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MRT's Evo X Lancer Upgrades

Driving MRT's latest Evo Lancer performance packs

by Julian Edgar, Pics by Georgina Edgar and Julian Edgar

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Buyers of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X fall into two categories.

There are those who relish the standard car’s fantastic steering, immensely capable handling and very strong top-end power. But then there’s the other category – people who hate the flat bottom-end of the engine rev’s range, and the way the twin-clutch SST transmission lags behind the action in anything but Super Sports mode.

If you’re in the first category, you’ll love MRT’s Evo X upgrades. There’s more top-end power, more handling and even quicker turn-in.

But if you lament the unmodified car’s deficiencies, you’ll find them little addressed by MRT.

We were able to drive two MRT-modified Evo X Lancers – one with the 5-speed manual trans and the other with the auto SST 6-speed transmission. Both cars had ECU and exhaust mods, and the manual trans car also had the MRT suspension upgrade.

The Kits

MRT currently has available two kits for the Evo X.

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The XA kit comprises an ECU re-tune with proprietary EcuTek software. It costs AUD$1990.

As this dyno graph shows, power at the hubs (MRT use a dyno that attaches at the wheel hubs) rises from 180kW to 202kW, a 12 per cent increase. However, that power increase isn’t just at the top-end – there’s good improvement from about 3250 rpm.

Peak torque rises from 340Nm to 412Nm, a gain of 21 per cent. However, the revs at which this torque is developed effectively stay the same – there’s no earlier development of boost.

So what changes are made to the ECU mapping? And, for that matter, what changes are able to be made? Ben Taylor of MRT says that more than 70 per cent of the original settings are altered.

“The factory OEM tune is a little rough around the edges,” he says. “There’s too much ignition timing advance at higher rpm to suit our 98 RON fuel; quite rich air/fuel ratios at higher rpm (dipping into mid 10’s!); the inlet and exhaust cam timing maps are far from optimum; and the boost control is too aggressive in some areas of the rev range and not enough in others.

“About the only parameters that aren’t changed are those relating to idle control, cold start and knock sensitivity.”

Interestingly, increase in peak boost is quite small – the standard cars use 21 psi at max torque, tapering this off quickly as revs rise. The MRT tune sees 21-22 psi at peak, decreasing to 17 psi at the redline.

 “Turbo efficiency really dies in the bum at higher rpm,” says Ben. “I suspect exhaust turbine back pressure and we’re currently working on a potential upgrade.”

“Trying to run more boost actually gets you less grunt as the increased temps mean you have to run lower ignition timing advance to avoid knock issues.”

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This ROM file comparison of standard and unmodified ECU mapping shows that numerous areas are altered, including expected fuel octane, wastegate control, desired engine loads, variable valve timing of both the exhaust and inlet cams, throttle control, and control of the intercooler water spray.

On the last point, MRT suggests that the ‘auto’ mode of the standard car’s intercooler water spray is programmed to come on only at such high coolant and intake air temps that it would never actually trigger – MRT alter these thresholds so that the spray activates much earlier.

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As we’ve seen in the past on Subarus, the EcuTek tuning software looks excellent, with aftermarket management clarity mixed with factory-level complexity.

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The XB kit adds to the tune a new exhaust. The exhaust is a 3-inch stainless steel system that uses the same ball-style flex joints as the factory system. This allows just the rear muffler to be fitted, or you can go for the complete downpipe-rearwards system. The exhaust is jig-built. Large oval tips are fitted.

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The XB kit has a peak power output at the hubs of 218kW, a gain over the XA kit of 8 per cent, and a gain over standard of 21 per cent.

Peak torque rises to 425Nm, a lift over the XA kit of only 3 per cent, and over standard of 25 per cent. The revs at which peak torque is developed drop by about 100 rpm.

The XB kit costs AUD$4690.

The SST Car

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Fifty-four year old owner Louis has pedalled plenty of cars. In addition to the Lancer Evo X SST, he also owns a highly modified auto-trans turbo Subaru Forester and has spent track time in a late model AMG Mercedes and a BMW 335i.

He describes the handling of the standard Evo X Lancer as being nimble and loves the steering, but doesn’t like pause the SST transmission has when accelerated off the line.

Into MRT went the Lancer, to have the XA kit ECU retune.

“The car was soooo improved,“ says Louis. “At two-and-a-half to three thousand revs the torque is so instant. It’s now so much fun in the city.”

The next step was the new exhaust and retune – the XB kit.

“It’s a little bit loud for me,” says Louis, “but the exhaust gives the car another 20 per cent fun improvement!”

