you can afford to buy, maintain, insure and fuel it, there's not a lot to touch the Evo VII for a combination of performance, handling and practicality. You'll need to look at a few to find the right car and beware of shady sellers but the rewards are worth the effort.