Pity the Evo is a soft touch

By Michael Booth

Hardcore! You know the score. Well, you might, dear reader, but BMW, Subaru, Honda and, now, Mitsubishi seem to have lost the recipe. Where are the uncompromising, spine-shattering, wrist-twisting, thigh-trembling fun drives these days?

You used to be able to rely on any BMW with an 'M' prefix, Impreza WRXs, Type-Rs, or the car I've been driving this week, the new Mitsubishi Evo, for all of these things.

But the current crop have gone soft. Even the new Focus RS is rumoured to be free of torque steer. They ride like Mondeos; their clutches operate smoothly and lightly; electronic steering numbs road feel; and although their new models are faster on paper, added weight seems to have blunted their effervescence.

They certainly lack that light-footed "zing" thing that made them so addictive.

In many ways the Evo X is a better car than the IX. It has a face that clears the fast lane like a snow plough and all manner of wacky aerodynamic addenda, including a row of weird little dorsal fins on the roof.

It even has an interior that is slightly more hospitable than a KwikFit waiting room, which is a first. There's some turbo lag and, having moaned for years about unnecessary sixth gears, I find myself in the not unprecedented position of having to admit I was wrong, as the Evo really could do with a sixth.

But, mostly, there is masses of thrust and grip with little fuss. And I think that might be where the problem is. There used to be lots of fuss. And bother. Sometimes aggro too.

Cars such as the Impreza, Civic Type R and Evo used to demand your full attention. Driving them, every muscle in your body would be taut and your senses bristling because, if not, they could make your life either very tiresome or downright perilous.

They were challenging to drive smoothly, they took practice and concentration.

So what does this development in sports saloon refinement say about buyers in 2008? Perhaps it is a sign that, with the hyperinflation of motoring costs, the only people who can afford to insure these cars don't want their dentures rattling over bumps, and their arthritis can't cope with a stiff clutch or heavy steering.

Or perhaps it is a sign of impending global gridlock: if you are going to spend most of your time in traffic, a little more comfort and a little less effort makes sense. But, suddenly, a motorbike is starting to look almost inviting.


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