How to make a Mitsubishi Evolution VIII and Evolution IX faster

By Robert Bowen
Jun 10, 2023 | Mitsubishi, Lancer, Buyer's Guide, Evolution IX, Evolution VIII | Posted in Buyer's Guides | From the April 2009 issue | Never miss an article

Photograph Courtesy Mitsubishi

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.]

You’ve seen it in cartoons: A feud is sparked, leading one character to threaten another with a gun. His nemesis quickly puts him to shame by pulling out an even bigger pistol. The two continue this game of one-upmanship, drawing ever larger and more threatening artillery until their weapons can be seen from the moon, barrels wrapping around the Earth.

In the battle of rally-bred performance beasts in the United States, Subaru was quicker on the draw. By late 2001, the manufacturer’s turbocharged WRX sedan and wagon had rocked the enthusiast world. The hopped-up Impreza was a hit among both hardcore drivers and the wider public, and several manufacturers scrambled to bring their WRX-beaters to the American market. Turbocharged performance was back in a big way.

It wasn’t long before Subaru was challenged with a bigger weapon: Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution. Like the WRX, the Evo was already a popular sight in Asian and European markets, and it had an impressive WRC rally-winning pedigree. It was a natural when it came to holding back the WRX from total world domination. 

Mitsubishi rushed to get the Evo ready for U.S. safety and emissions regulations, finally bringing over a domesticated version of their new-for-2003 Evo VIII. The car was truly in a different league compared to the WRX, offering more power and more grip. 

Subaru soon unholstered a response in the form of their WRX STI, further stimulating already stunned U.S. drivers. After years of watching epic WRC battles from afar and feeling left out of the all-wheel-drive sedan wars, the Evo and STI invigorated the stateside market. With about $30,000 in cash or easy credit, anyone with a license could experience either machine. 

Both cars sold out right away, and new owners wasted no time putting them head-to-head in competitive driving events across the country. The Evo, like the WRX before it, immediately became a fixture at rally competitions as well as track events and autocrosses. Some would claim that Mitsubishi ultimately outdrew Subaru with the car. Either way, five years after the first one hit our shores, the Evo is still a staple of our scene.

Origin of Life

The Evo was truly a race car for the street. A thin veneer of modern interior fabrics, audio equipment, and electronic comforts couldn’t conceal its racing DNA; few true street cars before or since have had the same kind of raw, competitive nature. 

The WRX might have come here first, but the Evo had more of an edge. Even though it was the tuner generation’s answer to Shelby, Yenko and the like, it was more comfortable and civilized than many expected. It was also far from slow, easily clocking 13-second quarter-mile runs and approaching 1g of lateral grip in stock trim.

Identifying a Mitsubishi Lancer as a high-powered Evolution is easy, even if the car lacks the big rear wing. The Evo sports a big intercooler, a hood vent and large Brembo brakes. Photography Credits: Courtesy Mitsubishi (Yellow Evo), David S. Wallens (White Evo)

While the Evo VIII was new to American drivers, it wasn’t as revolutionary when viewed on the world’s stage. Sure, it was a fast car, but Japanese buyers had enjoyed access to its all-wheel-drive progenitors since the early 1990s; Europeans had their pick of Evos since the middle of the decade.

In fact, the Evo’s performance credentials were firmly planted in the soil of late-1980s technology: The American-market Galant VR-4 was the source of the first Evo’s drivetrain, and the basic ingredients had not changed since. Also, the top-tier, U.S.-built Mitsubishi Eclipse, Plymouth Laser and Eagle Talon models had nearly identical drivetrains to the early Evo and followed parallel evolutionary paths.

The Evo’s venerable 4G63T powerplant was long a legend in both the U.S. and foreign markets and the iron-block and aluminum DOHC head engine displaced 1997cc during its entire run. However, by the time the first U.S. Evo appeared, output had been cranked up to an astounding 280-plus horsepower.

The venerable 4G63T 2-liter engine was coaxed up to 276 horsepower thanks to more than 20 psi of turbo boost. Photograph Courtesy Mitsubishi

To reach these power levels—which were about 50 percent greater than the old turbo Eclipse powerplant—almost every part had been upgraded through the years. Nothing was interchangeable with the earlier engine except for the timing belt and a few other odds and ends. Most notably, the Evo engine hung on the opposite side of the chassis in a bid to reduce drivetrain complexity and improve weight distribution, a move that required a totally different head, manifold and accessory drive design. 

Other upgrades included new forged pistons with a higher compression ratio, more freely flowing ports, bigger cams and better valvetrain parts—the Evo engine could rev higher and breathe better under boost. A new split-scroll variant of the old MHI 16G turbo, a gigantic front-mounted intercooler, and better underhood plumbing reduced lag and allowed for 19 psi of peak boost in stock trim. Magazine reviewers found little to fault with the engine, though some noted that its performance tended to fall flat when not under boost.

