One of the greatest vehicles of our time, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution (pick your version they all rock) is a staple vehicle of today's modern tuner. What makes it so good? The Evolution, or more commonly known as the "Evo" (pronounced E-Voe) comes with a flashable ECU, stock turbocharged motor, cast iron block, and all-wheel drive. Combine these attributes with a healthy supply of aftermarket products, and you've got the number one tuner car in the world.
So how do you tune the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution? First, let me say that the word "tune" is commonly misused. When newbs say, "I want to tune my Evo", many times they are referring to upgrading the overall performance and appearance. Experienced folks know that there is a difference between tuning, visual upgrades, and performance enhancements.
The topic of how to "tune" a Lancer Evolution is very broad so I'm going to break it down into three categories; appearance, performance, and handling. That being said, many of these topics will overlap as appearance can improve performance and handling. These three categories are very basic ways to divide "tuning" into different categories.
For all of you ricers out there, all you need to do is read this first section and then stop. Yes, Evo's just like any other performance car can be rice. Common ricer; I mean "appearance" upgrades include the following:
- Body kits
- Plus more!
The list above is fairly basic but these are the common parts. That being said, some of these parts can avoid being tagged as rice if the appropriate performance mods accompany them.
Take for example wheels; lightweight wheels can indeed improve performance and not be considered rice. The polar opposite would be heavy, flashy, chrome wheels that weigh more than stock. Hoods can be the same way, and surprisingly enough a carbon fiber hood actually weighs more than the stock Evo hood. When choosing which appearance mods you wish to apply to your vehicle, take strong caution to make sure that every mod you pick actually improves performance; or you will be labeled a total rice cake.
What kind of appearance mods can you use that won't be labeled rice? There are actually some hoods that help reduce engine temps and intake air temps. These could be considered non-rice, or performance oriented. Some wings actually improve rear down force and minimize drag, so those could be considered okay as well. There are headlight kits that offer an air intake as well, feeding fresh air to your intake. Lips can reduce underbody drag, and roofs can help steer air towards the wing to improve downforce. If you take notice though, the Evo already comes with most of these products OEM so unless you are running 200+ mph, there really isn't a need for any changes to aerodynamics, improved intake, reduced engine bay temps, etc.
Summary: Unless you want to be called a ricer, keep it simple stupid.
This is a huge topic with unlimited possibilities. There are basically three categories that performance tuning can be broken down into. Basic bolt ons, mild-race, and full race. Basic bolt ons are easily installed and can actually make your Evo fairly quick. Mid-race is where you take basic bolt on status and push it to the next level, maximizing every last drop of performance from the botl on upgrades. Then for the men in the room, there is full race. This is where the big boys with deep wallets play. Ricers, posers, and boy racers need not apply.
Common bolt on modifications:
- Turbo inlet & cone air filter
- Down pipe
- Test pipe
- Turbo back exhaust
- Boost controller (electronic or manual)
- Exhaust manifold
- Blow off valves
- O2 housing
- Mild cams
- Larger injectors
- Fuel pump
- ECU flash (Cobb, Open Source e-tunes or boost/fuel tuning)
- Colder plugs
- Boost gauge
- Wideband air to fuel ratio gauge
Bolt on mods can actually improve the performance of your Evo drastically. It won't be as fast or as aggressive as the latter, however it will still give you plenty of JDM goodness to get your adrenaline glands pumping. The beautiful part about the Evo ECU is that it tends to adapt. While other AWD vehicles such as the STi or WRX require a tune when you change things like intake, exhaust, turn up the boost, etc; the Evo ECU will adapt to a certain degree without destroying itself.
Average bolt on power levels go anywhere from 300 awhp to 400 awhp, respectively. While the numbers may vary, you can actually make the Evo pretty quick without going into the motor. You can even run 28 PSI on stock internals! This is totally unheard of in the Subaru world and why many enthusiasts say the Evo is a better vehicle.
How is it capable to run such high PSI? The head has a better flow capability, it comes stock with forged rods and high quality main bearings, plus it has a cast iron block. The inline four cylinder design when compared to opposed "boxer" style is superior for turbocharger efficiency as the flow between combustion chamber, head, and manifolds is a much shorter distance. The inline four cylinder design flows so well that you can actually blow out your spark plug! Anything above 28 PSI on the stock turbo is not a good idea though, as this is where the efficiency range of the compressor starts to take a dump. Beyond 28 pounds, you're just blowing hot air and destroying your motor.
So where do you start with performance modifications? Always start with exhaust and fuel. Upgrade your injectors to at least 720cc, change your fuel pump to a Walbro 255, and free up your exhaust by removing the catalytic converter and installing a test pipe. With just a fuel pump and test pipe upgrade combined with an ECU flash, you can easily gain 50-75 awhp. Once you have enough fuel, then you can start tackling the rest of the mods on the list above. Target AFR's are 12.2 during spool, 11.2 during peak boost, and 14.7 at idle or cruise. This is where ECU tuning comes into play.
Bolt on upgrades are a great place to start for the novice Evo enthusiast, but eventually you will want more. This brings us to the next level of performance tuning, "mid-race".
