Monday, March 17, 2008

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X FQ-360

Subtle It Is and It Ain't
The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X FQ-360 is a special model developed by Mitsubishi's distributor in the United Kingdom. Three versions are to be offered. The FQ-300 has the standard 291-hp version of Mitsubishi's new all-aluminum, turbocharged, DOHC 2.0-liter inline-4, and there's both the standard five-speed manual gearbox and the option of the Evo X's new dual-clutch transmission. Then there's the FQ-330 with an HKS-modified engine that makes 325 hp. Finally there's the highly tuned FQ-360 with an HKS-prepared 356-hp engine.

The FQ-360 is the flagship of Mitsubishi UK's Evo X lineup, and it comes in both GS and GSR trims with a full-up price of $76,000. We're among the very first to drive one here at the Prodrive test facility in central England. And, yes, FQ stands for F****** Quick — it's an internal code that stuck.

Mitsubishi UK has dabbled with the exterior of the Evo X, but only slightly. There's a new carbon-fiber chin spoiler and a vortex generator mounted between the roof and the rear windscreen. The latter is clearly inspired by a similar rally-inspired device from the Evo IX that manages the flow of air over the rear spoiler and generates additional downforce, but you never escape the impression that its inclusion here has as much to do with the need to differentiate the FQ from its lesser brethren as it does with the minutiae of aerodynamic efficiency.

Inside the FQ-360's cabin, you'll find some posher leather on the seats, but that's about it. In truth, only the dedicated Evo-spotter will notice the difference between the FQ-360 and the Evo X. Everyone else will still see a car that's less extroverted than its predecessor, yet projects the requisite dose of aggression that will appease the Evo fanatic.

Letting Loose the Wizards at HKS
Ralliart is Mitsubishi's well-known, internal high-performance tuning company, and it has subcontracted responsibility for upgrading the FQ's 4B11 engine to HKS, equally well-known for its turbocharging expertise. "HKS is to Mitsubishi what Brabus is to Mercedes or Alpina is to BMW," says Paul Brigden, the general manager of Ralliart UK. "HKS had access to the new Evo long before anybody else from outside the company. This gave us a significant head start."

Creating the FQ-360 has been a two-stage project. The first step has been to improve the engine breathing. A racing-specification intake duct delivers more air to the revised intercooler, improving charge density, while a low-restriction catalyst and exhaust system improves things at the other end. These modifications are sufficient to add 30 hp to the stock 295-hp turbo engine (10 percent is what you generally expect with improved engine breathing), creating the FQ-330 engine.

Liberating an extra 30 horses means going to work on the fuel mixture. "We lean the mixture ahead of the spark," explains Brigden. "The turbo boost pressure has actually been reduced from 11.8 psi in the standard car to 10.3 psi in the 360." This has a negative impact on fuel consumption and exhaust emissions, but a positive effect on the power output. In combination with a software reflash, these changes create the FQ-360 engine.

The official output for the FQ-360 engine is 354 hp at 6,500 rpm, and the torque production is an even more impressive 363 pound-feet at 3,500 rpm. "An output of 360 hp is about the most that's feasible from this engine," says Brigden. "If you start targeting 380-390 hp, you need to introduce new con rods and pistons, which adds dramatically to the cost."

No Magic for the Transmission
Mitsubishi is still a bit hesitant about the ultimate capability of the Evo X's Getrag-built dual-clutch transmission, known as the SST (Sport Shift Transmission). In theory, this automated manual transmission will handle more torque than the 300 lb-ft of twist produced by the Evo X's standard engine, yet Mitsubishi is still reluctant to test its ultimate capacity before reliability and durability have been tested by the standard Evo X.

As a result, the FQ-360 comes equipped with a sturdy five-speed manual transmission. "We'd like to do an FQ-360 with an SST gearbox," Brigden says, "but we'd need to do a lot of durability testing to prove its capability." In other words, it's not happening yet, but don't rule it out.

The FQ Effect
Mitsubishi claims acceleration to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 4.1 seconds for the FQ-360, 4.4 seconds for the FQ-330 and 4.7 seconds for the FQ-300. But this tells only half the story. The key benefit to the HKS-modified engine for the FQ-360 is the torque increase of 63 lb-ft. Put simply, this Evo X's engine hits harder and more consistently than the stock item. When the new 4B11 spools up, you can feel that same kick in the kidneys that made the old 4G63 engine so exciting.

There's also enough torque to pull the wide-ratio spread of gears in the robust five-speed gearbox. And if you enjoy the art of the heel-and-toe downshift, the sturdy shift linkage offers an added delight.Mitsubishi has done nothing to the Evo's suspension with its inverted Bilstein dampers and Eibach springs to cope with the additional thrust. "We had to do braking and stability testing for our product liability insurance, and the extra power made no difference," reports Brigden.

The BMW Question
Mitsubishi Cars UK is in a nice position. Since it's officially just a distributor, the company has greater freedom to tinker with the product that goes on the showroom floors. As a result, the U.K. is the only country in Europe that presently includes the impressive Mitsubishi i city car in its model mix. And this also is the reason why the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X FQ-360 is possible.

You might argue that the FQ-360's $16,000 premium over the FQ-300 is a huge sum to pay for 60 ponies more and some carbon-fiber bits. But Britain's Evo enthusiasts have never been price sensitive, which is why Mitsubishi continues to go to such lengths to satiate their thirst for power. For these buyers, the new FQ-360 will be a welcome addition to the new range of Evo Xs.
Yet in reaching out for a broader spectrum of buyers, Mitsubishi must be careful not to lose touch with its core of enthusiasts. If you want something fast and sensible in the U.K., then the BMW 335i does the job with greater aplomb for less money. Maybe what the FQ-360 really needs is some of the brutal magic of the old Evo IX.

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