You’ve doubtless heard the classic American motto ‘Speed costs. How fast do you want to go?’ Most likely you’ve experienced the stinging sentiment it implies firsthand, that fevered yearning for more performance and the fiscal havoc it wreaks. It’s this cruel yin and yang - the pleasure of high performance and the pain of paying for it - that feeds our wildest aspirations and forges our appreciation for attainable cars that punch valiantly beyond their price.
For many of us the Mitsubishi Evo constitutes an attainable reality, or at least a realistic aspiration. The FQ-340 is the most rabid example of a swaggering genre that has provoked a decade’s worth of beery bar-room banter, and has steadily grown into the car snob’s worst nightmare. Thankfully for the rest of us, its masses of force-fed grunt, tear-arse acceleration, big-league braking and livewire chassis make it a prime people’s champion, a way of gaining illicit entry to the VIP area of performance. Factor-in four-door practicality and genuine everyday usability, and it’s obvious why the Evo throws a lifeline to petrolheads mired with midlife responsibilities.
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Spend an extra £65,000 and you can own a Porsche 911 Turbo. Let’s take a couple of seconds to consider the significance of that sentence. £65,000 is a huge leap in monetary terms, more than many of us will ever be in a position to spend on a car, but then with the 997 Turbo you’re talking about the latest descendant of a legendary bloodline. Class costs, but it needs to be on top form to avoid a mauling from the Mitsubishi.
Buying a Carrera GT is an emphatic signal that your thirst for speed takes some serious slaking. Production has now ceased, but Porsche’s generous (some would say greedy) build run of more than 1270 cars has led to an unseemly slump in residual values. While galling for original customers, who paid in the region of £323,000, such abundance means rich pickings for those content to plunder the ‘previously cherished’ supercar market. Whatever its value, the Carrera GT is a car that sits at the very pinnacle of performance; the finest, fastest Porsche road car ever, and one of the most focused supercars of all-time. We can all dream…
Pitching these three cars together is nothing short of high-octane class warfare: working class hero mixing it with senior management and supercar aristocracy. While it’s doubtful that the natural order is going to be turned on its head, there’s tremendous anticipation in discovering just how close their relative performance might prove to be. And, though performance figures and lap times have a vivid story to tell, so too does the manner in which each car delivers. Which gives more confidence? Which is scariest? Which can be exploited most effectively most often? In essence, what separates £30K of hyperactive saloon from £300K of ultra-specialised supercar? We’re about to find out.
The West Circuit
It makes sense to start with the Evo, as it’s the least powerful and most familiar machine. Exiting the pitlane there’s noticeable turbo-lag, the heavily blown 2-litre, four-cylinder engine taking a while to fill its lungs in second gear, but once fully lit there’s barely any respite in the action. The engine makes a strange noise: lazy and boomy when building boost, then increasingly frantic as the force-fed pressure hits home. Such power delivery keeps you busy with the gears, too, as you can’t afford to let it go off the boil, but such is the closeness of the ratios, and the pace at which it rips through the last few thousand rpm, that fast lapping is a full-on experience.
Mitsubishi has a different take on all-wheel-drive handling to almost any other manufacturer, and the result is a super-sensitive chassis that verges on being dynamically unstable. The front-end is incredibly reactive to your steering inputs, while the tail is equally responsive to adventurous throttle-play. Safe in the knowledge that the Evo has the traction and power to pull you out of trouble, you can pitch the thing in with tremendous aggression, the car adopting an unnatural but highly effective oversteer stance, but with all four wheels pointing straight. Even if at first it seems unsuited to a particular corner, it’s adaptable enough to respond to improvisation, and its elastic on-limit behaviour means you always seem to get away with it.
The brakes have an almost unservoed feel, but are well-suited to track work, both in terms of their linear, progressive bite, and their impressive stamina. Fast lapping leaves them hot but largely unbothered, and a slightly busier ABS pulse through the pedal into Hangar and Pif-Paf and a whiff of smoke at the end of our six-lap stint are the only hints of a severe work-out.
Swapping into the 911 Turbo is momentous, for it’s the first time I’ve been near it, let alone driven it. The driving environment is reassuringly familiar: the big, central tacho complete with swirly ‘turbo’ branding, and the usefully large steering wheel gripped, it must be said, by a pair of increasingly sweaty hands.
I give them a quick wipe on my jeans before pressing the Sport button (which enables overboost and activates stiffer suspension settings and a subtly altered throttle mapping) then the PASM button. Once again, Jethro is the unfortunate sack of spuds strapped in alongside me, and as we wind-up the pace on the out lap we shoot each other a nervous glance. The Turbo feels compact, as you’d expect, but it also feels stubbier than other 997s. Whether this is due to the widened rear track I’m not sure, but the Turbo definitely feels different.
