The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 7 GSR is one of the purest, most unspoilt road/rally cars ever built. With electronic controlled AWD, a powerhouse turbocharged 2.0-litre, monster brakes and alloy suspension hardware it's hardly any wonder it ranks as one of our favourite go-fast machines.
But what happens when you flick the standard 6-speed 'box to make space for (gasp) an auto?!
Well, we're pleased to say much of the Evo's on-road prowess remains. Sure, it is slower than the manual version but that just magnifies the magnificence of its handling and braking...
The brilliance of the Evo 7's AYC and ADC combination cannot be overstated. The AYC (Active Yaw Control) system uses a computer-controlled, hydraulically-actuated torque transfer mechanism integrated into the rear differential body. Its purpose is to vary the amount of torque going to the left or right rear wheel, depending on driving input and chassis attitude. The ADC (Active Differential Control) system debuted on the Evo 7 and uses a computer-controlled, hydraulically-actuated multi-plate clutch apportioning front-to-rear torque. ADC actively varies its differential limiting force to suit all environments and driver inputs.
The Evo 7 also features MacPherson front struts and a multi-link double wishbone rear-end employing many lightweight aluminium components. A front strut bar and bracing across the rear shelf are just two of the steps that Mitsubishi has taken to enhance body rigidity.
The countless hours spent engineering and fine-tuning the AWD system and suspension is evident in the Evo 7's tremendous balance and stability. Throw the Evo 7 into a tight corner and the control systems swing the back out slightly to help maintain a tight cornering line. And don't bother lifting off the throttle - keep it planted and the ADC and AYC straightens the chassis and transfers every bit of drive to the road. It's fantastic stuff - even a mediocre driver feels like a pro behind the wheel of an Evo.
The rack-and-pinion power assisted steering is wonderfully responsive and communicative - there isn't the on-centre twitchiness of the Evo 6 Tommi Makinien we tested. Top marks here.
The brakes of the GT-A (which carried over from the GSR) are also mind-blowingingly powerful. Four-pot Brembo front calipers and two-pot Brembo rears bite into 320 and 300mm ventilated discs, providing more than adequate retardation. A 'sports calibration' ABS system is also fitted.
With its sophisticated AWD, beautiful suspension and monster brakes, the Evo 7 - even in auto form - is almost unbeatable on a real-world winding road.
But there are two reasons why the Evo GT-A is slower than its manual gearbox brother. First, the auto car suffers drive losses through a torque converter and is unable to match the neck-jarring launch that's possible in the manual version. Second, the turbocharged 4G63 engine is detuned from a claimed 206kW (and a bit!) to a more conservative 200kW at 6500 rpm. Peak torque is also sliced from 383Nm to 343Nm at a low 2750 rpm.
Under the bonnet it all looks normal Evo 7 except for, of course, the different transmission. And you won't find any secondary air injection (anti-lag) pipework leading into the exhaust manifold - it's hardly necessary with an auto, is it? The Evo 7 spec 4G63 also runs a slightly smaller turbocharger, an 8.8:1 static compression ratio, hollow camshafts, low restriction exhaust and Evo-spec air-to-air intercooler
The transmission is the INVECS-2 Sports Mode 5-speeder that we've seen in the local Mitsubishi Magna/Verada AWDs. The GT-A also scores steering wheel controls for making up and downshifts. The transmission generally works well but there is noticeable torque converter flare (to help get the engine up on cams and boost), it tends to move into top gear early (which creates an in-cabin resonance when you put your foot down) and it's often caught out in a too-high gear when exiting a corner. You really do need to drive it manually to extract every bit of performance - and we found the steering wheel controls too finicky to operate.
At 1480 kilograms the GT-A weighs about as much (if not more) than the 'too heavy' Galant VR-4 that was replaced by the Lancer. Even when stalled up off the line, the GT-A lacks the high G-force launch you can achieve in a manual; our hand-timed 6-second 0 - 100km/h runs tell the story. The GT-A is no straight-line racer.
The interior is based on the relatively up-spec Evo 7 GSR but is more conservative - in keeping with the auto trans persona. The standard seats are relatively soft and conventionally styled, but GSR-type Recaros or leather trim is available as an option. The leather trim also brings 4-way electric adjustment. The GT-A dashboard and various trim pieces feature an unusual blue pearl finish, which is complemented by blue stitched leather steering wheel, shift knob and park brake handle. The white-faced gauge cluster gives you a 180 km/h speedo, a centrally located tacho, fuel level and coolant temp gauges, LCD odo/trip meter and a gear position indicator. Other features include easy-to-use climate control, power windows and mirrors, central locking and twin airbags.
The Evo cabin is comfortable and accommodating but it's nothing to rave about.
From the outside there are a couple of telltale signs that you're driving a 'two pedal Evo'. The usual Evo 7 GSR bonnet vents, NACA duct and front-bumper cutout are missing and the license plate is centralised - all of which is said to improve the car's aero Cd. A smaller rear wing comes standard, but an adjustable GSR-type wing can be optioned (as seen here). Alternatively, the rear wing can be deleted. The standard GT-A rims are carried over from the GSR - 17 x 8s wearing 225/45 rubber. If it weren't for the big rims and optional rear wing you'd walk straight past the GT-A without a second glance.
Released in early 2002, the Evo 7 GT-A has been sold in Japan and several other countries. Unfortunately, the GT-A has not been released in Australia so the only way you'll be able to get one on the road is through the new SEVS regulations. Examples such as our test car are available through Melbourne's Sports and Luxury Cars - the average price is around AUD$65,000 depending on kilometres, condition and options.
If you're one of the many people who endure a long commute to work but you still want a machine that'll satisfy your weekend speed cravings, the GT-A is well worth a look.