A new species of wagon discovered in Japan.
This simple silver vehicle may look like an average compact wagon with a few sporty body panels thrown in to make it a bit more muscular. That couldn’t be further from the truth. With the Lancer Evolution IX wagon, Mitsubishi has wrought a comfortable five-door family car that, when pushed to its limits, would put more than a few sports cars to shame.
As the name implies, this is the wagon version of the ultra-high-performance Evo IX sedan that recently debuted. It is the first-ever Evo wagon, the Evo line having survived without a wagon since its inception in 1992. (We’ve only had Evos stateside since 2002.) In Japan, Mitsubishi has added a wagon version to the lineup for those drivers who grew up with Evolutions over the past decade but have now evolved into family men and women and can now have their cake and eat it, too.
From the outside, the wagon looks almost identical to the Lancer Sportback, now out of production. There’s a Volvo-like rear end and a chunky, heavily vented, sharp-edged Evo nose. Inside, the wagon doesn’t really differ from the sedan—grippy Recaro seats and a Momo steering wheel put the driver in the right mood. What really gets one going is the variable-valve-timing-equipped 286-hp 2.0-liter from the Evo IX sedan.
It’s the use of the revised engine that really lifts the wagon’s performance. Bottom-end torque is available earlier in the rev range (about 2500 rpm), and the engine pulls hard all the way to the 7000-rpm redline. The on/off turbo lag of the Evo VIII is largely absent, and the new car is as happy trundling around town as it is on a racetrack. There are three transmission choices for the wagon: five- and six-speed manuals and a five-speed automatic.
When most people imagine a wagon, it’s likely nothing like this one. Large 18-inch wheels fill the fender wells, the chassis is identical to the one in the sedan, and large Brembo brakes are in place. The wagon is also available with the MR package, which adds lighter wheels and Bilstein dampers that smooth out the ride considerably compared with lesser Evos.
The wagon does get the sedan’s active and adjustable center differential, but it doesn’t get the sedan’s “super active” yaw control that attempts to keep the handling safe and understeer in check. One engineer we asked suggested that the cost of the system would raise the price of the wagon considerably, but we feel the wagon doesn’t really need the yaw control. The wagon has an extra 150 or so pounds over the rear wheels that balance out the Evo’s usual front-weight bias.
Corner quickly, and the wagon turns in fast as the extra mass over the rear wheels maximizes their traction, although the front-mounted helical limited-slip differential and the active center differential pull the front end around the corner. This is quite likely the fastest-cornering wagon on the planet. The fact that you can take it through corners faster and more easily than just about any supercar out there makes you feel as though you’re Colin McRae.
Unfortunately for North America, the wagon version of the Evo will not be exported out of Japan. The 2500 or so wagons that will be built this year will all stay for home-market consumption. You can chalk up another Japanese rocket that missed the boat.
Vehicle type: front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door wagon
Estimated base price (Japan): $28,500
Engine type: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, iron block and aluminum head, port fuel injection
Displacement: 122 cu in, 1997cc
Power (SAE net): 286 bhp @ 6500 rpm
Transmissions: 5-speed automatic,
5- or 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 103.3 in
Length/width/height: 179.9/69.7/58.3 in
Curb weight: 3450 lb
Performance ratings (C/D est):
Zero to 60 mph: 4.8-5.5
Standing 1/4-mile: 13.5-14.5
Projected fuel economy (C/D est):
EPA city driving: 18-19 mpg
EPA highway driving: 25-26 mpg