Long-term Plans: The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Will Be Replaced! (In Six Years)

2015 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution Final Edition - Image: Mitsubishi

Though the 10th-generation Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is barely cold in its grave and the Lancer on which it was based is also being put out to pasture, Mitsubishi does intend to replace the brand’s former Subaru WRX STI challenger.

In 2023, or thereabouts. Maybe as early as 2020 or 2021.

But the next Mitsubishi Evolution is not likely going to be a proper rival for the WRX STI.

Mitsubishi COO Trevor Mann suggested to Motoring that the next Evolution won’t be a sedan-based performance car, but rather a high-end variant of an upcoming SUV. “In terms of the brand, I think it would be interesting to bring something back that’s a bit more sporty in the future,” Mann said. “You’ll have to wait and see what that is.”

We know Mitsubishi has little regard for former nameplates being restricted to their former class designations. So it’s time you prepared yourself for the 2023 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross Evolution.

Mitsubishi didn’t begin importing the Lancer Evolution to the United States until the Evolution VIII followed the Subaru Impreza WRX. Generally regarded as the purist’s rally car of choice, the Lancer Evolution forged ahead through Evolution IX guise. However, Mitsubishi was a shadow of its former self in North America by the time the 10th Lancer Evo, Evolution X, was attempting to win hearts and minds.

The Lancer Evolution VIII arrived at a time when Mitsubishi was averaging more than 300,000 U.S. sales per year. But by 2008, Mitsubishi couldn’t even sell 100,000 vehicles on an annual basis in America. The company would see its annual U.S. volume fall below 60,000 before the Lancer Evolution was killed off. As for the Lancer Evolution itself, the high-performance sedan may have been faced by the same problem that builders of sporty coupes encounter: everybody who wanted one got one already. Excessive fuel consumption, rapid tire wear, and expensive maintenance somewhat limits the appeal for buyers who’ve already experienced one taste of Evolution.

But as Mitsubishi’s U.S. lineup becomes increasingly utility vehicle oriented — 60 percent of the brand’s sales are already crossover-derived — it won’t be surprising to see Mitsubishi end up with a flagship performance car that isn’t a car at all. With the Lancer on its way out and the i-MiEV dead, the Thailand-built three-cylinder Mirage will hold down Mitsubishi’s U.S. passenger car fort on its own.

The Mirage, of course, is not a suitable foundation for an Evolution XI.

All-New Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross Compact SUV - Image: Mitsubishi

“We’ve got to focus on SUVs,” Mitsubishi boss Mann says, “because, one; it’s where our strength and heritage is, and, two; it’s where the market is going.”

Indeed, that is where the market is going. But where is Mitsubishi going? One thing we know: where Mitsubishi goes and where Mitsubishi goes in America are two different subjects. For example, brand COO Mann believes that Mitsubishi’s current halo product is the Pajero Sport, but the Pajero Sport isn’t even offered in North America.

But we can all count on an influx of performance crossovers, not only in the form of an Evolution-badged Mitsubishi Outlander or Eclipse Cross or Outlander Sport. A Hyundai Tucson N is similarly more likely than not, and rival mainstream automakers are going to look to performance as a way to further enhance margins and carve out halo spaces once the domain of cars. Cars like the Subaru WRX and STI, which now combine for more than 2,700 monthly U.S. sales in the Lancer Evo’s absence.

[Images: Mitsubishi Motors]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.