Growing up in the ’90s, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is one of the special cars of my childhood.
Nearly every car I used to draw in my maths notebook had its boxy shape thanks to the Evo rally cars of the early years; so when my buddy Sebastian told me he’d bring an Evo X over for this month’s story, I was pretty excited.
The Evo X packs 280 horsepower from its 2.0-litre, four-cylinder 4B11 engine. That might not seem a huge number, but this car is all about how many of those horses it can put to use.
The power is transmitted to the wheels in an orderly fashion via a six-speed SST gearbox and permanent all-wheel drive. The X is the first Lancer Evolution model that has come equipped from the factory with a double-clutch transmission.
There are two things that always characterized Evos: bonnet scoops and vents….
… and a big wing at the back.
The Recaro seats up front held me well in place during the entire trip…
…and the rear can easily take three.
Shod with lightweight BBS wheels and blessed with stopping power by Brembo, the Evo X makes no attempt to blend in at the supermarket car park.Hahntennjoch
To experience a rally-bred machine like this, I had to do quite some research to find the appropriate route. It needed to be highly technical and challenging in itself.
One of the things about Europe is that it is so compact; you are never really too far away from a great many driving roads. Following a recommendation, I decided to check out some of the most popular driving routes in Austria’s alpine region.
This is how I stumbled upon Hahntennjoch. It’s a beautiful stretch of winding mountain road in the Austrian state of Tyrol that peaks at around 6250 feet above sea level and connects the valleys of the rivers Inn and Lech.
The pass is a roughly 20-mile stretch of narrow winding road that is closed to heavy vehicles and has maximum inclines of up to 18 percent. Yikes!
As my luck would have it, the weather forecast was for cloudy skies and rainfall the entire weekend.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. From a photographer’s point of view, the clouds and fog act as a gigantic softbox providing diffused light and adding lots of drama to the photographs.
From a driver’s point of view, this means the roads are relatively empty with very little two-wheel traffic.The climb
Although the route can be taken in either direction, it’s easier to properly enjoy the progressive nature of the pass if you start from the town of Häselgehr and drive towards Imst.
Since 2004 an automatic warning system has been installed at Hahntennjoch that automatically closes the route based on set weather criteria and sensor data. Luckily for me the pass was open despite the less than optimum driving conditions.
The first section of the pass is fairly wide and has plenty of sweeping corners to get used to the car.
This is one of the few parts of the road when you can actually hit the speed limit in relative comfort.
Despite the wet weather, there still were some hardened motorcyclists ahead of us!
There are quite a few beautiful tunnels on this route too.
Some are drilled straight through the rock and essentially left like that…
… while others are a little more elaborate.
It really feels like being in a video game!
Since the tunnels are not all straight there are two-sided cats eyes on either side of the road. Red on the right and blue/white on the left, so you can easily follow the road and see where the boundaries are.
Every time you emerge from the darkness of a tunnel you presented with absolutely stunning scenery.
Imagine living in one of the little towns nestled along this route and having to drive it to get to work every day. Now that’s a problem I’d love to have!
Some of the buildings along the route seem to be stuck in time, and it’s often hard to figure out what they are. This, for example, is the local fire station.
As you climb higher, the tree cover starts to thin and the alpine rockiness slowly starts to shine through.
Soon the lush valleys on the roadside start becoming replaced with rocky drops.
This is when the excitement of driving starts to increase exponentially, because suddenly the element of altitude is added to the mix.
The drive really intensifies at this point, climbing very steeply with jagged walls on one side and drops on the other.
You really feel alive driving these roads at speed.
Since Sebastian is a local motoring journalist, he has driven this route several dozen times. So I put my faith in his knowledge of the road for the runs for the camera. I wasn’t scared at all. Honest!
I am pretty sure I was making rally car noises in my head at this point.
I must say I was awestruck with the fog cover – it looked like the mountains were steaming!
About a third of the way in after the town of Bschlabs (yes, that is the real name), you enter what feels like a new section of the pass…
… characterized by narrower roads and numerous hairpins.
It’s on roads like these the point-and-squirt-abilty of the all-wheel drive Evo simply shines. Midway through a damp corner you can just pile on the power; this is automobile engineering that you can actually feel working.
After a long time looking at the fog cover, we eventually drove into it.Halfway there
At this point all the big trees in the scenery are replaced by hedges and bushes due to the slightly thinner air.
Because of the lack of trees that hold the top soil together, this area is highly prone to landslides. There are signs everywhere warning drivers about the potential danger, especially when there is a rainstorm.
You only need to glance once at the landscape to see why.
If not for the little green patches, this could have easily been a scene from an alien planet.
I found it really interesting how on the right side of the road was all barren, contrasting to the left side where I could see the greener valley.
It was also a hard juxtaposition of a modern electronics-laden automobile against the rawness of mother nature.
While taking this shot I also noticed how from some angles you can see how the Evo X harks back a few design cues to the earlier Evos.Downhill dash
After a short break to wipe the sweat off the steering wheel, we continued down the pass, heading downhill for the town of Imst.
It was very important here to not cut any corners because one clip of those rock faces would easily yank a wheel clean off the car.
Eventually hairpins and trees reappear again, signaling the final leg of the pass.
Imst is a beautiful scenic town nestled in the valleys of fog-capped mountains that pays host to many petrolheads when they return each year for a week of alpine pass-hunting.
The townfolk are very welcoming to motorists and some of the hoteliers are proper car guys themselves, like the owner of Hotel Hirschen in Imst. This place comes highly recommended if any of you plan a dream drive of your own at Hahntennjoch.
On my way back home, while driving in a less than #MaximumAttack manner, I thought about the Hahntennjoch experience. The biggest thrill I had had putting the Evo through the paces, was when I was the most terrified – the blind corners, the narrow roads with the rocky edges, the sheer drops without barriers and the occasional loss of grip when I carried a bit too much speed into a corner on wet asphalt. I have had passengers tell me that on drives like these my face never looks like I am having any fun. And therein lies one of my biggest joys of spirited driving: the more terrified I was, the more alive I felt.
How do you guys celebrate your #joyofmachine moments? What roads would you like us tackle next?