GUTSY, exhilarating, powerful, outstanding, breathtaking, spine-tingling - all adjectives provided by Mitsubishi describing other people's experience of driving the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII.

So it's no wonder that through eight generations of Evolutions these cars have acquired a cult status that's rare in any car at any price.

With the introduction of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII 260, rally car handling has become accessible to a wider range of customers. Priced at £23,999 on the road, the new Evolution VIII 260 is available now from Mitsubishi Ralliart dealers.

Powered by Mitsubishi's rally-developed 2.0-litre engine, the new Evolution VIII 260 produces a 261bhp punch at 6,500rpm and shifts from 0-62mph in 6.1 seconds. Economy is not all bad news, with the entry-level model returning 34mpg at the extra urban rate, and 25.9 at the combined figure. Exhaust emission figure is 258g/km.

To better suit European requirements, the acclaimed Recaro front seats have been widened slightly from the version sold in the Japanese market and a stereo radio CD with six speakers has been added as standard equipment. The only exterior visual difference is the subtle small rear spoiler, which is standard for the UK market.

Improvements on its predecessor, the Evolution VII, include the addition of active yaw control and a revised five-speed close ratio manual gearbox; extensive improvements to and tuning of the engine, suspension and aerodynamics; a stiffer body and extensive reductions in weight. Brakes are Brembo ventilated with anti-lock and electronic brake force distribution systems.

The UK performance car sector, in which the new 260 competes, has increased by 285 per cent, rising from 9,321 cars in 1999 to 26,587 units last year.

This increase has been primarily brought about by an influx in lower priced, maximum appeal performance cars.

Customers are now shopping around for the best combination of product performance, image, value for money and customer service. Launch of the Evolution VIII 260 has worldwide significance for Mitsubishi.

For the first time the 260 meets strict European regulations and is now sold in 35 countries spanning from Russia to Portugal.

The Evolution VIII line-up features the five-speed Evolution VIII 260 for £23,999; six-speed VIII MR FQ-300 at £27,999, six-speed MR FQ-320 for £29,999 and the six-speed MR FQ-340 at £32,999.

Insurance grouping is 20D, and warranty is three years unlimited mileage warranty, six year anti-corrosion perforation warranty, and three year pan-European breakdown and recovery service.

Security features include alarm/keyless entry, engine immobiliser, locking wheel nuts and Trackstar satellite security tracking system.

Updated: 09:49 Friday, April 23, 2004