Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart - fun, roomy and practical with a dash of spice

There comes a times when you want more, but not too much… when you want power, handling, sportiness, and yes, some practicality, but not at the expense of comfort, usability and price.

In other words, you want a lot of import go for the dough, but not the wings, wide wheels and things of streetwise rally cars like a 305-hp Subaru WRX STI or 291-hp Mitusbishi Evolution GSR.

There are options, like the 267-hp MAZDASPEED3 or the 265-hp Subaru WRX. Then there’s our 237-hp Lancer Ralliart, a compact sedan with similar serious levels of performance.
For those not in the know, Ralliart is the company Mitsubishi set up in 1984 to handle its growing motorsports activities, mostly rallying. So the compact Lancer, which starts out as a 152-hp compact family car, earns some power and go-faster/better bits thanks to the company’s rallying heritage. Let’s hit the tarmac stage in our Rally Red sedan.
* Ralliart on the runway – Mitsubishi dramatically redid its Lancer a few years ago, getting rid of its mousey look and replacing it with a big jet fighter intake main grill and slit angled-up headlights. The Ralliart version gets chrome trim around the angled snout, reminiscent of a classic F-86 Sabre jet of he 1950s, with a hooded brow over the chromed headlights. You can just see the turbocharger intercooler behind the honeycomb black lower mesh grill, flanked by fog lights over a gentle air dam – on the EVO, its black grill trim and a deeper dam. The long aluminum sloping hood gets a central NACA vent to feed air into the turbo, plus twin vents to suck out engine heat on the run. Gentle flared fenders frame flat-bladed 10-spoke alloy wheels wearing low-profile P215/45R18-inch Yokohama ADVAN rubber with big brakes revealed beneath the spokes. Along with a lower door sill, there’s a gentle upward-angled accent line off the front wheels to add some visual definition to the flanks, while slit angled clear-lensed taillights and a black lower rear fascia with big twin exhaust tips complete the rear end, which gets a discrete spoiler atop a tall, short trunk lid. It all sits atop a global platform that buttresses the Mitsubishi Outlander SUV.

The kinship to the EVO is there, sans the big rear wing, bulging fenders and front fender vent. As such, no one seemed to notice it. A 5-door hatchback version is also available.

*Lancer livability – The latest Lancer has a long wheelbase for a compact car, meaning lots of room inside. But since its roots are compact car, it’s all hard black plastic in here, with some faux carbon fiber-like silvery trim and alloy (real and plastic) touches. The dual-cowl covers two silver-trimmed, very readable main gauges (170-mph speedometer/9,000-rpm tach) flanking a full color LCD Multi-Information Display with bar graph temperature and gas gauge, transmission and all-wheel-drive status and trip computer. The meaty leather-wrapped steering wheel only tilts, but has integrated stereo, Bluetooth/voice command and cruise control switches. The sweeping dash center hosts a standard-looking AM-FM-Sirius Satellite-CD/MP3 audio system with iPod USB port, playing through a kicking 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate 9-speaker sound system with trunk-mounted sub-woofer. It was clear and powerful, although the USB input is very awkwardly placed in the glove box roof, hard to find unless you have a light. Easier to get to are the RCA audio jacks hidden under a door underneath the audio system’s red LCD display, which washes out in the sun. There’s a simple rotary a/c control system, then two storage nooks behind flip-up doors, one with a 12-volt outlet.

The leather-clad seats are firm and very supportive, with height adjustment for the driver and contrasting white stitching on the decent side bolsters, steering wheel and door armrests. More accents come from the alloy-clad pedals, while the dual-clutch 6-speed automatic transmission’s alloy gearshift with pull-up collar for gear shifts, like a manual gearshifter, was pretty cool, as was its stitched leather boot. Twin cup holders and storage under the low center armrest, where a 12-volt outlet lives, help with liveability, as does a medium-size glove box. But outside the leather, alloy and stitching, the rest of the interior is compact car plastic with very flimsy feeling sun visors. Back seat room is great, especially leg room, with a low fold-down center armrest, while the seat backs flip and fold for access to a big trunk with low lift-over, some space taken in one wheel well with the sub-woofer.
What else to like – how about the FAST Key (keyless entry and ignition) that keeps the key fob in the pocket, plus a power glass moonroof?

