Scoop: Lancer Evo to return

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After several years of meagre sales and ho-hum products, Mitsubishi appears to have turned a corner following significant internal restructuring including rechanneling resources from an underperforming plant in Europe to bolster its North American production facility and announcing a collaboration with the Renault-Nissan Alliance.

That turnaround will see the company post record net profits for fiscal 2013 on the back of debuting three strategic SUV concepts at the recent Tokyo motor show, which will form the basis of the company’s future core product line-up including the next Pajero and Outlander (and plug-in hybrid versions thereof).

In line with Mitsubishi’s ‘New Stage 2016’ business plan spanning the three-year period from 2014-2016, company CEO Osamu Masuko said that his R&D team will streamline Mitsubishi’s current 23 models built on 12 different platforms to just 13 models on seven platforms by 2016. Mitsubishi will also build two sedans using Renault platforms.

And here’s a scoop – while Mitsubishi’s next-generation Lancer will employ a Renault platform, the company’s next high-performance Evolution model will not.

‘But I thought the Evo was in cryogenic freeze, with the current Evo X never to be replaced,’ we hear you say. Not so.

In early 2011, one British publication reported that the “Evo series is dead with the Evo X.” In response, CEO Masuko made the unprecedented move to counter those claims by saying: “The Evo as you know it is no more. The new model will take a completely different direction. What you will see in the near future will be a totally new Evo that employs innovative technology and inspired handling”.

Our source in Japan has now confirmed that, uncovering plans from inside the halls of Mitsubishi’s Tokyo HQ that show the company is well into the development of a next-generation Evo.

The image you see here is an artist’s impression of what the next-gen Evo might look like, based on design cues of recent concept cars like the stylish XR-PHEV concept revealed at Tokyo.

However, from what we are hearing, the next Evo will be so different to the 10 Evo generations that were churned out like clockwork every two years since 1993 that it will most probably end up with a totally new name.

Firstly, the demands on the performance and handling side are so great that no Renault platform could cope, says our insider. The next Evo will be an extension of the huge strides that Mitsubishi has made in battery and plug-in electric vehicle (PHEV) technology, as witnessed in the Outlander PHEV.

The next Evo will be a fusion of “uncompromised handling with state-of-the-art plug-in hybrid EV technology,” stresses our contact.

That’s why it has to employ a unique platform. The next Evo will be a showcase of the company’s premium technologies and must therefore sit on a specially developed platform. It all comes down to the cost effectiveness of next-generation PHEV technology, which must achieve greater range while incorporating a smaller engine, smaller electric motors and lighter, better performing batteries.

The company’s new modular technology will incorporate a ‘downsized’ direct-injection turbo-petrol engine and a revised version of Mitsubishi’s tried-and-proven Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC), which integrates the management of an active centre differential, active yaw control, active stability control and sports ABS.

Our source tells us that the Evo’s R&D team is currently evaluating an enhanced version of the 100kW 1.1 litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine powering the sharp-edged XR-PHEV concept revealed at the Tokyo show in November.

“This engine generates at least 35 per cent more power than any comparably sized engine,” says our source, “so it should be plenty for the new Evo.”

The next-gen Evo will also be 4WD, but not as you know it. Like the Outlander PHEV, the Evo will employ motors front and aft, but while they will generate similar amounts of power, they will be significantly downsized and the battery pack will be slotted in under the rear seats, resulting in perfect 50/50 front/rear weight distribution.

Yet another source close to Mitsubishi informs us that the next-generation S-AWC, when integrated with the front and rear electric motors, will achieve handling capabilities that will surpass any previous Evo, including the Evo X.

And that is why, he says, the new Evo will not employ a Renault chassis. “Sure, the stock Lancer is slated to sit on a Renault Megane platform, but the Evo requires something quite special, a platform that can only be developed in-house.”

And that raises another interesting point. If the next Evo does not employ the same Renault platform as the next Lancer, then it will not be defined as a Lancer. So it will need a new name, says one Mitsubishi source.

Whatever Mitsubishi calls it, the new ‘Evo’ will rival its most direct competitor for performance, handling and fuel-efficiency, with state-of-the-art plug-in hybrid technology making it all possible.


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By Peter Lyon

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