Our first flying lap is breathless, not just due to the stonking power (it peaks 9mph faster than the Evo) and eye-popping braking, but because it’s proving a real handful. And I mean a real handful. Familiarity would surely smooth some of the rough edges from my inputs, but nevertheless the Turbo feels like a car at war with itself as much as with the circuit.
I’m more aware of the rear-biased mass than in any other 997, and all corners bar the slow Hangar hairpin are accompanied by a pendulous sway of turn-in oversteer. It’s not catastrophic, but feels significant enough to need gathering up, and you have to get that done before you can focus on finding your apex. It’s a process made harder by a curious lack of feedback through the steering - just at the point you need to commit to your line. With the oversteer controlled and the Turbo apparently back on course, you squeeze on the power, only to find that it begins to understeer, imperceptibly at first, then more insistently as you attempt to get the power down. So you blend out of the throttle to regain front-end bite, only for the tail to feel light again…
It’s a frustrating, scrappy way to make progress. We noted an increased edge to fast lapping in the 911 C4, and it’s something that more power and torque seems to have aggravated in the Turbo. Yet despite an unsettled subjective performance, there’s no arguing with the lap time, a cracking 1.23.55, exactly a second quicker than the Evo.
Now it’s time for The Big One. I don’t mind admitting to feeling an oppressive weight of responsibility on my shoulders as evo Fast Fleeter Paul Bailey generously hands me the keys to his pride and joy. It’s a long time since I’ve driven a Carrera GT, the first time I’ve driven one in anger on a circuit, and I know it’s a car with a reputation for being unforgiving on the limit.
Sat low and gripped firmly by the sharp-edged bucket seat, you’re perfectly placed to work the wonderfully positive pedals and slice the high gearlever through its tight, surprisingly delicate gate. After the relative normality of the Evo and Turbo, this feels every inch the supercar.
We head out onto the circuit, and everything’s fine until, three-quarters of the way around our warm-up lap, we tip into a clumsy half-spin on turn-in to the Beckham Esses. Jethro and I are aghast, for neither of us felt it coming. Nerves jangling, I complete another, faster, warm-up lap, and with heat in the tyres the Carrera feels more predictable, but still arse-clenchingly edgy. Consequently I leave the ‘TC’ button well alone as we cross the line to start our first flyer. I want all the help I can get.
There is absolutely no slack in this car, anywhere. Turn the wheel a degree and you get an instantaneous response. The faster you go, the keener and tighter it gets - and the more you need to concentrate. Bizarrely, despite the banshee wail of the race-bred V10, after the warm-up laps I don’t remember how the car sounds, my limited brain clearly deciding that my hearing should be sacrificed and the spare processing power redirected towards my struggling depth perception and motor reflexes.
It takes no more than the first quick corner to appreciate that, for mere mortals like us, the GT’s front end is too sharp. There’s no understeer whatsoever, so unless you’re calm and precisely measured with your initial inputs, it darts towards the corner with such immediacy that you feel the tail twitch as you roll off the brake pedal and peel into the corner. In this respect, the GT is unlike most other supercars, for you never feel like you can truly lean on the chassis during turn-in. However, once the nose is pointed where you want it, the rear-end settles, and you can revel in the unstinting grip and slingshot from apex to exit.
Taking this car to the limit (or more likely, your limit) is more like a surgical procedure. There’s fractional room for error before you feel out of your depth. You don’t play with it like the Evo, or grapple with it like the Turbo, you pay it huge respect, tip-toeing ever closer to the edge, but hopefully never over it.
Perhaps because it never feels like I’ve mastered it, never pushed it beyond its limit, it’s impossible to guess at the lap time. What’s certain is that none of us expected it to post a 1.19.70. Gob-smacked and quivering with adrenalin, we pack the VBOX away and head for Bruntingthorpe.
Unlike the manufacturers, we don’t have the luxury of sacrificial engineering cars to attain our figures, so the pressure’s on, both to get the best times you can, and to leave with clutch and gearbox intact.
The Evo’s a tricky blighter to launch. A ball of pent-up energy, it’s all too easy to let the engine flounder off-boost, cremate the clutch, or send such a jolt through the transmission that something pops. But John Barker learned the knack from an engineer some time ago, and it’s something he’s passed on, Yoda-like, to the rest of the evo team.