* Ralliart revving – Well, the base Lancer’s 152-hp is okay for daily commuting, encased in a nice-looking shell. But when you add a turbocharged, intercooled 2-liter four-cylinder engine with 237-hp and 253 lb.-ft. of torque, this turtle comes out of its shell. Derived from the EVO, the 4B11T engine is paired with a Twin-Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission that means one clutch is ready when the other starts the shift. The result, with a full-time all-wheel drive system with active center differential, front helical limited-slip differential, rear mechanical limited-slip differential and Tarmac, Gravel or Snow modes, is pure fun. All four tires grabbed as we launched our 1,200-mile-old tester to 60-mph with a subtle turbo whistle in 5.8 seconds, a bit slow off line until boost comes in. The Sportronic was quick and clean with upshifts, plus blipped throttle on downshifts. Set the Sportronic in “Sport,” and it holds the engine in a power band and goes no higher than fourth gear in urban driving unless you paddle up. The engine has a nice snarl too, and passing power is a quick downshift away. Long paddle shifters work almost wherever your hands are. The bad news – even when I drove it moderately or on the highway, average mileage was no better than 18-mpg. Get spirited, and it was as low as 14-mpg on premium. And the cruise control wouldn’t work with the Sportronic in “Sport.”

The rigid, creak-free unibody, plus thicker front stabilizer bar, multi-link rear suspension and gummy Yokohamas meant superb traction on the road, with almost no body lean as it carved around corners and expressway ramps. Push hard, and understeer shows up, as does a helpful stability control. Turn it off, and you can get the rears to work. The ride was very firm and controlled, bumps absorbed with limited, but not harsh rebound. Only some washboard surfaces set up a jitter, so it may be firmer than some may like. I’m not one of them. The steering is sharp and communicative. With 11.6-inch vented discs in front and 11.9-inch solid discs in back, the same as the larger Outlander SUV, the Ralliart stopped very well with almost no nose dive, repeated hard stops revealing a hint of fade, but only after a lot. It’s a visceral driver, with turbo wastegate and engine snarl and decisive shifts, but regular commuting works just fine too. It ducks and dives with precision. For safety, dual front air bags, front seat-mounted side-impact air bags and side curtain air bags, plus a driver's knee air bag.
* Mitsu money – The base price of a Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart is $27,495, with all listed standard except a $3,100 touring package with leather seats, 710-watt audio system, HID headlights (height adjustable), rain-sensing wipers, heated seats, moonroof and subtler lip spoiler. Add that, and the final price is $31,355. For comparison, a full blown EVO or a Subaru STI are about $35,000, that Mitsu hitting 60-mph in a hair over 5 seconds, the Subie in just a tad under. A MAZDASPEED 3 starts at a bit over $23,000, and is a lot of fun and practical too.

* Bottom line – The Lancer Ralliart is a comfortable, very roomy, quick and very sure-footed family car – if your family loves a somewhat subtle sports sedan that loves the twisty bits. An EVO is even more radical and faster, but has all those wings and things. The Ralliart may offer the best balance of the need for fun, and a good commuter run.
2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart

Vehicle type - 5-passenger compact all-wheel-drive sports sedan
Base price - $27,495 ($31,355 as tested)
Engine type – Turbocharged, intercooled DOHC, 16-valve in-line four
Displacement – 2 liters
Horsepower (net) - 237 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) - 253 @ 2,500 – 4,750 rpm
Transmission – six-speed, dual clutch automatic w/paddle shifters
Wheelbase – 103.7 inches
Overall length - 180 inches
Overall width – 69.4 inches
Height – 58.7 inches
Front headroom – 38.5 inches
Front legroom – 42.3 inches
Rear headroom – 36.9 inches
Rear legroom – 36.1 inches
Cargo capacity - 10 cu.ft. w/subwoofer
Curb weight – 3,462 lbs.
Fuel capacity – 14.5 gallons
Mileage rating – 17-mpg city/25-mpg highway
Last word – An ideal combo of fun, room and practicality, with a dash of spice

By Dan Scanlan - MyCarData