In most cases, special edition cars – particularly those bearing the name of a notable company, athlete, or most worryingly a racing driver – can end up feeling like a meaningless and pointless way of cashing in on the power a name can hold as a way of selling cars. Just think of woeful cars like the Fiat Seicento Sporting Michael Shumacher or the Mercedes-Benz A160 Häkkinen Edition and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
However, there’s one particular car that has always defied this unfortunate norm, and has instead proven itself to truly be more than just your average special edition. That car, of course, is the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Mäkinen Edition – a car so recognisable and desirable it can simply be identified by three letters, TME, and such a noteworthy improvement over the regular Evo VI it’s referred to by many as the ‘Evo 6.5’.
Perhaps part of why is that while many of these racing driver special editions are merely part of sponsored brand deals, it was an Evo that Mäkinen actually raced, the same of which can’t be said for Schumacher’s Seciento or Häkkinen’s A160. Part of the Mitsubishi Ralliart team from 1994 until 2001, Mäkinen won the championship four years in a row between 1996 and 1999, and it was at the end of that championship run the TME was introduced as an ode to this immense success.
Released as a limited production run of just 2500 cars, the one you see here is from the first model year, 1999, and was originally sold new in Japan. Three trim levels were originally offered for the TME – RS, RS2, and GSR, of which this is the top-spec model which, unlike the other two, was offered only in right-hand drive. Australian-delivered models will be easily distinguished from this JDM 1999 GSR, then, as all 99 customer-delivered units were 2000-plated RS2 versions, save for one special-order GSR.
When it was new, the TME retailed for $79,990 in Australia, and as such represented immensely good value given its sheer pace, despite looking to be mighty expensive for a Mitsubishi economy car with a big wing on the back.
Of course, it was far more than just that, though, and far more than a regular Evo VI, too. Not only was its ride height dropped by 10mm and an even quicker steering rack fitted, but the twin-scroll turbocharger fitted to its ‘4G63’ 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine was fettled with by adding a titanium alloy turbine wheel and a smaller compressor wheel.
The GSR model tested here featured the ultimate version of Mitubishi’s all-wheel drive system of the time, too, as it not only had the clever Active Yaw Control (AYC) system that controls the side-to-side power split, along with limited-slip differentials both front and rear. Aussie RS2 models missed out on the front LSD – however, they did feature the ‘cross-ratio’ five-speed manual gearbox with a shorter final drive ratio and punchier third-through-fifth, with the GSR featuring the standard Evo VI five-speed.
But even the nerdiest of things were fettled with in the creation of this car in order to make for the most minor of improvements. Take, for instance, the fact its tiny 50-litre fuel thimble featured clever baffles to prevent unwanted fuel-surge during fast cornering, or the fact that the ducts in its asymmetrical nose are all fully functional for guiding air to the intercooler, oil cooler, brakes, and, of course, its intake.
Being a product of the 1990s, the very best of brand-name bits are scattered throughout, too – Brembo brakes both front (four-piston) and rear (two-piston), Enkei wheels, Recaro seats, and a Momo steering wheel are effectively all must-haves in something from this era, and all are present here.
As a GSR model, automatic climate control, power windows and mirrors, a radio (in this instance a period-correct Carrozzeria unit), and front airbags were also fitted as standard – all of which were lacking in the base RS version. However, it did make the 1365kg GSR a bit of a porker compared to the RS and RS2, which weighed in at just 1260kg and 1280kg respectively.
However, the GSR’s extra weight isn’t something you’ll be thinking about when you get the TME out on the road, as the driving experience it offers is simply something else.
Make no mistake, this isn’t one of those cars where it’s all about the engine, or where the chassis is what ‘makes it’, as no one part of its mechanical DNA stands out on its own – rather, it’s that every single part of the equation works perfectly together. This orchestra is one that’s very much playing in perfect time, and with precision that’d make a Swiss railway engineer’s work look sloppy.