Racy, fabric-covered Recaro seats came in some flashy interior colors, but leather was an option. Photograph Courtesy Mitsubishi

However, the Evo was anything but outmoded. The pressure of rally competition pushed the development of reliable horsepower in the early versions; even when the road car and WRC racer finally parted ways around the release of 1998’s Evo V, Mitsubishi production engineers continued to add the latest technology to the street version. 

Amenities like lightweight titanium/aluminide turbo wheels, a computer-controlled center differential, and some of the stickiest tires ever supplied on a new car could be found in Mitsubishi showrooms. Not all of these parts initially made it to our domestic version, but they showed that Mitsubishi was willing to do just about anything for the Evo project.


After watching the rest of the world enjoy the Evo, the U.S. finally got it for 2003. The first American-market Evo saw a small bit of detuning for cost, complexity and warranty reasons. A five-speed transmission replaced the Japanese-market six-speed, while an open unit was used in place of a front limited-slip differential.

That trick turbocharger didn’t come stateside, either, as we got the steel/Inconel unit found on the base model cars sold in Japan. The Active Center Differential (ACD) and Active Yaw Control (AYC) were left off, and the aluminum roof and Bilstein suspension weren’t available here. We also got larger bumpers and a slightly detuned engine. The American Evo was rated at 271 horsepower, five less than the JDM car.

The Evo MR was the top-of-the-line model; included in its bag of tricks was a vortex generator on the trailing edge of the roof. Wingless Evos make great sleeper sedans. Photographs Courtesy Mitsubishi

Most of the Japanese-market options gradually came to the U.S., with many appearing on the later Evo RS and MR models. The MR received the aluminum roof, six-speed transmission, Bilstein struts and ACD, although AYC didn’t make it onto any American-bound Evos until the Evo X. The hardcore RS model came without a rear spoiler and ABS; along with a decontented interior, the RS was nearly 150 pounds lighter than the base American-market Evo.

Mitsubishi would give the original Evo a special send-off for the 2006 model year, releasing the Evo IX. This car—simply dubbed the “Lancer Evolution” by Mitsubishi Motors North America—came only in MR and GSR flavors. The biggest visible change was a slight face-lift and new taillights.

The real news was under the hood, as horsepower bumped up to 286 thanks to a new cylinder head fitted with variable valve timing, different spark plugs, and redesigned pistons. A new, larger turbo also helped.

Common Descent

After the Evo IX hit its first birthday, the model line took a break for nearly two years while Mitsubishi readied an entirely new Evolution. This one would be based on the redesigned 2008 Lancer platform. Not only would the Evo look totally different, but it would finally get a new engine; power would come from the fresh, all-aluminum “world motor” developed in conjunction with Chrysler and Hyundai. 

Despite the new Evo X’s improvements in performance, civility and safety, many enthusiasts would lament the loss of the earlier car. Odds are strong that it will go down as the one of the fiercest, angriest compacts ever unleashed on our market.

Photography Credit: Chris Clark

Things to Know

Many cars have been advertised as having a motorsports heritage, but the Evo VIII and IX really do have rally racing in their DNA. They are fast, well-developed cars that are designed to be driven hard and come back asking for more. The engine, transmission and drivetrain are incredibly tough. As long as the drivetrain is properly maintained, lubricated and cooled, it has very few weak spots.

The earliest Evo VIIIs have depreciated the most, of course, with the majority of examples selling for less than $20,000. Very high-mileage or abused examples can be found below the $15,000 mark, but be extremely careful when bottom-feeding. Used 2006 Evolutions are out there, and depending on trim and mileage, the price for a good example can range from $25,000 to $30,000.

Photography Credit: Rupert Berrington


The Evo is a tough car, but it’s not invincible. The hard-running turbo engine needs its oil changed regularly. Mobil 1 is the factory fill.

The timing belt should be changed at 60,000 miles; do not postpone a timing belt replacement. Budget for a new tensioner and rollers at the same time. 

Standard bolt-ons—exhaust, intake and downpipe—along with good gas can easily provide 300 reliable horsepower at the wheels. Start adding ECU work, a bigger turbo, aggressive cams, an upsized intercooler and more fuel, and a 500-plus-horsepower package can easily be bolted together. All of the typical Japanese, American and European suppliers cater to the car. 


“Evo clutches face a lot of abuse,” warns Robert Garcia, shop manager and engine builder for Road Race Engineering as well as co-author of “How to Build Max-Performance Mitsubishi 4G63t Engines.” Sandwiched between nearly 300 turbocharged horsepower and four sticky Yokohamas, the clutch is right in the crosshairs of ham-fisted drivers. Almost any Evo that’s been driven hard has either undergone a clutch replacement or is due for one soon. The guys at Road Race Engineering have seen clutch change intervals as short as 2000 miles, but thankfully that’s an exception rather than a rule.

