In our opinion, the most fun you can have in a car is driving a twisty mountain road, negotiating hairpin turns as fast as possible without overshooting and taking a tumble down a 100 foot cliff. Big dogs like the Cadillac CTS-V and the Audi S8 are no good for this kind of work, where all that power just goes to waste. No, in this territory the small, rally-bred 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart shines.
Similar to its more sophisticated big brother, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR, the Lancer Ralliart squeezes power out of a 2-liter four-cylinder engine through the use of a turbocharger and variable valve timing, then puts it to the wheels that need it most with its advanced all-wheel-drive system. The result is some of the most impressive cornering performance on the most difficult roads we've found.
Based on Mitsubishi's humble Lancer platform, the Lancer Ralliart adds a turbo, all-wheel-drive, and, best of all, the Sport Shift Transmission, a twin clutch automated manual, also found in the new Evo MR. Unlike the Evo MR's 291 horsepower, the Lancer Ralliart's engine only makes 237 horsepower. Torque numbers are 300 foot-pounds for the Evo MR, and 253 foot-pounds for the Lancer Ralliart. And the Lancer Ralliart's all-wheel-drive system comes from the previous generation Evo, so it lacks advanced features such as active yaw control. That reduction in performance tech also equals about a $10,000 reduction in price.
Mitsubishi squeezes a lot of power, and more torque, out of this 2-liter engine.
Our Lancer Ralliart featured the same fighter jet grille and hood vents as the Evo, along with the mundane, economy car profile, only broken up by a spoiler attached to the trunk lid. Unlike the Evo, or a base Lancer, Mitsubishi's colorful Ralliart badges bedeck the grille and trunk. The Lancer Ralliart's seats may not have had the bolstering of the Recaro seats found in the Evo, but they were more comfortable, and easily adjusted for a comfortable seating position. The dashboard and console show a lot of plastic, in line with the base Lancer's economy appointments.
Unsatisfying urban character
Once in the driver seat, we immediately headed for roads that would challenge the car, where we could push it through twists and turns to see how well it holds the road. But getting there entailed a drive through city traffic, where the Lancer Ralliart really isn't in its element. Turbo lag is definitely present, although predictable. We hit the gas and the car started to creep forward before it suddenly picked up speed when the turbo kicked in. The car bucked with each gear change when we were stuck in very slow moving traffic.
In standard drive mode, the SST keeps the engine running around 2,500rpm, but a switch near the shifter puts the transmission into sport mode, raising the engine speed and generally combating turbo lag. Don't let the lack of a clutch pedal fool you--the SST shifts like a manual transmission. Rather than the slushy feeling from a torque converter, the SST has two clutches controlled by computer. Each shift has a satisfyingly hard feeling of a gear being engaged. The transmission can also be shifted manually with column-mounted paddles, not as convenient during traffic driving but making it easier to control the revs.
The SST is a major reason why we love the Lancer Ralliart.
We quickly forget the dissatisfying experience of city driving as the Lancer Ralliart took an on-ramp to the freeway. Slamming the gas pedal with the SST in sport mode, the tachometer pushed the redline, the needle only dropping briefly at each upshift. Acceleration felt very fast, and other publications have achieved a respectable 5.5 seconds to 60 mph. This sort of work is part of the Lancer Ralliart's raison d'etre, and it shows it by losing most of that uncomfortable character we found on the congested streets of the city.
At freeway speeds its fuel economy also started to climb, eventually balancing out the wasteful city driving for an average of 21.8 mpg. The EPA rates the Lancer Ralliart at 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, numbers we found realistic even with a good dose of sport driving thrown into the mix.
Upgradeable cabin tech
Taking a moment to look at the cabin tech, this Lancer Ralliart is devoid of any options, but that doesn't mean a complete lack of gadgets. Mitsubishi makes a Bluetooth phone system standard in the car. It uses voice command for its interface and is fairly basic, lacking any advanced phonebook features, but it works. The standard stereo plays MP3 CDs in its single-slot player, and that's about the extent of the digital music options. For the auxiliary input, Mitsubishi includes stereo RCA jacks instead of the more typical 1/8 inch audio jack, an interesting choice for better fidelity. But most people will plug an MP3 player into it with a 1/8 inch audio out, so there isn't much gained.
The stock stereo head unit offers some advanced audio manipulation features.
The stock audio system is a simple six-speaker setup, with tweeters on the A-pillars and woofers on all the doors. The audio quality is fairly average, with usual muddiness, but the stereo offers a bit of custom control to adjust the audio with its sound field control. You can choose Stage, Hall, or Live, each successively broadening the sound.
But the stock systems aren't the end of the story. The 2009 Lancer Ralliart can be had with the same hard-drive-based navigation system and upgraded Rockford-Fosgate audio system as found in the Evo MR. The navigation system works well, and has space on its hard drive left over for music storage, while the Rockford-Fosgate audio system has a big 10-inch subwoofer to pump out the bass. The major lack here is iPod integration. You can read a detailed look at those options in our Evo MR review.
In its element
When we finally got the Lancer Ralliart into the hills, the fun really began. In sport mode, the SST got aggressive, downshifting quickly as we braked before a turn, the engine making bass notes at each change. That downshifting kept the revs high enough that, when we got back on the gas, the Lancer Ralliart showed no turbo lag. It was ready and willing to push the tires hard into the pavement. The car rewarded us with the sound of squealing rubber as we pushed it.
The all-wheel-drive system can be toggled through three settings.
The all-wheel-drive system, although not as advanced as that found in the Evo MR, still has settings for asphalt, gravel, and snow, each mode successively limiting the amount of slip for each wheel so that for the slipperiest surfaces, the Lancer Ralliart keeps some power going to all wheels. As we were on roads, we kept it in the asphalt setting, where it delivered amazing results. Pounding into corner after corner, we kept up impressive speeds. Switching to manual mode with the SST, a flick of the paddles shifted gears much quicker than we could do with a clutch pedal, and each shift was precise. The only trouble with manual shifting came from not watching the tachometer, and over-revving the engine, resulting in fuel cutoff and a sudden drop in engine speed.
As much fun as we had in the turns with the Lancer Ralliart, it still falls short of the Evo MR. There was some slight body roll in the corners and, when pushed very hard, some understeer also became evident. But the biggest drawback was the brake hardware. The Evo MR comes with Brembo four-piston calipers in front, while the Lancer Ralliart is stuck with conventional calipers. As much as the rest of the car was willing and able to carve the corners, the brakes didn't offer the grip needed to slow the car quickly from straightaway to turn.
The 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart attempts to mix serious performance with the practicality of an everyday commuter. But its unhappiness at low speeds will keep you longing for weekend driving on the twisties. As such, we give it a high score for its performance tech, but knock that score down a bit due to its singular purpose. Although our test car wasn't equipped with the cabin tech options, it still earns a good score for the available navigation and audio systems. As for design, we like the cabin tech interface and the look of the car from front and back. The side view is the only slight letdown, where it just looks like a reasonably attractive economy car.
|Model||2009 Mitsubishi Lancer|
|Powertrain||Turbocharged 2-liter four cylinder engine|
|EPA fuel economy||17 mpg city/25 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||21.8 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard drive-based|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||Single CD, MP3 compatible|
|MP3 player support||None|
|Other digital audio||Optional hard drive storage with navigation, satellite radio, auxiliary input|
|Audio system||Optional Rockford-Fosgate with seven speakers and 650 watt amp|
|Price as tested||$26,490|