Firstly, there’s the matter of its 4G63 engine, something that was a constant from the very first Evo up until the very last, albeit with changes along the way. In this application here, with 206kW and 373Nm on tap, not only does its power level feel perfectly punchy but not excessively so for on public roads, but the power delivery itself is far, far smoother than I was ever expecting.
While, yes, you need to be above 3000rpm to really get the turbo spinning, and its around the 5000rpm mark that it really feels to get on song, the fact it’s a twin-scroll puffer makes for an incredibly smooth transition between each stage in its torque curve – something that’s important given, realistically, smoother driving often means faster driving.
Then there’s the matter of its seemingly unflappable chassis and, in particular, that trick all-wheel drive system. Turn-in is incredibly sharp for a car of its age – there’s next-to-none of the off-centre sluggishness that plagues many hydraulic steering racks from this era – and there is a minimal amount of roll through the corners as well, not that you’d have to worry about it sloshing the fuel from side to side at least.
The all-wheel drive system is what really harnesses the best of its responsive, punchy engine and that dialled-in chassis, though. Certainly, this is one of those cars where the harder you drive it, the better it gets. Say you turn into a corner too quickly and back off the throttle, it’ll tend towards understeer, but push the pedal back down and power through it and it’ll return to holding its line confidently, the AYC system shuffling the power around with a quickness of wit that would rival Lee Mack’s.
But more than just its driveline all feeling perfectly-judged, the tactile elements of the driving experience are as on the mark as Goldilocks’ porridge, too – the weight of the tiller, the feeling of its sturdy five-speed shifter, and the weighting, communicativeness, and spacing of its pedalbox are all spot on. None too heavy and tiring to handle, none too light and uninformative, but rather, all just right. Even those Recaro seats grip your body in all the right places and with just the right amount of tightness to keep you held in place without feeling punished.
Make no mistake, though – after a good few hours behind the wheel, I was feeling exhilarated but exhausted, but really this is due to the fact the car keeps begging you to give it more and push it harder, but it’s something you’ll be more than willing to oblige when you start to get in tune with it and learn its limits. Truly, and this isn’t an exaggeration, this steals the title of my favourite car I’ve driven from this era – it’s that good, and it simply ticks all the right boxes I look for when it comes to how a car feels to drive.
Now, admission time – while the car you see here is as stock an example as I’d probably be able to get my hands on as not even Mitsubishi’s Australian head office has one stashed away somewhere, there are a couple of minor mods that have been made to it that are to be expected for a car this age and of this type. Less poignant is the Invidia exhaust that did actually give it a surprisingly good tone for a 4G63, but more noteworthy is the fact it sat on a set of Blitz coilovers.
However, the car’s owner told me he had painstakingly dialled them in to the right height and damping rate in order to make it ride even more comfortably than its fixed-rate stock suspension, and given just how well it did ride – and the fact the owner is a former racing driver, implying he knows how to set a car up right – I’m more than happy to take his word for it.
Even with some minor – albeit expected – mods, though, it won’t do anything to diminish the value of this homologation special. While when I first got chatting to the owner about his new purchase and my interest in reviewing it a handful of months ago, these were selling at around the $50,000 mark, a look at the online classifieds at the time of publication sees values nudging, if not over $100,000.
While it’d be easy to dismiss that number as being too high, there’s a lot of factors at play here. This is a car built in limited numbers, with true racing pedigree, more than enough changes over the standard Evo VI to warrant its special status, and, oddly enough, renewed relevance.
The latest car to break the internet is the Toyota GR Yaris – another rally homologation special, although one for a car that may not ever even go racing – which never would have been developed were it not for this car’s namesake, Tommi Mäkinen, who is now the team principal of Toyota Gazoo Racing and was involved first-hand in the development of the car.
Consider that just 10 percent as many Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Mäkinen Editions were built as there will be GR Yaris’, and it only makes sense that – especially at a time prices on the used car market are exploding – that this thing would take off in value. After a day spent behind the wheel, it’s easy to see that it deserves to have.
My thanks to Troy from Mowers Plus Mount Barker for lending me his immaculate TME for the day.