THE VII winter 2002
Well, I never really wanted to get rid of my 6 and was missing it badly. Hence the VII. The trackday season is almost over, the weather is getting poorer every day, long distances in the wife's Audi are becoming tedious and with the caterham only getting use one trackday a month its time for me to have something to gloat over on the front drive again.
Until someone makes somtheing superior, the evos - according to my tastes - are the best all round do-everything drivers car you can buy. Sainsburys, holidays, trackdays, trip to the newsagents, sunday blast through the country, ferry the family around ... the evo will do all these things and do them all very very well and there aren't many cars that can claim the same. The few other contenders that can will likely be very disappointing in feel, precision and responsiveness after running round in lightweight lotuses and Caterhams. Okay so fuel economy is never going to get much better than low 20's, and the ridequality is not 100% ideal for the more laid back tasks but these things you soon get used to and are more than happy to accept them given the performance and handling that you get in return.
I was dubious when the VII was first launched. Initial thoughts were that it wasn't nearly aggresive enough and just a little too subtle. But as we see so often with evolved models, slowly but surely the older version starts to look dated, without you even being concious of it, and the new model starts to appeal more and more until eventually it becomes the norm. The VII looks have indeed grown on me massively throughout the course of the year and its overall softer, more grown-up image definitely fits better with my intended useage.
VII compared to VI
I have had the car for around 900 miles now. I've been gently running her in, increasing the maximum revs gradually and keeping the rpm at different levels when driving. The first priority has been familiarising myself with the VII and its dynamics and contrasting these to my old 6.
The very fist thing that strikes you about the VII is its steering. Unlike my 6 which had very strong centre weighting which always pulled the wheel back to the centre, the VII has none of this. The rack is a fair bit quicker (2.2 truns i believe) and turn-in is super sharp. In a standard 6 when you first turn into a corner there is an initial degree of compliance, a little roll before the car truly bites. But the VII, there's none of this roll or hesitation, the car just darts immediately and stays flatter. Of course, at first you could be forgiven for thinking that the car is maybe a bit too nervous but all it needs is a readjustment of your inputs. I didn't get along with my car amazingly well until I trimmed back all my steering efforts and kept everthing nice and minimal... and when you do this, ohhh boy, the car becomes so precise and cart-like, so much more so than the VI.
Its hard to remember everything about my old evo but I am pretty certain that the VII wheel not only feels more solid but feels more directly bolted to the rest of the car and just has greater feedback. There seems to be more messages coming through the rim. Small, subtle bumps and vibrations are transmitted in a pleasing but not overbearing manner and sometimes an overall gravelly feeling is apparent which is rather nice.
So overall a fair difference here. If anything, the nature of the wheel feels closer to a TME 6.5 especially the lack of centre weighting which that car shares. Initially it took me a little time to get used to it.. it means that the car has less of a tendency to drive itself; you don't have the centre pull as any guide and as with all evos the wheel gains no weight as you turn in and settle into a bend so the net effect is that the car requires more driving, more input. You have to have the dimensions and the feel of the chassis nicely installed into your brain and senses and only then can you really start to drive the thing with millimetric precision and perfect balance. But when you do, the thing really does feel like that precision rollercoaster... cornering on rails, yes probably the biggest motoring cliche of them all but I have yet to drive a car that deserves that metaphor more than the VII.
stiffness & ride
Okay, we all know that the Lancer Cedia chassis is far more rigid than the 6, supposedly 50%more torsional stiffness with around 200 spot welds to suspension attachment, sills, pillars, floorpan etc.. But the good news is that you really can feel that extra stiffnness. Not only through the wheel but you also feel it through your backside. The flatter cornering and sharper turn-in only serves to enhance this feeling of rigidity further.
