Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback - Its better with 5 doors

Mitsubishi’s reputation for building fun vehicles was mostly made on the suspension of several generations of Eclipse and Lancer models, but probably not by supplying engines to Chrysler throughout the 1980s. On roads full of look-alike compacts, the Lancer Sportback is a fresh shape, riding on a well-engineered vehicle architecture. New for 2010, the 5-door version of the Japanese automaker’s favorite compact offers performance, versatility, and safety under one suave shell.

As with four-door sedan versions, the Sportback snorts miles of roadway through a large grille that is supposed to remind people of a jet fighter turbine inlet. Somewhat boxy proportions on the sedan give way to a sloping roofline that ends in a sleek rear hatch with roof spoiler. Not only does the car look sportier than its more conservative sibling, but it also allows owners to whip open the hatch, flip down the 60/40 split rear seats, and heave in surfboards, bicycles, camping gear, or almost any reasonable purchase at the home store.

Much of the Sportback’s interior is similar to the sedan’s. A near-perfect three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel, large analog gauges, chrome surrounds for the shifter, and available Recaro bucket seats put the sport in sedan. Despite the simple appearance, technology is stuffed everywhere. Buyers can choose Mitsubishi’s FAST Key hands-free entry system, Bluetooth with voice recognition for cell phone integration, 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate audio system, Sirius Satellite Radio, and 40-GB navigation system with music server. IPODs can be connected through an input jack. Dual front, seat-mounted front side, side curtain, and driver’s knee airbags enhance safety. Then, of course, there are those fold-flat rear seats and cavernous cargo compartment that the sedan can’t pray to match.

To be fair, there’s a reason why Chrysler sourced engines from Mitsubishi – they’re pretty good. Lancer Sportback GTS comes standard with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder that generates 168 horsepower and 167 lb.-ft. of torque – connected to either a five-speed manual or CVT automatic transmission. Checking the lots for a Ralliart edition is rewarded with a turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-litre DOHC four-cylinder engine, derived from the king-high-pow Lancer Evo. The turbo engine is rated 237 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 253 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,000 rpm. Ralliarts come standard with the twin clutch automated manual transmission from the Lancer Evolution MR and all-wheel-drive.

Ralliart’s transmission and AWD give drivers a lot of control. The transmission features Normal and Sport modes to bias the powertrain towards economy or performance. Since you never know when you’ll get in a snowstorm or haul cookies down a gravel road, AWD can be adjusted for tarmac, gravel, and snow. Very sophisticated, the system routes power through a computer-controlled center differential and can shift power side to side. In short, power goes from wheels that slip to ones with grip, optimized for virtually any surface.

There’s even more to the Lancer Ralliart’s performance portfolio. A sport-tuned suspension, 18” alloy wheels with Yokohama summer tires, and low center of gravity give the car every chance to claw around corners. Standard electronic “active stability control” (ASC), traction control, and four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes stand by to lend a hand if adhesion proves elusive. Mitsubishi regularly challenges Subaru on the world’s rally circuits, recently kicking dirt in Dakar. This is a company that knows something about soft-road and poor-weather handling!
You know what the Sportback reminds me of the most? My boss’ Saab 900. It is a slightly quirky car with great handling and unquestioned utility.

It will also likely last forever. Of all the Mitsubishis available today, the Lancer Sportback is the one I’d most want in my own garage, and with prices starting at $19,190 or $27,590 with turbo and Sportronic, it wouldn’t be hard. For further justification to purchase one, Lancers are backed by a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Competitors include the Subaru WRX, Volkswagen Golf, Dodge Caliber, and Toyota Matrix.

By Casey Williams