Q: I’m a Lancer Evo fan, and it kills me that Mitsubishi isn’t doing performance cars anymore. I remember talk of the company considering performance PHEVs. Is this true?
Full disclosure: This above question was constructed by yours truly, but has been derived from countless similar ones thrown in my direction, some motivated by this story.
The seeming death of the diamond-badged brand’s sporting arm has attracted vast swathes of commentary, including from our own staff.
There aren’t too many car nuts who haven’t shed a tear at Mitsubishi Motors’ metamorphosis. Green? Yes. Red hot? No.
Whether it’s the now-defunct Lancer Evo series, the revolutionary Galant VR-4 before it, polarising cars such as the Eclipse, GTO, FTO, Cordia or 3000GT, or its 26 Dakar entries (for 12 wins), the company has some pedigree.
But anyone looking at its current range knows the company has abandoned sporting aspirations for bigger-volume SUVs and light commercials, and economy-focused plug-in hybrids such as the Outlander PHEV, right?
I almost openly wept when I spoke with Tommi Mäkinen late last year in his role as a Toyota WRC staffer, even if we all know the reason Mitsubishi realised the apotheosis of a tortoise was a then-parlous financial position.
Yet embers of hope remain. You may recall our coverage of the 2015 Baja 500 Portalegre off-road rally, where Mitsubishi torture-tested a prepped Outlander PHEV, or its EV Prototype entry at Pike’s Peak a year or so earlier.
Or even the way-out Concept XR-PHEV Evolution Vision Gran Turismo with its supposed PHEV powertrain, eight-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT) and active four-wheel drive with torque-vectoring to all four wheels.
There’s a theme here, and it ain’t internal combustion and conventional coupe/sedan body styles.
There will almost certainly be no return for the Lancer Evo, or any kind of Mitsubishi coupe to answer the Toyota 86/Supra, Subaru BRZ/WRX, Nissan 370Z or Honda Civic Type R.
However, the company didn’t conduct the Baja race or the Pike’s Peak challenge for nought. Its PHEV research arm hasn’t been sitting as idle as it may appear, even if the Outlander is still its only big-volume car with batteries.
The base Outlander PHEV (petrol-electric) itself has a layout that theoretically lends itself to dynamism in the right setting.
Its Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC) system has 60kW electric motors on each axle in place of the Evo’s active centre diff, sending torque to each corner independently and immediately. The ESC also has integrated brake torque vectoring.
We’re not calling the Outlander PHEV a sports car, but it’ll surprise you. What surprised us more was the prototype we drove on ice, which had a sport setting that sharpened up the accelerator mapping, making controlled RWD-style drifts very manageable.
This car, cloaked in ordinary Outlander PHEV skin, is clearly a drivetrain development of the 2015 eX concept.
Looking further out, there are ideas like those previewed by the Grand Tourer GT-PHEV concept and its three-motor S-AWC system, packaging two 45kW electric motors to drive each rear wheel, as well as one 90kW unit up front in tandem with the petrol generator.
Beyond this, who knows? Mitsubishi is part of the Renault-Nissan Alliance now (the latter is the majority stake holder, and Carlos Ghosn is now its head), meaning scale could create a viable case for a performance crossover of some sort after all.
Look, we’re not saying the glory days of 1990s WRC are back, but little old Mitsubishi isn’t completely devoid of spark — pardon the pun — just yet. Check out our bonus video with four-time Finnish rally champion Jari Ketomaa above.