The secret is to hold the car against the handbrake, clutch biting, engine boosting, any slack on the drivetrain taken up, before simply releasing the handbrake and punching away from the line. It’s a bit disconcerting at first, but surprisingly kind to the car.
The Evo loves full-bore driving, each upshift dropping you straight back into the meat of the engine’s power and torque. The dash to 60mph is pretty frantic, as you’d expect when posting a best of 4.3sec, but from then on the intensity abates with each gear, Bruntingthorpe’s wide-open space sucking the speed out of the experience.
By 100mph each additional 10mph gain seems to take an age, even though in reality it’s more like 3sec. At 140mph, window seals start to chatter and whistle. At 153.8mph, with the end of the runway looming large, it’s clear 160mph isn’t going to happen.
The 911 Turbo is also four-wheel drive, of course, but instinct tells me it doesn’t demand an Evo-style launch technique. Quite what it does demand, my failing instinct won’t tell me, so with evo’s taller, thinner sack of spuds, Henry Catchpole, on board, we line-up at the far end of the concrete runway.
With first gear engaged (and the Sport button having already been pressed to enable access to that useful overboost), I wind the tacho needle round to a steady 4000rpm and look at Henry. ‘Not sure what the best technique is,’ I explain, ‘but we’ll give this a…’
The last word of the sentence is ‘try’, but as my foot sidesteps the clutch, the ferocity of the Turbo’s launch snatches it from my mouth, stretching it into a ‘t-r-yyyeeeeeeee…’ as we catapult down the runway.
Upshifts are quick and accurate, even though the gate feels a bit weak and indistinct when going for the quickest gearchange you can. The sensation of speed is far more vivid than that of the Evo, for it’s sustained, to 60mph, to 100mph, to 150mph.
The 10mph gain from 140 to 150 takes a fraction over 3sec. By the time we crest the halfway point of the runway, we’re really eating it up, the digital VBOX readout flicking past 160, then 170, eventually breaching 180 before I haul on the vast carbon-ceramic brakes for the end of the runway.
Back at our makeshift paddock area we check the results: 0-30mph in a startling 1.4sec, 0-60mph in 4.0sec; 0-100mph in 8.7sec; 0-150mph in 21.2sec and a 0-100-0 time of 13.4sec, better than anything we figured in the recent Fast Club test (evo 091), and enough to crucify the Evo beyond 60mph. It would seem that, yet again, the Turbo lives up to the legend.
The Carrera GT is the one I’m most nervous about. It’s not the easiest car to pull away in slowly, let alone when you’re looking for a peachy all-out launch. It’s also quite easy to go from second to fifth if you try and hurry the lever through. While that’s nothing to worry about in itself, the consequences of banging from second to first don’t really bear thinking about.
Still, the remarkably laid-back Bailey is keen to see what his car can do, so we nudge onto the patch of rubber laid by the Turbo and attempt to do our best. The first launch bogs down, the second disappears in wheelspin. For the third attempt I try a method recommended by a friend, which is essentially to forget shimmying the thing off the line, and simply drive away. It works to a degree, but such is the ferocious power of the V10 that as soon as you plant your foot on the throttle, it breaks traction with a tremendous whoop-whoop-whoop from the stubby exhausts.
Despite the wheelspin, we persevere, mercifully slotting second and third cleanly, and spearing on down the shimmering runway, concrete surface sending percussive thwacks through the car. From the outside it reportedly sounds like a cross between a jet fighter and an express train. That’s pretty much what it feels like inside the car, speed piling on at a phenomenal rate, until prudence suggests we hit the brakes, at a peak speed of 184.7mph.
That doesn’t sound like much of an advantage over the Turbo, but a closer look at the standing start figures reveals just how much quicker the GT is. Hitting 60mph (with a less than ideal start, don’t forget) in 3.8sec, the GT then makes 100mph in 7.6, 120mph in 10.7, 150mph in 17.3 and 180mph in 32.5. Compare that with the Turbo’s figures and you can see how the GT simply powers off into the distance. As for the Evo, well, it was still puffing its way to 100mph as the GT was howling beyond 120…
Intriguingly, though, when you examine the in-gear times, the GT’s advantage is cut to nothing. Look at the time it takes each car to accelerate from 50-70mph in 3rd gear - a typical overtaking scenario - and you’ll see that there’s very little between the three: the Carrera GT taking 2.0sec, the Turbo the same, and the Evo stubbornly refusing to let the others out of its sight, with a best of 2.3. It all shows how figures need to be taken in context and, encouragingly, points to a close battle on the roads of North Wales.
