12 months on

DSC00294_4b32e11d91033-lightboxThe car has now been with us for a year. Over that time it has taken my daughter home from the hospital, away on her first beach holiday, and (sigh) repeatedly back and forth to my in-laws. Not necessarily in luxurious comfort, nor with great economy, but that was never the idea. The question was, would it be bearable at both, so as to justify the thrill of climbing into it when practical concerns could come second?

The answer: absolutely. A few highlights:

Firstly, a family holiday to Gisborne, on the North Island’s East Cape. New Zealand has no motorway network, so any long distance journey must be undertaken on what the British call B-roads. That means a GT car has no natural home here. The roads just aren’t open, smooth, or fast enough.

It was a long haul to Gisborne and back: tight, twisty, and the AA say the 550kms should take 8 hours. Obviously the Evo went much faster, but more importantly it carried a week’s worth of gear, two cases of booze, and a slumbering baby while doing it. While delivering a memorable drive to the pilot.

And that really was the definng moment. The car had worked as a family appliance, getting the three of us and a lot of stuff from A to B in reasonable comfort. But instead of dooming the driver to the monotony of thrashing an underpowered box, or the dulling sensation of rolling around in a V8 hearse, it had made the trip feel worth doing for its own sake. It had added some joy to what could, should, have been ordinary tedium.

Of course there is a price to pay. Fuel consumption still hovers around 400km per 55 litre tank. Servicing every 5000km is becoming tiresome. But that is only money in the end, and the bang for buck is still outstanding. Measured on almost any scale, from dramatic impact to outright speed, the car is astonishing value.  And not buying a BMW is priceless.

But all of that pales when the car is on the track. The moment it drives onto any course, it changes personality. Suddenly the car is not a motorised pram but hard, violent. On the three track days so far it has been so much faster than almost anything else it was embarrassing: having to explain that “no, it is standard” starts to seem like artifice. That is not helped by the fact the car towers over everything in the pitlane, looking exactly like the four door econo-box it is based on.

And then on the drive home it goes back to being a road car. After a a track day at the A1GP circuit in Taupo we made the long trip home. The car had flown around, outrunning various race and targa cars. The only low point was a Porsche 968 race car that seemed so distracted by the rapidly approaching Japanese sedan it spun right in front of me.

But the moment of truth was on the way home. Three hours into the journey, we passed that same Porsche again on the short motorway into Auckland. My brother and I were listening to the stereo as the rain poured down, lounging in the Recaros and with the climate control keeping things comfortable. The Porsche pilot was hunched forward in his seat, peering through a misty windscreen and no doubt deafened by noise.

And that summed up the year. The Evo is actually two cars in one: a fairly practical everyday car, and a near-supercar. Every time you get in it your right foot chooses which. I love it.

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Nick Flanagan