Driving Northwest: 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart


by TOM VOELK / KING 5 Car Expert


Posted on May 27, 2010 at 1:33 PM

Updated Thursday, May 27 at 1:53 PM

To describe Mitsubishi’s Lancer line think of the classic tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The legendary Evolution, the performance variant that’s great fun to pitch around a race track, is too hot for most people. The standard Lancer sedan that competes with Civic and Corolla is too tepid for those looking for any kind of fun. Then there’s Ralliart. It’s a shame to compare this car to a bowl of porridge but I’m looking for a clever way of saying this version is just right. All right, I’ll drop the fairy tale theme.
Evo and Lancer are the brother and sister that don’t act like they’re related. Meet Ralliart, though, and you can see where the two extremes get their DNA from. Compromise is not always good, but Ralliart, which leans toward the Evolution side of the family, turns out to be a gifted athlete that doesn’t have A-Rod type baggage.
Speaking of baggage
Ralliart is available in two versions, sedan and the Sportback that I’m driving. I’ve sung the praises of the useful hatchback design before and Sportback has been mighty handy this week. While the cargo space is fairly equal (both score a 5 in the TP Trunk Test), the hatchback has swallowed a bike, a very large box from IKEA and a substantial Costco run that the sedan won’t tolerate. 
Starting at $28,335, Mitsubishi packs a lot of performance into a uniquely styled package. The visual impression Ralliart makes is dominated by the jet fighter grille. Generally, people seem to like it - surprising in these conservative times. Good of Mitsubishi to try something different.  A bonus?  Lancer is a rare site and Ralliart buyers certainly won’t see their car coming and going 30 times a day. Hood vents and a rear spoiler complete the high performance look.
Hatchbacks are good. So is power.
Ralliart rallies from 0-60 in just under 6 seconds. Darn quick. Score keeping enthusiasts know Subaru’s WRX is faster but sometimes it’s about balance. The scoot comes from a turbocharged 2 liter, 4-cylinder pumping out 237 horsepower. Unlike the Evo (rated at 291 HP), Ralliart’s turbo design uses a single scroll. There’s 253 lb-ft of torque at 2500 RPMs (vs. 300 for Evo). The powerplant with just a touch of turbo lag is fun to squirt through stop and go city traffic. Easy and satisfying.
Fuel economy is EPA rated at 17 city / 25 highway on specified premium and when pushed this rig will not come close to those numbers. That’s to be expected though and fun hogs will be willing to pay extra for a good time. I’m happy to run any kind of errand my lovely wife asks of me in order to zip around in this Mitsu. The chassis dynamics make Ralliart a great tool to work a twisty road with. The firm but not harsh suspension keeps spirits up and body roll down. Road noise is about average.
This car just feels right when pushed hard in corners, due in part to all-wheel drive that shifts power to the axel that needs it. Tailor its response to 3 different road surfaces (tarmac, gravel and snow). Also adjustable is the standard 6-speed Twin Clutch SST transmission with rapid fire shifts (much like VWs DSG). Slide it into D and it’s just like an automatic, manual gear changes can be executed on the console or wide steering wheel paddles. Sport mode keeps the engine RPMs higher, ready for hard performance maneuvers. It does a good job of reading an enthusiast mind, holding onto gears while accelerating through curves. Overall Ralliart’s drivetrain isn’t quite as sophisticated as Evos but it’s all most drivers will need, or in reality use on a regular basis.
Best seat in the house
The very black cockpit is a bit dark and spartan with no sunroof option to brighten it up. Plastics are hard, there’s not a lot of contrasting trim here except for a sweep of tech patterned plastic that runs across the instrument panel. The steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope. Still it feels very good in hand. Need a hug? Optional Recaro sport seats with deep bolsters keep driver and passenger securely planted though larger drivers might find them too snug.  They are very much like the baby bear’s bed in the Goldilocks story. Oops, promised I would use that angle.
Cell phones get Bluetooth handsfree, MP3 players can be hooked up via RCA jacks in the center console. Go with the Recaros and HID headlamps and a 710 watt Rockford Fosgate sound system comes with them. Its display is hard to read in the sun. Personally I’d spring the $2,750 for the package, it completes the mission of this car. A $1,999 navigation is available if not a bit pricey. 
Quickly keep the peace
The beauty of the Ralliart is that while it’s fun to drive, you can sell it to your spouse as practical, especially the Sportback. 2 average adults will be fine in the back seat, 3 a little snug. Foot room is decent but there is no power port to charge cell phones or iPods and the Recaro seats do not have map pockets on their backs.
The Ralliart Sportback goes up against Subaru WRX, MAZDASPEED3, Volkswagen GTI and perhaps the Honda Civic Si. The Mitsubishi dealer network is smaller than most but Ralliart’s big performance is a reason to search for a test drive. Remember, if for some reason you’re not crazy about hatchbacks there’s also the sedan style (and therapy). But as the Sportback it hauls cargo as well. Versatility and velocity are a winning combination. This Mitsubishi deserves to be more popular.