MRT owner Brett Middleton told us that the SST system gets a torque signal from the engine ECU. He said that with increased engine torque resulting from the ECU and exhaust changes, the SST transmission has quicker response and changes gears better.

Louis tossed us the keys and we went for a drive.

The exhaust is noticeable at idle – not loud, but you certainly know it’s there. However, at cruise, the noise disappears.

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Despite the dyno curves not showing any such improvement, you’d think that the exhaust would improve turbo spool-up time and that the engine management changes would also bring torque on earlier. But on the road it didn’t feel that way. The bottom-end was near as laggy and dull as standard, and the SST transmission in normal mode had the old ‘count one, two’ delay before responding to a suddenly-floored throttle.

Set to Sports mode, the car was a little quicker to respond than the standard machine, while in Super Sports mode (where the engine is always at high revs) the response was good.

We couldn’t detect any major improvement in the way the SST operated.

And when on boost? There the benefit of the performance mods was clear, with the car pulling hard to the redline (and on one occasion, past the redline) before changing up.

However, we heard the engine detonate once, and twice in our short drive the car threw error codes, something owner Louis said also occurred when the car was standard.

5-Speed Manual

Next we were able to experience MRT’s own 5-speed manual trans Evo X. In addition to the exhaust and ECU changes, this car ran MRT brake pads, MRT front and rear adjustable sway bars, and MRT springs.

The 5-speed manual cars use even shorter gearing than the SST transmission cars – at 100 km/h in top gear, the engine is spinning at 2800 rpm. This short gearing helps disguise the engine’s torqueless lower half of the rev range - at 100 km/h, the engine is just reaching the point at which lots of boost is available.

But as with the standard car, it’s dead-easy to catch the car off boost – the engine drives like a mid-Nineties turbo design, with the MRT mods making even more vivid the contrast between nothing at the bottom, and a lot at the top!

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Without wishing to belabour the point, the car is as dead as a doornail in 5th gear at 60 km/h; dead in 4th gear at 60 km/h; and still has a full 1-second delay before responding to the throttle when driven along in 3rd gear at 60 km/h... Driving around at 60 km/h in second gear would be farcical, so we didn’t try that.

But as with the SST car, get the engine on boost and then a charge through the gears results in strong performance. Unlike the SST car, we heard no detonation and the car drove without triggering any fault codes.

The revised springs – still with standard dampers – are OK on many surfaces but provide a jiggly ride when faced with short-spaced, repetitive bumps. This is very noticeable because the standard car rides so well on. However, the revised MRT brake pads had clearly better bite and feel than the standard pads fitted to the SST car. In our brief drive we weren’t able to find any real world corners, but in the hands of Brett Middleton, the car’s track handling seemed benign and progressive (see breakout box).

Conclusion

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We were disappointed. The key approach to modification is to identify a car’s shortcomings and then reduce or eliminate them.

But the MRT ECU and exhaust mods just make the car’s power delivery even more non-linear.

If you believe that all turbo cars are like this – and for you that’s fine – then we’re sure that you’ll think the car’s greatly improved. But if you’ve driven any well developed turbo cars, the Lancer remains a car with an olde-world, light-switch, on/off power delivery.

The suspension? If you’re track-lapping the Lancer, the MRT mods are likely to be an improvement. But the standard car’s handling is so good that for normal road use, we think the trade-off in ride quality probably invalidates the ultimate handling improvement.

The brake pads? Yep, great.

Contact: www.mrtperformance.com.au

Hot Laps

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Wakefield Park near Goulburn was the venue and Brett Middleton, ex-rally driver, was behind the wheel. MRT’s owner wanted to demonstrate how the Evo X Lancer’s stability control system has three different levels of operation – and what better place to show that?

With all the electronics switched on, the car was – as you’d expect – conservatively shutting down the power and pushing into understeer. It was still quick around the track but was clearly curtailing what a driver of Brett Middleton’s calibre can do.

Brett then switched the stability control system ostensibly ‘off’. However, in this mode, it still stays operating, but at a reduced level. Now he could tip the car into corners, provoking a turn-in oversteer attitude and so keeping the car more neutral under power through the corner. Still set to Tarmac mode on the all-wheel drive, the car was quick and neat.

He then switched the stability system ‘off, off’ – but even in this situation, the electronics still keep working in the background. Lurid tail-slides were then possible, the car yawing into power oversteer. Set to ‘Snow’ mode on the all-wheel drive, the car was able to be driven exuberantly into massive slides. But, as Brett pointed out, it was also going more slowly around the corners.

Best was the first ‘off’ level of the stability control, with the car left in Tarmac mode.

Incidentally, despite the torture the tyres were enduring, they hung in there - for a stock tyre, the standard Dunlop SP Sport 600’s are amazingly good.

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