Another First for Mitsubishi? A Diesel-Hybrid Lancer Evo

It’s just a rumor, but the potential move by Mitsubishi to give its Lancer Evolution a diesel-hybrid powertrain is interesting for several reasons.

First of all, Mitsubishi is not afraid to be first on an innovative green technology. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV was the first all-electric car to hit the mainstream market. That was in Japan last year, but it’s heading to North America next year. Given its smart-like size and regular-sized price tag, the i-MiEV is very likely to be a niche car for urban dwellers. That’s okay. It’s one more solid option for EV buyers. The micro-car is cute and fun and might even develop a cult-like following. Even if it doesn’t sell in big numbers, the i-MiEV could catapult the Mitsubishi brand in front of U.S. consumers.

The existing Lancer Evolution is also an iconic niche car with a fanatical following. The “Evo,” which has been around for nearly two decades, transforms a compact economy car into high-performance ride—by adding a powerful turbocharged engine, an all-wheel-drive system and numerous tweaks to improve handling and braking. Mitsubishi engineers need to modify that formula again—in a greener direction—if the Evo is going to pass tougher CO2 regulations hitting Europe and the U.S. Combining clean diesel technology and a hybrid gas-electric drivetrain in the next generation Evo could cut CO2 emissions to less than 200g/km, while delivering 0 – 60 performance under five seconds.

Symbolic Value

Sure, this is one more example of a hybrid that puts performance first and fuel efficiency second. The current 291-horsepower U.S. version of the Evo only manages a combined 20-mpg average. We’re guessing that the double-whammy of diesel and hybrid could boost the mileage beyond 30 MPG. But if the engineers can slightly downsize the engine, and make up the performance with a boost of diesel torque and battery power, then the model could approach a doubling of fuel economy over the conventional version.

The biggest obstacle keeping diesel-hybrids from production has been cost. Diesels are more expensive. Hybrids are more expensive. Add them together to add a whole lot more cost. The base level for the existing Lancer Evolution is about $34,000, so a diesel-electric could easily reach $40,000 or higher—with fairly modest clean vehicle tax incentives.

Just like the electric i-MiEV, a diesel-electric Lancer Evolution would be a first. No other carmaker has had the guts to combine the efficiencies of a diesel and a hybrid. And like the i-MiEV, it would be a small niche vehicle that garners a level of media attention disproportionate to the number of sales.

Bottom line: It makes Mitsubishi look like an innovative company, doing its best to bring exciting high-tech green options to the marketplace. Ideally, other car makers will follow with more affordable and much more efficient diesel-hybrid offerings, like the 70-mpg Volkswagen Golf diesel-hybrid we were talking about two years ago.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Mitsubishi has the diesel engines, as well as the electric-drive engineering prowess, to make the diesel-electric Lancer Evo a compelling car. Put it next to the electric i-MiEV in a dealership, and suddenly there are two reasons for green-leaning high-tech consumers to pay a visit a Mitsubishi showroom—which they haven’t considered for years, if ever.

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  • Rob D

    No that’s what I’m hoping for. A attractive sporty car (sorry, VW, the golf isn’t very pretty) with decent acceleraion that might get better than 40 mpg combined city/hwy. See ya later Honda CR-Z!!!!! Maybe where Honda failed, Mitsubishi can succeed.

  • Jon Brown

    I’m not clear WHY they’d use the diesel motor for added torque when they have an electric motor sitting right there with gobs of torque… but I’ve been advocating for a long time that diesel hybrids made a lot of sense. My reasoning being that diesel engines can be tuned to function extremely efficiently in narrow ranges (a la generators).

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Jon Brown,
    I agree completely. The electric motor should be used for startup torque, the diesel should be used for endurance. Let’s use the right tool for the right job.

  • Richard Poor

    Build it PHEV!

  • Frank M

    For years I drove around a 1981 VW Dasher diesel station wagon that averaged 38-42 mpg. Sure, it went from 0-60 in two days, but maintaining highway speed was no problem. With today’s hybrid technology, a diesel/electric hybrid makes perfect sense. Also, I live in Phoenix AZ where the sun shines year ’round. Why can’t solar be used to recharge batteries and extend the driving range which is one of the things I think drivers today are very much interested in?