Betws-Y-Coed, North Wales
The route from our favourite local hotel - The Groes Inn, near Conway - to our favourite network of roads (no, not ‘The Triangle’ on this occasion) takes us along some rugged moorland routes packed with hidden dips and crests tailor-made to threaten the carbonfibre underbelly of any low-slung supercars passing through.
This is the Evo’s natural habitat, its agility, iron-fisted body control and generous wheel travel making it perfectly suited to cutting through the twists, dodging suicidal sheep and cresting brows with an inch or two of air beneath its tyres. It leaves the Carrera GT for dead.
In the Mitsubishi’s wake, the Turbo is doing a good job of keeping its belly off the ground, but it’s bucking and nodding uncomfortably over the tortuous surface, its rear-slung engine and lightly loaded front finding no fun in the nadgety bootlace of tarmac that stretches before us. It’s a graphic lesson in how the Evo makes the most of every opportunity, thriving in conditions that are less than utopian, and making the scabbiest road feel like a special stage.
Buoyed by the revitalised FQ, I take it along the longer, faster and smoother leg of our route. While there are still some tight combinations of corners, more of the road is open and clearly sighted, allowing you to take a clean, direct line and really commit the car. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the Evo’s frenzied enthusiasm, and we’re soon cracking on, turbo boosting with barrel-chested bravado in fourth and fifth gears, pointy front end making the fast combinations of curves feel like threading a needle.
It’s an exhilarating machine, but there are some holes in the feedback it offers. The steering, though ultra-responsive, doesn’t have much feel at all for the first few degrees either side of centre. Coupled to a heavy self-centring effect, you’re left with numb steering at the very stage you want as much information as you can get.
Once committed to a corner, the staunch flow of feel returns, allowing you to exploit the traction and swelling tide of torque. Way short of the ultimate limit, the Evo never has a chance to adopt the crazy angles it prefers on track, settling into a steadfastly neutral stance instead. As ever, it leaves you feeling like you’ve been as fast as you ever want to go on the road.
With that in mind, it’s mind-blowing to think how much quicker the Turbo could be, were you to throw caution to the wind. You don’t, of course. In fact, save for a few moments of full boost in each gear, you generally find yourself short-shifting into fourth or fifth and relying on the epic surge of torque to devour the road.
As with the Evo, we don’t get close to provoking the 911 into the kind of behaviour it displayed at the Bedford Autodrome, but there’s still a frustrating lack of cohesion to the Turbo’s responses, and a slightly gummy sensation through the steering that detracts from the experience. Yes, there’s face-stretching road-holding and immense stopping power, but the information you get through the steering is clouded, the responses slightly soft-focused.
Engaging the Sport mode tightens things up appreciably without turning the Turbo into an unyielding, spine-cracking nightmare, but while sensational at eight-tenths, when you do take the opportunity to try harder you still don’t get the consistent response from the car, and therefore the confidence, to do so comfortably.
Driving the Carrera GT is a tremendous contrast. Everything about it delivers total tactility and instantaneous response. It feels alive in your hands and beneath your seat, the engine, steering, clutch, gearbox and brakes displaying the same no-nonsense, scalpel-sharp feel. Now, more than ever, it feels like something truly special.
With John Barker behind me in the Turbo, we return to the fast, sweeping road to see what separates Porsche’s most potent products. The answer is a great deal. The Carrera GT gets your heart pumping immediately, not through fear, but simply through the whole sensory experience. You feel so much more of the road, every pock and pimple. Even subtle surface changes are telegraphed, the steering wheel tingling at a different frequency.
That jumpy front-end remains a cause for concern, but the consequences of being too abrupt with your initial inputs are less severely punished than on track, leaving you with a big, broad supercar that doesn’t so much shrink around you as become your second skin.
Imperious. That’s the only way to describe the way the Carrera GT carries speed along this road. A glance in the mirror sees the Turbo slowly receding, partially obscured by a cloud of road dust, particles extracted from the surface and spat into the GT’s wake like a comet’s tail. A glance at the speedo reveals why. The figure that the needle is pointing at doesn’t warrant repeating here, and yet I know the GT had so much more to give.
Apart from an isolated skrrsssh from the GT’s underside kissing the road through a high-speed compression, and the odd hardening of the brake pedal as the ABS kicks in, the Carrera soaks-up the punishment, and feels far more composed and approachable than it did on the circuit. Traction is unshakeable, the traction control so well judged you simply never need to switch it off, and high-speed stability massively inspiring. Far from diminishing with familiarity, our respect for the Carrera GT grows with every drive.