Bear in mind that the VII is heavier and all this starts to become more of an achievement. The cedia shell, for crash protection and for extra space, is quite a lot heavier than the VI but along with some more weight saving items ( bonnet, front fenders, seats, cam cover, thinner roof &glass) the increase is only around 40kg. The car is bigger as well, slightly longer with a larger wheelbase and wider front and rear track. Despite all this, it feels even more nimble and responsive.
So at the moment, we have all the makings of a car that essentially feels more precise, sharper, stiffer and generally much more cart-like than its previous relative. That sounds like a recipe for disaster in terms of ride quality though doesn't it ? Well the good news is that somehow the ride quality manages to actually be better ! I believe the suspension travel has increased and this, coupled with the stiffer chassis and whatever else Mitsubishi have done with the suspension, means that the VII is far better composed over bumpy roads. Now i'll stick my neck out here and say that actually the firmess of the ride hasn't changed an awful lot - the car still jostles and feels as hard as it was in my 6. But because the bumps are resolved far better through the chassis and the body control is far better, travelling along your favourite B road the car is basically more composed and settled, less fidgety if you like, less crash-bang as the 6 sometimes was. Don't be fooled into thinking that its "softer" (as in soft suspension) as so many magazines declared, no, you still feel the bumps and potholes but everything is relayed back to you more intelligibly and with more security.. The chassis and suspension is without doubt far more accomplished.
Taking a quick look at the engine, you'll see that the battery has finally been located in the correct position (no need for battery replacement kit) and the airbox now conveniently takes a feed from a vent under the lip of teh front bonnet. It's pretty effective too 'cos aftre looking inside the other day there were numerous flies trapped in the folds of the filter !
The 4G63 has had a few revisions: hollow camshafts, smaller turbo nozzle for better mid-range response, variable back-pressure exhaust for improved noise and lower back pressure, higher flow intercooler with 1 more water spray injector and also a bigger oil-cooler. Looking at the official figures, 7 lbft of peak torque is added but supposedly power remains at the domestic voluntary limit of 280 hp. It will be interesting to dyno the car as standard.
On the Limit
Going hard into a bend, understeer soon sets in. If you have the car already balanced at a sensible speed then applying power will also push the nose wide. Providing this is all moderate levels then the electronics will quell the understeer and direct more power to the back. If i lift off and then go hard on the gas, or apply liberal amounts of lock and stamp on the throttle then the back will come out but i really would rather that there is less understeer and more oversteer under power. I do suspect that my geometry is a little out and also the OEM tyres are not particularly good. Some more negative front camber and better wet tyres should improve things and I may even look into the sports ACD unit which apparently makes the car behave more like a conventional diff RWD car.
But at the moment, I don't want to conclude too much from all this. I have had no limit experience in the dry yet and the car is really just being run in... havne't even properly played around with the ACD settings yet either. Watch this space for further findings.
Finally, there are all the other things about the VII. The interior feels generally a little bit better put together and the new seats go one better than the glorious 6 seats, providing even more lateral support although if you were on the large side they may prove a problem. The wheel is a much nicer design as well and of course theres that auto intercooler spray .... a good talking point of nothing else !
What is certain is that the VII is a definite step forward and certainly worthy of the name "evolution". The findings are unexpected though especially after the grossly inaccurate reports of the motoring press. On the one hand we have a car that's become more refined, more composed and less manic, but then also sharper, more cart-llike, more fluid and essentially better handling. Get the VII up to speed, economise your inputs and build a relaxed rhythm and the latest evo really does gel, oozing an effortlessness, a fluidity and sense of composure that the 6 could not match.
Whether you should go out an buy one is of course up to you. It has actually taken me a fair few miles to get used to the VII and it may be that you might actually prefer that extra degree of compliance and spongyness that the 6 has. Super-stiff is not necessarily what you want in a road car and its sometimes preferable to have a little roll and some "give" in the steering. As always, test drive both and make up your own mind but I have to conclude that if you want a trackcar or focused road car then leaving the styling issue aside, the VII is definitely an evolved and more accomplished model.