We love the EVO VIII. It's the most well balanced, all-around car we've ever driven for any price. It has reasonable power with tons of upgrade potential in its well-developed bulletproof 4G63 engine. Then there's the handling-it's so easy to drive hard at the limit. The stock tires have near-race-tire grip, the balance between under and oversteer is just right, the steering is quick and responsive and the car has an honest, non-computer aided linear feel. The brakes are firm, fade-free and powerful. Even when driven clumsily, the EVO still makes the inept look good.
Others share the same opinion. Turbo's sister publication "Sport Compact Car" tested the EVO against offerings from Porsche and BMW and it still came away the overall winner, much to the teeth-gnashing chagrin of brand-conscious, Euro-status-car-driving yuppies around the country.
The EVO's construction is equally impressive. It's easy to tell it was designed at the factory for WRC Rally punishment. The chassis bristles with beefy tower and underchassis braces stock. The front crossmember is a huge perimeter unit that dwarfs anything we've seen. The massive rear crossmember is cast from stiff aluminum alloy. The crossmembers bolt to the chassis in numerous places with big bolts. The suspension pivots and ball joints are huge. The unibody has many heavily reinforced points with multiple layers of metal and stiffening ribs and buttresses. This baby was born to run.
So how do we improve on this batch of automotive goodness? A car this good can be easily spoiled with too heavy a dose of tasteless aftermarket bling-bling. The trick here is a carefully engineered package of properly selected aftermarket parts. Our goal is to make the ultimate daily driver, at least at first.
We want to enhance the overall driving experience of the EVO, not just increase its power or give it stick in the corners. Lag and throttle response must remain crisp and the ride must stay compliant if we're going to attempt to make the car uncompromisingly better- a hard task, indeed, considering the lofty starting point. Let's dig into our EVO and get to work.
Wheels And Tires
To stay inline with our goal of streetable performance, we ruled out the simple way to improve grip, like throwing on a gummy set of R-compound race rubber. Instead, we obtained the stickiest non-racing tires we could find-the BFG Comp TA/KD 245/35-18 . When testing other projects, we drove the KD against other sticky rubber and were amazed at the tire's grip and predictability at the limit. Only full-race DOT rubber could surpass the KD in performance and then by not much. Amazingly, the KD has a UTOG tire wear rating of 220, far better than the 160 or less typical of sticky street rubber.
We scrapped the EVO's stock ultra-light Enkei roll-forged wheels for the lightest, strongest wheel we could find. Putting a wider rim on the car would help keep the tread flat on the road, so we chose Volk TE37 wheels, sized 18x8.5 with a 30mm offset and weighing only 18 pounds. The Volks are a true forged wheel, in which aluminum billet is smashed into a die with tremendous force, squeezing it into a wheel. This violent process refines and aligns the grain of the metal and is the strongest possible process to manufacture an alloy wheel. The aluminum gains strength and ductility during forging, so the wheel has thinner section widths without sacrificing strength.
Our choice of big meats wasn't going to fit in the stock wheel wells without rubbing. We sent Project EVO to Brian Kono of Afterhours Automotive fame to have the wheel wells massaged. He subtlety flared our fenders to clear the tires without rubbing and repainted the inside of the wheel wells. Although it's a lot of work, the killer looks and the traction these tires afford are worth it.
The grip of the tires is amazing, so much that it threw the balance of the car' suspension off. The once taut and flat-cornering EVO now leaned in the corners like some sort of base sedan because the added grip increased cornering speeds and allowed a lot more weight transfer to the outside tires. Also, the increased grip made the car's once-firm suspension feel soft and floaty.
We tried slapping a set of lowering springs on it in hopes this would firm things up, but these lowered the car too much and didn't stiffen it enough. Although the car looked sharp lowered, its handling was now worse than stock and the ride was rough for the level of cornering.