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This is the 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. Though Mitsu has lightly disguised it as the Prototype X concept car for the 2007 Detroit Auto Show, this turbocharged, all-wheel-drive sedan is the Evo X. No doubt about it. We're so sure about it that we'll just refer to the Prototype X as the next Evo X for the rest of this report.

Few production cars are as focused or as frenetic as the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Since 1992, the all-wheel-drive Evo has displayed its winning magic not only in the World Rally Championship for which it was created but also on open roads from London to Los Angeles. It's even a must-have machine in the virtual world of Gran Turismo.

The Prototype X anticipates the long-awaited introduction of the production 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X at the Tokyo Motor Show later this fall. When the car arrives, it will be the best-looking, fastest-cornering Evo yet. It will also represent a significant shift in the car's personality as it becomes an all-around performance automobile, not just a slightly civilized competition car.

No longer business as usual
After nine generations, Mitsubishi's cult car has an all-new chassis platform and an all-new engine. Even Mitsubishi's all-wheel-drive hardware has received a high-tech makeover.

It takes just one glance at this car's sleek exterior to realize that it's no longer business as usual in the Mitsubishi's design studio. Gone is the souped-up look of a Tokyo taxi and in comes a lean, purposeful shape with great proportions. Though it's disguised by projector-beam headlights and fast-acting LED taillights, this is a new sort of Mitsubishi, far more European in character than ever before.

There's plenty of aluminum in the bodywork, including the hood, roof and the distinctive square-section fender blisters. Twin exhausts are an Evo first, and help improve the look. A tall rear wing has quickly become an Evo trademark, so it's no surprise that it continues here (although it's no longer made of carbon fiber). The same goes for the aerodynamic diffuser that peeks out from underneath the rear bumper.

The 20-inch wheels seen on this car won't make it into production and will be replaced by 18-inch rims.

New turbo engine and trick all-wheel drive
The Evo uses the new Mitsubishi Lancer chassis, itself based on a platform originally developed in partnership with DaimlerChrysler. The Lancer is actually 0.6 inch shorter than before, but the wheelbase has been stretched 1.5 inches to 103.7 inches. The car is 2.7 inches wider and 3.8 inches taller. The chassis is more rigid in bending and torsion has improved more than 50 percent, but it's unfortunately also about 200 pounds heavier.

Mitsubishi engineers hope that an all-new turbocharged inline-4 will provide enough power to cope with the extra weight. Designated the MB11, this all-aluminum, DOHC 2.0-liter design has symmetrical cylinder dimensions, which should deliver free-revving performance. Mitsubishi's MIVEC variable-valve-timing technology has been applied to both camshafts to broaden the power band. Mitsubishi has also done its best to engineer this aluminum-block, open-deck engine to withstand the stress of turbocharging as well as the former iron-block 4G63 design.

Mitsubishi is remaining tight-lipped about power and torque figures from the turbo MB11 for now, but we expect horsepower to increase to 320 hp from 286, while torque will climb to 325 pound-feet from 295. This power should enable the Evo to sprint to 60 mph in less than 4.5 seconds.

More big news comes from the availability of a six-speed, dual-clutch transmission like Volkswagen's DSG unit. Shift paddles are mounted on the steering wheel, while a switch on the console delivers three different shift modes. For purists, a six-speed manual gearbox option will also be offered.

The Evo X's most significant piece of high-tech kit will be the addition of Mitsubishi's Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC) technology. It begins with the most elaborate form of the current Evo IX's all-wheel-drive system, which includes Active Center Differential (ACD), Active Yaw Control (AYC) and Active Stability Control (ASC). S-AWC adds active suspension, active braking control and active steering to enhance the Evo's AYC for quicker steering response and faster cornering speeds.

Simply superb
In April 2006, we sampled an early Evo X prototype fitted with only half of the S-AWC package, featuring upgraded AYC and active braking control. Even then, we noted the clever integration of heightened AYC reaction, and active brake control enabled us to more precisely control power delivery and achieve quicker times through a slippery slalom course. The car felt more composed, as less steering lock was required to cut through the cones, while the rear wheels tucked in nicely and obediently followed the fronts.

With the addition of active suspension and active steering systems to the production Evo X, we expect even sharper steering response and a more composed ride. Better still, the steering should feel as natural and progressive as it does in the Evo IX.

The new braking setup features a combination of a revised Brembo four-piston caliper with drilled rotors, and the electronic stability system doesn't seem to engage the antilock braking effect until you've exhausted the S-AWC's ability to maintain traction. So the fun zone is even larger than before, yet it's still easy to bring the car under control once you finally scare yourself.

Focus on interior, too
Inside, the new cabin is a huge improvement over the current model's bland effort. New Recaro seats envelop the driver. (The suedelike inserts in the seat upholstery unfortunately are a feature only of the concept car.) Overall, the materials achieve a higher standard, although the design cues are much the same. A navigation system will be available, while the showcar features a premium sound system with a huge trunk-mounted subwoofer.

Improved ergonomics also reward dedicated drivers, as the three-position switch that dials the center differential to different torque distribution settings for pavement, gravel and snow has been relocated from the dashboard to the steering wheel.

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi designers have employed soft, orange illumination for the instruments to enhance night vision. Unfortunately the concept car's suede upholstery for the dashboard and door panels won't make it to the assembly line.

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