Common mid-race modifications:
- All bolt on mods previously mentioned
- Forged pistons (bump up compression)
- Mildly aggressive cams (276-280)
- Larger turbo (T4 style or bolt on)
- 1000+ cc injectors
- Upgraded valve springs and retainers
- Three-port boost controller
- 4bar boost sensor
- Advanced ECU tuning (dyno tune)
- Cometic head gasket
- External wastegates or externally dumped O2 housings
- Adjustable cam gears
- Upgraded clutch (6 puck, stage two organic, etc)
Mid-race mods will take your Evo from the three and four hundred horsepower/torque levels to 400-600 awhp respectively. This is where it starts to cost big money, as you'll need to first change out the soft pistons to forged, remove the head to swap the valve springs out (you don't have to remove the head but you might as well do the head gasket too), and more. This involves internal work and requires an engine builder with skill.
Why upgrade the piston only and not the rod? The stock Evo rods are actually good for these power levels. While most of you will want to swap out the rod while you are in the motor anyways, you technically don't have to. The piston is forged, but it is still relatively soft compared to aftermarket forged pistons. Also, you will bump up the compression for this level of modification as well because lower compression should only be used for full race builds as they are more forgiving to knock.
Proper ECU tuning is of utmost importance at this level of modification. With a larger turbo you'll need drastically more fuel. Upgrading to a much larger injector such as 1000cc+ will require injector scaling, changes to the fuel map, and more. If you change the compression of the pistons, you will also need to adjust the timing map and associated idle related attributes. Changes in cam duration will also require that you adjust timing as you will most likely lose power over stock or bolt on cam timing profiles.
At this level of performance, if you have to read this article for directions - you should turn it over to the pro's. For those seeking more, let's talk about "full race" builds.
Common full race modifications:
- Select few mid-race and bolt on modifications
- Detailed fabrication
- Extensive tuning with ECU upgrade (AEM, Hydra)
- Aggressive porting of head and manifolds
- Larger valves
- Dual valve springs
- Lower compression, larger bore pistons
- Massive turbochargers (Garrett, Precision, etc)
- Front facing exhaust manifold
- Aftermarket intake manifold with larger throttle body
- 1200cc injectors or larger
- Dual fuel pump or custom fuel cell setup
- Stroker or block swaps (swap to 2.4 block with stroker)
- Extreme profile cams (280+)
- Methanol injection or direct port nitrous
- Transmission and transfer case modification
- One-piece driveshaft swaps
- Upgraded differential
- Related handling upgrades (suspension, tires, brakes, etc)
At this level of performance, you are going to break **** and you better have a big bank to back it up. The Evo is capable of reaching 1,000+ awhp and torque levels like you wouldn't believe thanks to the inherent properties of a cast iron, inline four cylinder design. Yes, as surprising as it may be, it is possible to get 250+ horsepower out of each cylinder. To get here takes an insane amount of money, talent, and custom fabrication. It can be done, but it is rare that any Evo ever reaches "full race" status. Most enthusiasts stop and mid-race because that is where the car is still somewhat daily drivable.
I'm not going into detail here because this is unknown territory and becomes mostly theory. Some names have been to this level of performance. English Racing, Buschur Racing, and AMS just to name a few. While others have been there, these are the most common names synonymous with breaking the 1000 hp barrier.
Summary: If you have to read this article as a guide to build your Evo, you should stop at bolt on modifications and only use mid-race and full race as basic information. I have not dedicated my life to understanding the Evo, but I do have enough knowledge to know where to throw in the towel. If I was you, I would not attempt anything past bolt on status unless you are totally confident in your skills or have the money to start replacing stuff when it breaks.
Handling is an important aspect of how your Evolution will react to performance mods, as well as improve cornering, braking, and acceleration. While many other vehicles require that you upgrade suspension items such as sway bars, shocks, springs, etc.; the Evolution actually comes with some pretty nice parts from the factory. Many of you will never need to upgrade anything suspension wise unless you want to lower the vehicle as a mostly appearance, somewhat performance improving modification.
Common handling modifications:
- Lowering springs
- Sway bars
- End links
- Coilover suspension kits
- Upgraded shocks
- Anti-lift kits
- Lateral links
- Strut tower braces
- H-brace and other chassis bracing
- Roll and crash cages
Lower springs are a great way to improve handling, appearance, and performance of your Evolution. They are cheap, easily installed, and offer a large bang for buck value. By dropping the Evo down an inch or so, you will take advantage of the already installed stiff sway bars, aggressive suspension dampening rate, and rigid chassis design. Once lowered, the Evo is pretty well set for anyone seeking track time, aggressive daily driving, or even performance levels into the upper mid-race area.
When you really want to get aggressive and venture into the full-race level of modification, suspension and bracing modifications will be required to help keep the front of the vehicle planted to the ground and to keep the engine from twisting the chassis apart. This is where strut tower bracing, underbody bracing, and crash cages come into play. By improving the chassis rigidity, you can more precisely control the vehicle and allow for a higher degree of performance oriented driving.
If you are reading this article, you probably aren't going to need chassis reinforcement, crash cages, underbody bracing, or even coil overs for that matter. The difference is negligible between stock parts and aftermarket for many items, as Mitsubishi has blessed the Evo with many high quality OEM engineered parts.
For more information, check out the forum "EvolutionM.net". That's a great place to start, and if you have any particular questions; the forum members here are very generous, knowledgeable, and helpful.