But that’s not the whole story. Far from it, in fact. For though the Evo trails against the stopwatch in both timed elements of this test, if you fancy the occasional trackday, the Evo will deliver plenty of pace and more innocent, smile-inducing fun. Better resolved than the Turbo and harmlessly entertaining where the Carrera GT is a high-stakes, brain-sapping challenge, it enhances your ability rather than highlighting your shortcomings.
Perhaps more impressively, the Evo also comes within half a second of matching the Carrera GT to 60mph. And, while half a second is a lifetime at this level, subjectively the difference between hitting 60mph in a gut-spinning 4.3sec and 3.8sec is minuscule.
On the road, all three take you to highs few other cars can match. The Mitsubishi is searingly quick, again aided by its familiar feel and lack of intimidatory character. However, you know it’s working very hard to deliver this level of performance, something highlighted when driving in company with the more abundantly torquey Turbo and lightweight, zero-inertia Carrera. You can be glued to them one minute, but get caught off-boost and you’re left ruthlessly for dead. Fiercely exciting and uniquely able, when confronted with cars of this calibre, the Evo is revealed as something of a one-dimensional experience.
The family feud between 911 Turbo and Carrera GT is hard fought. Cut to ribbons at Bedford, the Turbo manages to rock the GT on its heels at Bruntingthorpe, both with its tremendous off-the-line ability and its rippling in-gear response, before finally yielding when the pace becomes largely academic. On the road, it also holds its own, with dizzying, sustained pace and effortless overtaking punch. There’s no denying it, when unleashed the 911 Turbo is monstrously rapid.
Clearly, the ‘everyday supercar’ accolade is well deserved, but it’s this very usability that ultimately counts against it as an experience. Drive the same stretch of road in the Turbo and the Carrera GT and you emerge from both awed and slightly flushed by their speed. The difference is that while you’re content to babble about the Turbo’s knee-knocking acceleration, you soon run out of other things to say. The Carrera GT leaves you with a head full of detailed memories. You want to tell people about the steering feel, rave about the brakes, eulogise about the extraordinary engine and educate anyone who’ll listen about just how satisfying it is to slice that gorgeous birch-topped gearlever through the gate. If you love cars, driving the GT on roads like these is a defining moment.
Figures are one thing, but it’s feel that makes the difference. And that’s why, though we should all be thankful for cars like the Mitsubishi Evo for giving us fleeting moments of supercar performance, and the Turbo for effortlessly delivering genuine A-list pace, we should never stop dreaming about cars like the Carrera GT.
|Evo IX FQ-340||911 turbo||Carrera GT|
|Engine||In-line 4-cyl||Horizontally opposed 6-cyl||68-degree V10|
|Location||Front, transverse||Rear, longitudinal||Mid, longitudinal|
|Bore x stroke||85 x 88mm||100 x 76.4mm||98 x 76mm|
|Cylinder block||Aluminium alloy||Aluminium alloy||Aluminium alloy|
|Cylinder head||Aluminium alloy, dohc, 4v per cylinder, MIVEC VVT||Aluminium alloy, dohc per bank, 4v per cylinder, VarioCam Plus||Aluminium alloy, dohc per bank, 4v per cylinder, VarioCam|
|Fuel and ignition||Electronic engine management, multipoint fuel injection, turbo||DME management, sequential, multipoint injection, twin turbos||Bosch ME7.7.1 management, sequential multipoint injection|
|Max power||345bhp @ 6800rpm||472bhp @ 6000rpm||604bhp @ 8000rpm|
|Max torque||321lb ft @ 4600rpm||501lb ft @ 2100-4000rpm||435lb ft @ 5750rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed manual, four-wheel, drive, lsd, Active Centre Diff, Super Active Yaw Control||Six-speed manual, four-wheel drive, Porsche Traction Management||Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, lsd, traction control, ASR|
|Front suspension||MacPherson struts, coil springs, gas dampers, anti-roll bar||MacPherson struts, coil springs, gas dampers, PASM, anti-roll bar||Double wishbones, inboard springs and dampers, anti-roll bar|
|Rear suspension||Multi-link, coil springs, gas dampers, anti-roll bar||Multi-link, coil springs, gas dampers, PASM, anti-roll bar||Double wishbones, inboard springs and dampers, anti-roll bar|
|Brakes||Ventilated discs, 320mm front, 300mm rear, ABS, EBD||Ventilated and cross-drilled 350mm discs, ABS, ABD||Vent’d and cross-drilled 380mm carbon-ceramic discs, ABS, ABD|
|Max speed||157mph (limited)||193mph (claimed)||205mph (claimed)|
|evo Rating (5 max)||5||5||5|