Remember Mitsubishi? Remember the Lancer Evo boy racer of Gran Turismo and Paul Walker’s ride in 2 Fast 2 Furious?
With a gap in new product launches and the falsified fuel economy data scandal that threatened the Japanese company’s viability and future, the brand had fallen off the radar of many customers.
But here at the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, Mitsubishi is announcing to the world that it and the Evolution name are back, and the Evo is being redesigned in keeping with a new future strategy now that the automaker is part of the Nissan-Renault Alliance. Nissan invested $2.3 billion for a 34 percent controlling stake in Mitsubishi in October 2016, salvaging a partner that makes microcars for Nissan in Japan.
Mitsubishi used its home market auto show for the global unveiling of the e-Evolution concept, which puts the Evo name on a high-performance, all-electric SUV.
CEO Osamu Masuko and his team admit that the words EV and SUV don’t really belong in the same sentence. An SUV is big and heavy and lacks the aerodynamics of a car. But Mitsubishi is focusing on its core values, and the Evo concept pulls them together in a way the company thinks could be magic if they can pull it off.
Mitsubishi’s core values include SUVs and electrification. The automaker claims the Pajero in 1982 was the first SUV, and the brand feels it has a corner on the market with its S-AWC (super all-wheel-control) system. The i-Miev electric car came out in 2009 and was billed by Mitsubishi as the first mass-market all-electric vehicle, as opposed to the Tesla roadster, which was a low-volume niche electric car. The Outlander PHEV in 2012 ushered in the idea of a plug-in hybrid SUV.
Tsunehiro Kunimoto, corporate vice president and head of global design, cautioned that the e-Evolution is a concept, albeit a technical learning prototype that is drivable. Some of its design cues will make it into production, such as taillights that will be a signature look for Mitsubishi going forward.
The concept has a very strong, muscular look with its short overhangs and raked windshield. It has wide shoulders and narrow hips—kind of like the guy at the gym—but it also has a lot of ground clearance, a high beltline, and not much greenhouse. Some of those cues, namely the muscular body, are described as an inspirational look for Mitsubishi going forward. It has joined the growing number of designs with a broken C-pillar to create the appearance of a floating roof.
The show car’s black grille is shielded under glass, which protects the cameras and sensors for autonomous driving. Large air intakes are located beneath the headlamps to cool the electric brake calipers; the air passes jet tail fins on the C-pillars before exiting on either side of the rear bumper.
Inside, the concept continues the tradition of past Mitsubishis with a long horizontal axis across the instrument panel, but this modern take consists of a flat information screen that extends across most of the dash with smaller screens at each end to show images from the front and rear cameras.
Kunimoto, who joined Mitsubishi from Nissan, said it is crucial that all brands in the Alliance establish their own individual design despite sharing parts, powertrains, and platforms in the future. “We started by taking a fresh look at our heritage,” he said. To get what he calls “Mitsubishi-ness,” the concept aimed for functional beauty and Japanese craftsmanship with honesty, purity, and attention to detail.
The e-Evolution makes its world debut with three electric motors: one for the front wheels and two in back. The battery is under the floor. The Alliance is placing a large bet on electrification with the recent announcement of plans to introduce 12 new electric vehicles over six years, including two EVs from Mitsubishi after 2020. One will be an all-electric SUV (perhaps a production version of the Evolution concept) and an electric minicar for the Japanese market.
Purists will hate that the electric SUV concept has adopted the Evo name. The last Evo stopped production after the 2015 model year, and the Lancer, which it was based upon, is also being discontinued. But SUVs are the heart of all markets globally.
The e-Evolution concept is a statement that electric vehicles can be great, and an EV is not an apology car, said Vincent Cobee, corporate vice president. “It is a symbol of where we want to go.”
Ironically, the e-Evolution concept bows in Tokyo at the same auto show where Subaru is showing the Viziv concept, which hints at the next Impreza WRX. The WRX STI and the Evo had a healthy boy racer rivalry until the Evo retired.
The e-Evolution concept showcases future technology such as an update to the S-AWC four-wheel-drive system. More futuristic is its integration of autonomous driving systems and artificial intelligence. It has an AI coach that will monitor and assess a driver’s skills and habits and offer tips on how to drive safer.