2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart Sedan and Sportback
Is a stellar design enough to push the Ralliart across the line?
Gearbox; understeer; handling; engine note.
When we first road tested the Mitsubishi Evolution X, we were gob smacked at the precision and level of control on offer in a car used to cart family members around in its everyday sibling form.
Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to have another shot in a slightly detuned, although it uses the same 2.0-litre engine as the Evolution, version known as the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart.
The Lancer Ralliart is essentially a de-gadgetised Evo X, and the car Mitsubishi developed to take on the iconic Subaru WRX.
I spent a week in the Sportback variant and a week in the Sedan to see what all the fuss and banter was about.
Priced alongside the Subaru Impreza WRX, the Lancer Ralliart is meant to be the poor man’s Evolution. Fitted with all-wheel-drive and a snarling turbocharged, four-cylinder engine, it’s enough to get any car enthusiast’s pulse racing.
The Sportback model I drove was featured in a dark blue colour called Lightning Blue, while the Sedan looks exceptionally sexy in Black.
From head on, the front mount intercool is visible, as are bonnet grilles and a ventilation scoop. The only other telltale signs of this vehicle’s true nature are the Ralliart sticker on the rear, along with the Ralliart badge attached to the front grille.
If first impressions were enough to sell this car, every man and his dog would own one. Unfortunately, they only lend slightly to the overall picture and in this case it was with the first impressions that the good points ended.
What firstly got up my nose was the lack of a manual gearbox; Mitsubishi only offers the Ralliart variant with their new dual-clutch SST gearbox. If the gearbox worked as well as the variant fitted to Volkswagens and Audis, they’d have a winning formula, but the gearbox is just one of the many problems confronting the Lancer Ralliart.
Once you open the driver’s door and settle in to the seat, it doesn’t take long to realise this is a tamed version of the ball-breaking Evolution. The lacklustre side and bottom support of the seats, coupled with a steering wheel that doesn’t sit high enough begin to frustrate very quickly.
Interior room is impressive with ample legroom for front and rear occupants. An intuitive boot layout provides for ample boot access, with a built in cargo blind to hide expensive items.
Dashboard plastics feel exceptionally nasty. Although they are fitting for a vehicle in this segment, they are carried over from the base model ES. Competitors such as the Subaru Impreza WRX and Ford Focus XR5 also suffer the same fate.
The proximity-sensing key is all that’s required to get the show on the road. As long as the key is on the driver’s person, the car can be started with a quick turn of the rotary knob located where the key normally goes.
The first thing you will notice no doubt is the tinny and insignificant engine note, while the WRX and XR5 both share a menacing burble at start up, not so the Lancer Ralliart. The trend continues when pushing the Ralliart under full throttle, it sounds like a strangled Kingfisher, a sound that’s neither pleasant nor entertaining.
So let’s move on to the drive. Driving around the city is a frustrating task with the SST gearbox. Moving off from standing starts causes a shunt, once moving the car gets to around 40km/h where it instantly disposes of three gears and is moving along in fifth.
Sure, it’s great for fuel economy but dreadful if you need any torque. You literally need to stand on the throttle before it shifts back into a suitable ratio. Once that happens, you’re left with plenty of revs and boost, more than often too late to be of any use.
The continuous beeping when selecting reverse gear has nothing to do with the rear parking sensors, as I found out, and I got within inches of the car behind me before I got out to look how close I actually was. Luckily I didn’t get any closer, because the beeping was simply there to tell me I was in reverse. As if me selecting reverse gear with my left hand, the car rolling backwards and ‘R’ displayed on the dashboard wasn’t enough.
The static paddle shifters attached to the steering column instantly allow you to browse through the gears on offer but are also riddled with flaws. Slam the throttle in your desired gear and when you reach the end of the rev band and let off, there is a momentary delay before the car realises you are in fact off the throttle.
This anomaly causes the car to keep moving with no feeling of engine braking. It’s certainly daunting each and every time it’s encountered.
The static paddle shifters themselves are also a flawed concept in my opinion. If you’re coming out of a corner and need to shift up a gear, one hand needs to leave the wheel to grab the paddle, opposed to them being attached to the wheel where gear changes may be performed at any point.
Editor David Twomey also commented on this after attending the Evolution launch, which involved a large portion of track driving.
Straight-line acceleration is one of the Ralliart’s strong points. Sink the boot in and this baby Evo really does pile on speed in a hurry. The surge of torque once the turbocharged four-cylinder engine comes on boost is reminiscent of the torque band offered by the Evolution.
Although the Lancer Ralliart uses a similar all-wheel-drive system to the Evolution, it suffers from chronic understeer when pushed. The all-wheel-drive system features a front helical limited-slip differential, an active centre differential, and a mechanical rear limited-slip differential.
Although the Evolution features a similar gear set, the Evolution’s arrangement is termed Super All Wheel Control (S-AWC) and in addition to the Ralliart’s equipment receives Active Yaw Control (AYC), which allows it to vary torque between front/rear and left/right, working with the Active Stability Control (ASC) to deliver power to obtain maximum grip.
In brief, coupled with smaller 215/45R18 tyres (shared with VRX and Aspire) compared to the Evolution’s 245/40R18, the level of tyre squeal and understeer totally detracts from the Ralliart experience.
Driving the Ralliart hard through tight corners gives you the feeling it could be more capable with a decent set of rubber attached to the wheels. The lack of body roll is impressive, as is the steering accuracy, but it isn’t much use without grippy contact with the road.
Brake feel is yet another downside to the Ralliart. The pedal feels extremely firm on each application and although the car pulls up well when you stand on the anchors, they most certainly don’t fill the driver with any confidence.
It proved a thirsty beast as well with fuel efficiency far from stunning. Even if you drive the Ralliart sedately, it’s hard to match Mitsubishi’s claimed figures of 10-litres per 100km, especially when you continuously have to kick down through gears when you need power to move through traffic.
Under the bonnet, the Ralliart is powered by a version of the same 2.0-litre, turbocharged, MIVEC four-cylinder engine found in the Evolution X. Power output sits at 177kW at 6000rpm, while torque is rated at 343Nm at 4725rpm. The figures give you an indication that all the oomph is located well and truly north of the boost line.
At 1555kg, the Lancer Ralliart Sedan isn’t all that light, and the Sportback variant weighs an extra 35kg. Despite the weight difference, they both feel about the same to drive. Aside from visibility, there isn’t much difference in terms of cornering and braking.
If I was footing the bill, I’d be optioning the Rockford Fosgate sound system at $750, it offers plenty of bang for your buck – so to speak.
Priced at $42,990 for both the Sedan and Sportback, the Lancer Ralliart competes head on with the competition on offer.
Mitsubishi also offer a five-year warranty on the vehicle and 10-years on the drivetrain, along with five-year roadside assistance – it’s a pretty sweet deal if you ask me.
But, deal sweeteners don’t help to detract from what I see as essentially a mediocre space filler.
If you get into the Ralliart and drive it with few expectations, it’ll probably take your fancy.
If, on the other hand, you drive the Lancer Ralliart in the hope that it drives like (if only a bit) its Evolution sibling, you will be sadly disappointed. It totally misses the mark and left me wondering why Mitsubishi bothered with it.
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