Look closely for signs of a “back-to-stock” car, even if it seems unmodified: Broken exhaust hangers, missing or rounded engine compartment hardware, RTV silicone oozing from under the valve cover, and suspiciously scratched interior plastic are all warning signs that a car has been tampered with. 

Body and Interior

“Look at the wiring under the dash,” our expert advises. “Most aftermarket electronics get hooked up to the ECU and ignition wiring, so look for taped or heat shrink splices where wires have been removed and hopefully resoldered. The driver’s A-pillar interior panel might contain holes from having gauges and pods screwed to it. Same for the steering column cover.” 

Make sure all the VIN tags are present, and look under the trunk mat and the front corners of the car for evidence of overspray, fresh seam sealant, and new trim clips. Check that the fender liners are present and show the same amount of wear. One new fender liner is a red flag. 


The 2005-’06 cars are preferred by many thanks to their factory-installed front limited-slip differentials. Installing one in an earlier car isn’t a difficult job, however.

The gooey Yokohama Advan tires supplied on most Evos have likely gone hard by now.

“Cars that have been driven hard will have a big lip on the brake rotors,” cautions Robert Garcia. Burned-off caliper paint is another sign of a tough life.

The Evo is an incredibly well-developed package for performance enthusiasts. Four R-compound tires mounted on a set of the stock Enkei or BBS wheels are all the modifications that most people need to enjoy the occasional track day or autocross. 

“A car that has been driven in the dirt regularly will generally have the underside sandblasted,” Garcia adds. “The rear suspension will have quite a bit more [wear] since the front wheels at full lock really blast the rear of the car.” 

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yupididit GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
11/11/20 10:10 a.m.

This was my dreamcar in highschool. I ended up getting a Galant vr4. An Evo 9 MR in grey would be lovely. I kind of like the X the most though. 

This is making me relive my evo dreams.  crying



engiekev HalfDork
11/12/20 5:53 a.m.
yupididit said:

This was my dreamcar in highschool. I ended up getting a Galant vr4. An Evo 9 MR in grey would be lovely. I kind of like the X the most though. 

This is making me relive my evo dreams.  crying



Same here! I never made the leap from DSM to Evo, and I still would like to some day.  Compared to the WRX or STI they were much more special, far fewer made and really no parts were shared with other Mitsubishi platforms (unlike the WRX/Sti which shared nearly everything with a base model impreza, however this makes finding parts far easier).

Very clean examples still go for nearly the original sticker price, and now even higher for pristine examples.  It seems like the market for these hit bottom somewhere in Mid 2000's, and has only been rising since.

yupididit GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
11/12/20 9:24 a.m.

In reply to engiekev :

I see the prices now and cry. I should've bought a clean stock ix when I could. One of the few cars I like stock,  most are modded to hell now. 

The RS is very special 

Appleseed MegaDork
11/12/20 9:33 a.m.

In reply to yupididit :

Exactly.  You have two choices: hacked to death or pay a pretty penny. 

LanEvo GRM+ Memberand Dork
11/12/20 10:34 a.m.

After driving a friend's Evo VI-Tommi Makinen Edition in '99 or '00 ... I was hooked on Evos forever. Bought the Evo VIII as soon as they hit the US market in '03.

It wasn't quite as cool as the VI-TME, but I loved it. Served as my daily driver, winter beater, track car, and ice racer for 5 years and 60k miles. Surprised a LOT of Porsche owners at Mosport and Tremblant.

I sold it for just a bit less than what I paid for it new. Even back then (2008-2009) it was tough to find a properly maintained, adult-owned example. I bet it would be nearly impossible to find one that isn't totally beat to E36 M3 today.

JAdams New Reader
11/12/20 11:51 a.m.

In reply to LanEvo :

It definitely is! I've kept an eye out for one of these for several years now and there haven't been any that I want to afford. Prices are definitely going up for the nice ones and are nearing the point of many of the new 'competitors" in the similar class.

Feedyurhed UltraDork
11/13/20 6:08 a.m.

I have always been a Subaru guy but loved the Evos too.   IMO some of the best times in WRC were when Subies and Mitsus competed against each other. I am still shocked how far the Mitsubishi brand has fallen in the States.sad 

Floating Doc (Forum Supporter)
Floating Doc (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UberDork
11/13/20 8:56 a.m.

Give Subaru credit, at least they imported their wagon. Mitsubishi never exported the Evo wagon.  JDM only.

We did get a single year import of the Ralliart wagon in 2004. I've had mine since 2009. No comparison to the Evo, but it's been a fun and very reliable daily, and it's served as a backup for my ES Miata.

Still, I've always pined for that some of that all wheel drive turbo goodness.

Problem solved.



calteg Dork
3/12/21 9:12 a.m.

Looks like an Evo II is eligible for import right now. Might be a cheaper option

bmw88rider (Supportive Dude)
bmw88rider (Supportive Dude) GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
3/12/21 10:18 a.m.

Up to Evo 4 is eligible and those run 20-25K on average. 

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