Given Mitsubishi's perennial competition with Subaru, the new Lancer Sportback was inevitable. When Subaru updated its Impreza in 2008, the basis for the, it included hatchback and four-door versions of the car. Mitsubishi updated its Lancer, the basis for the and , on a similar timeline, but only offered a four-door sedan. The 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart fills in the space between roof and trunk lid of the original Lancer body with a hatchback. Otherwise, the car is identical to the standard Lancer Ralliart.
The Sportback invites controversy, as it looks underdesigned. The side windows look unchanged from the sedan, while the C-pillar is merely widened to fill space and hold up the rear hatch. But it also offers the functionality of a hatchback, with easy access to the cargo area from rear seats or hatch.
Looks aside, any sport driving enthusiast will find much to love about the car's running gear, with the Ralliart's standard double-clutch transmission, called SST by Mitsubishi, and the 2-liter four-cylinder engine topped by a turbocharger big enough to give it 237 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque.
Not surprisingly, that much turbocharging leads to excessive turbo lag. From a standing start, the car makes an initially weak effort at full throttle, edging forward for half a second or more until the turbo spools up, giving the car a mid-launch pulse of acceleration that can take you by surprise if you aren't ready for it.
Column-mounted paddles let you shift gears by finger.
But drag-racing aside, the transmission's automatic sport setting takes turbo lag out of the equation by keeping engine speed up around 3,000 rpm. With the car in this mode, drop your speed before a corner and the transmission downshifts quickly, letting you hit the gas and get full turbo thrust.
You can get similar performance using the transmission's manual mode, flipping the column-attached paddles to move sequentially through the gears, experiencing shifts faster and harder than any torque converter-based transmission. The transmission's automatic normal mode short shifts, going for fuel economy over power.
The Lancer Sportback benefits from its all-wheel-drive in the corners, which is not as sophisticated as that found in the Lancer Evo, but is still very advanced. We appreciated the grip afforded on rain-slick roads, as the car began to slide a little in a turn, but got right back in line with a little pressure on the gas pedal.
A button on the console lets you choose from three different all-wheel-drive modes.
The all-wheel-drive system uses differentials on both axles and in the center of the car, allowing a wide range of torque distribution to get power to the wheels that need it most. And in its rally-bred style, all-wheel-drive can be set for asphalt, gravel, or snow, limiting the amount of wheel slip allowed as you get onto more difficult surfaces.
Although the all-wheel-drive and transmission are two stand-out performance features on the Lancer Sportback, the car is let down by its brakes and suspension. The brakes are similar to what you will find on the standard Lancer economy car, not providing the stopping power or the modulation capabilities for barreling toward a turn.
And while the suspension uses stabilizer bars to help the car maintain composure when the laws of physics tell it to go tumbling off the road, it doesn't have the precise feel of that in the Evo, or even the. Instead, the suspension feels heavy, and the car reacts similar to many midsize commuter cars to hard cornering.
To earn its Ralliart badge, Mitsubishi also built some stiffness into this suspension, making it a little rough for the daily commute. Our car came equipped with the Recaro seat package, adding serious sport seats with high side bolsters running all the way up to the headrests. While doing an excellent job of keeping butts in seats when the car is slewing sideways, dragging yourself over the bolsters every day will start to feel like an unreasonable burden.
The Recaro seat package includes a number of surprising options.
Included in the seat package are HID headlights with a leveling control. A dial on the dashboard lets you set them between five angles, allowing a fine degree of control that's mostly useful if you expect to slog the car over hill and dale at night.
Another tech treat from the Recaro seat package is a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system, sporting an 8-inch subwoofer in the cargo area. We easily rattled the interior panels with this system, making thud thud reverberations run up and down the car.
It isn't the most refined audio experience, and you will find highs getting shortchanged in favor of Rockford Fosgate's thick signature sound. And even with its 710 watts, it doesn't sound like much with the volume low--you need to crank it up to really experience this audio system. The bass is sharp and visceral, making bass-oriented tracks stand out.
This big subwoofer rattles the car's interior panels with a good bass track.
The Lancer Sportback also gets a pretty advanced optional navigation system for this segment of car. With colorful, easy-to-read maps stored on an internal hard drive, the system is quick to calculate routes. Route guidance includes lane guidance for freeways, but we found the voice prompts far too frequent, giving about four warnings before a turn.
And there aren't many advanced features in this navigation system: no traffic, weather, or text to speech, for example. But we do like the plethora of route tools, which let you do things like create a detour or preview the journey.
Given the hard drive for the maps, Mitsubishi also reserves space for ripped music. The car includes a Gracenote database, which automatically recognizes any CD you put in the slot, tagging ripped tracks to make them accessible by song, artist, and album names.
The satellite radio interface is functional, though not pretty.
We are surprised that with this fairly advanced digital music system there is no USB port for iPod integration or other music devices. Especially considering the Lancer Sportback's demographic, we would think an iPod connection would be essential. There is a satellite radio option, included with the Recaro seat package, and we found the interface easy to use, with pages of channel listings by category.
The Lancer Sportback also comes with a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, but it is very basic. Using voice commands, you can pair a phone, dial a number, or make phone book entries. There is only minor onscreen feedback and you can't import a phone's contact list.
The 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart includes some impressive driving gear and cabin tech, but it is a mixed bag of tricks, with some features ranging into the mediocre. The cabin tech features are largely average, although the Rockford Fosgate audio system and capability to rip CDs to the car stand out. Both traffic information and iPod integration are features we missed.
The double-clutch Sportshift Transmission is a good reason to get the Ralliart, as it is our favorite of this type of transmission, working well in normal and sport driving situations. The all-wheel-drive system also reacts well to slippery roads. Fuel economy isn't bad for the turbocharged engine, with 17 mpg city and 25 mph highway. We found it easy to come in at 20.8 mpg, right in the middle of that range, but the sport setting is a temptation to be much more wasteful.
As for design, the slapdash styling is a negative, but it does offer the functionality of a hatchback. Likewise, the interface design for cabin tech looks a little rough but remains functional.
|Model||2010 Mitsubishi Lancer|
|Power train||Turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder|
|EPA fuel economy||17 mpg city/25 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||20.8 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard drive-based|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||None|
|Other digital audio||Auxiliary input, onboard hard drive, satellite radio|
|Audio system||710 watt Rockford Fosgate|
|Price as tested||$33,059|