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Evolution is all about adapting to suit the environment, and this is precisely what Mitsubishi has been forced to do with the latest version of its legendary Lancer Evo. Stricter emissions laws in Europe and the US - where the car will go on sale for the first time - have meant the Evo VIII is not the full deal. Unlike the previous evolutions of the Evolution, it has not become faster and more sophisticated, but actually slowed up a little and lost some of its gizmos.

The tighter regulations mean the gas-guzzling turbo engine has had to be strangled slightly, so the importer has stripped it of some of the sophisticated technology and will offer the VIII at a bargain price rumoured to be £22,000 - that's £8,000 less than the current model - when it goes on sale in the spring. Then it'll be up to the new owner to uprate the power with dealer-fitted aftermarket kits, which will offer various outputs up to around 320bhp.

But should we be worried about diluting the Evo experience? We grabbed an exclusive first drive, and discovered that the latest Lancer is more fun than ever. The Evolution we sampled doesn't have the VII's Active Yaw Control or Active Centre Differential, and it's like a breath of fresh air in a world of super-complex traction control systems.

Jump on the throttle coming out of a corner, and the rush of turbo power thrusts you back into your seat from 3,500rpm. Give it too much gas at the wrong time and you soon find yourself playing with large helpings of both understeer and oversteer. It's a hoot, which is surprising as the Evo should have lost its edge thanks to US legislation. The revised front and rear ends hide a 50kg weight gain over the Evo VII, a result of extra crash protection, a higher capacity battery for colder climates and a larger, 55-litre (up from 40 litres) fuel tank. A couple of kilos have been regained by using a carbon fibre rear wing, though.

The car narrowly scrapes under strict US emissions laws, yet Mitsubishi managed to find an impressive 271bhp and 370Nm of torque from the turbocharged 2.0-litre in-line four. This is despite the new front bumper design allowing less air to the intercooler than before, marginally affecting performance. Torque response is immediate and strong from just over 3,000rpm all the way up to the 7,000rpm red line and beyond. This Lancer doesn't feel quite as quick off the mark, but it's still rapid enough to see off all but the fastest of supercars.

While the Japanese market is looking forward to the new six-ratio box for the Evo VIII, export models will get the current five-speeder, albeit with some strategic modifications. First and second gears have been lengthened slightly, allowing drivers to remain on boost for longer, and this actually makes you wonder whether a sixth cog is necessary.

The transmission uses a centre differential and viscous coupling unit, with torque distributed equally between the front and rear wheels. With specially developed Yokohama tyres and a well weighted steering wheel, the Evo turns in sharply. The 235/17 rubber has a different compound that performs better on wet roads and in cold climates, and should be perfect for the UK. It certainly delivers good grip, and when the limits of adhesion are reached, break away is progressive and predictable.

Ride comfort is marginally better than in the VII, but it's still a bit on the harsh side for daily use. And don't expect too much refinement inside, as little has changed from the VII, except for the addition of more supportive seats.

The Evo might not have evolved in terms of performance or technology, but it's more fun than ever and will be more affordable, too. Who would have thought it? We have emissions laws to thank for one of the world's finest-handling cars! Peter Lyon

Gabriel,
2001 CL Type S
2001 Lexus RX300 Silversport
 
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