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.
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 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.