“Fantastic,” I thought as I manipulated the car into yet another tight hairpin, trying not to get too crossed up while my navigator calmly dished out further instructions. “So this is what we’ve been waiting for.”Image galleryAnd we, South Africans, have waited a long time – it’s been close to five years since the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X was launched at the 2007 Frankfurt auto show. Granted, during that period Mitsubishi SA was off-loaded by Daimler SA and taken into the Imperial fold in June 2011 where, Nicolas de Canha of Imperial said, the biggest concern was extending the local model range.'BEST EVO YET'Introducing the halo to the Mitsubishi range will hardly hurt those ambitions and local journalists were invited to Zwartkops air force base in Pretoria to try out the sports sedan on a custom circuit plotted by rally ace Charl Wilken. While it’s true that Mitsubishi’s Evo made its name in the World Rally championships in which the Japanese automaker no longer competes some of that rally rawness still resounds – even when stationary. Park it alongside a regular Lancer and the changes, and performance looks, are clear. Described by Mitsubishi as “the best performance car we’ve ever produced”, the latest evolution of the Lancer Evolution story rides on an all-new platform, is powered by a new two-litre engine with dual variable valve timing and a twin-scroll turbo, has a slick new six-speed dual-clutch transmission and comes with the comfort of all-wheel drive. The new MIVEC double-overhead camshaft engine is all aluminium and churns out a lusty 217kW at 6500rpm and 366Nm of torque at 3500rpm. According to Mitsubishi, the use of a titanium turbine wheel for the turbocharger, along with a straight intake system and large diameter exhaust system piping has seen response times improve by as much as 18% over the Evo IX. Along with the aluminium block, other weight-saving efforts include the omission of secondary balance shafts and the use of a number of aluminium body panels. Forward-facing intake and rearward-facing exhaust ports eliminate the need to run the exhaust beneath the engine and have allowed for it to sit 10mm lower, in turn ensuring a lower centre of gravity. QUICK SHIFTERPower is transmitted to the four wheels via a TC-SST (Twin Clutch Sport Shift Transmission) with three driving modes – normal, sport and super sport – manipulated via a toggle switch at the base of the shifter. The “normal” mode is for pottering around town, while “sport” allows for gearshifts at higher revs and in “super sport” mode, shifts are done at 6500rpm and the throttle is more responsive. Promising shift speeds up to 0.1 seconds, lag is understandably minimal.The Evo’s S-AWC (or Super All Wheel Control) also comes with three modes – tarmac, gravel and snow – and an active centre differential (that splits the torque between the front and rear axles via a hydraulic multi-plate clutch) and active yaw control (operating on the rear wheels and distributing torque up to a 70/30 ratio). Active stability control can be partially or fully disengaged. All of which proved very useful on the complex apron-and-runway circuit we had to make our way around while being timed to national rally standards. No pressure. The launch routine sadly did not include any road driving, so I only tried out the Evo in “balls-to-the-wall” mode – super sport with stability control turned off. Around the short and twisty “circuit”, the Evo’s disposition was utterly calming and confidence-inspiring, even when screeching through turns and leaving this driver breathless (with twisted arms) on tight bends. The balance displayed was beautiful and the inherent all-wheel drive qualities of soldiering on regardless did not go unnoticed.The steering feel and weighting also felt impeccable.When the circuit was altered to include more sweeping sections and a straight allowing something approaching a top-speed run, the Evo demonstrated its stability at speed and its poise under hard braking. The Lancer Evo X’s commitment to its driver’s grand plans is utterly addictive and rest assured you will probably run out of steam well before it does. FROM THE TRACK TO THE STREETThe Lancer Evolution X uses a Macpherson strut and multilink rear suspension arrangement bolstered by Bilstein shock-absorbers and Eibach coil springs. The car’s torsional rigidity is said to have been increased by 40% aided by the use of front and rear stabiliser bars and a front strut brace. Braking duties are the job of high-performance Brembos with 350mm ventilated discs (with four-pot calipers at the front) and 330mm discs with two-piston calipers at the rear linked to an anti-locking braking system with electronic brake force distribution and stability control. Eighteen-inch BBS aluminium rims shod with low-profile 245/40R18 tyres are standard. There is one specification level for South Africa which includes practically everything you’d want in a hot sedan. Recaro sport seats, a 650W Rockford Fosgate audio system, a three-spoked multifunction steering wheel, seven airbags, xenon headlights linked to an adaptive front lighting system, and automatic headlight and wiper functions.There are four paint colours to choose from: blue, red and black metallic and a solid white finish. Perhaps the only drawback on the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (apart from how long it’s taken to arrive in South Africa) is its prohibitive price tag. R699 900 comes with a three-year or 100 000km warranty and a three-year or 75 000km service plan, but remains more than R120 000 more expensive than its chief rival, Subaru’s WRX STI available in six-speed manual and five-speed automatic versions. Mitsubishi appears unperturbed, though. Its first shipment of around 20 units was sold even before the price was released… Which shows the Evo might have taken a while to make its way to SA, but die-hard fans were hardly perturbed by the wait, nor the price.