If you only spied the rear half of the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart Sportback you’d probably think you were taking in the hindquarters of a harmless enough family sport hatch.
But you’d be missing a few crucial details.
Firstly, there are the threatening twin exhaust tips and protruding roof-mounted spoiler. Most notable of all is the tiny Ralliart badge that sits in the right-hand corner of the tailgate – a telltale symbol of car’s promised potential.
Not so subtle is the Ralliart’s front end, which is all business with its lightweight bonnet that closely mimics that of the more famous Lancer Evolution and comes complete with signature air-scoops feeding the Ralliart’s turbocharger.
And while it may be getting on a little now (having launched in 2008), the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart still holds a unique place in the Lancer stable, bridging the gap between their runabouts and the hardcore Evolution model.
It’s also $12,000 cheaper, so what you get for your $44,990 is essentially a cut-price Lancer Evolution X with an accompanying cut in power, thrills and focus.
That’s not to say that the Ralliart doesn’t come with sufficient firepower to put it in hot hatch contention.
Its best asset is the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the ‘Evo’, only detuned to deliver 177kW/343Nm (down from 217kW/366Nm) – enough to get the Lancer Ralliart from 0-100km/h in a tidy 6.3 seconds (claimed).
It’s a punchy and capable powertrain, made even better when bolted to Mitsubishi’s tricky six-speed ‘SST’ twin-clutch transmission – standard fit on the Ralliart Lancers.
Driven in “normal” mode it lacks a certain response. It’s not slow – just not as manic as you might have expected from a car with a decent dose of Evo DNA in its makeup.
But that’s also what makes this high-performance Lancer so liveable as a daily driver against the full-strength Evolution models.
Flick the switch to “sport” and the Ralliart shifts from sporty Lancer to a fully fledged hot hatch with ample amounts of poke. The highlight is the hugely enjoyable throttle blipping downshifts, without the need to so much as lift a fingeroff the steering wheel.
Taking full control of your Lancer Ralliart with its race-inspired, steering column-mounted magnesium paddleshifters is more fun still, especially if you should come across a solitary country road.
Word of warning though; the Ralliart can be exceptionally thirsty when pushed hard. Official Mitsubishi fuel consumption is rated at 9.8L/100km for the Sportback (9.6L/100km for the sedan), but we never saw lower than 11.8L/100km and heavy throttle sessions were as high as 20.6L/100km.
But this is also where the Evo lineage ends abruptly and problems arise. The Ralliart’s brakes, suspension, steering, wheels and tyres are all carried over from the significantly more humble Mitsubishi Lancer VRX.
There might be loads of grip - but push on and you’ll soon discover a chassis that can’t quite cope with the extra power of the 2.0-litre turbo engine and Mitsubishi’s highly effective All Wheel Control system (AWC).
While the suspension handles chopped-up roads better than most, it’s too soft for serious driving. There’s noticeable body roll on corner entry, a tendency to understeer and the rear end can become unsettled at the limit.
The steering, too, is neither quick enough nor sharp enough to match the car’s outright pace and consequently dulls the overall driving experience.
The same scenario applies to the so-called sports seats.
They’re certainly comfortable, but there’s nowhere near enough side bolstering to hold you steadfast during more enthusiastic cornering.
The two-pot brakes also felt spongy from the get-go.
Commensurate with a cut price Evo is the Ralliart’s lacklustre interior.
The entire dash is made using an assortment of hard-to-touch plastics. It’s not until you reach the door trims that you find the first hint of any softer materials.
There’s an attempt to offset the various shades of plastics with a liberal spattering of glossy piano black across the fascia, front door trims (rear doors don’t get this touch) and centre console, as well as a few matted silver accents, but it still isn’t a match for the Ralliart’s hefty price tag.
In fact, price is likely to be the Ralliart’s real Achilles Heel. It may be cheaper than an Evo, but that doesn’t mean the Ralliart is a bargain, either. It’s harder on the pocket than several high-profile rivals such as the $39,490 Mazda 3 MPS, $40,490 Volkswagen Golf GTI and even the $43,990 Subaru WRX Premium.
Thankfully, the value proposition increases a little when you take in the Ralliart’s host of standard features, such as keyless entry and start, auto headlights and rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, Bluetooth phone and music streaming with voice recognition, and alloy sports pedals.
Additional creature comforts include a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system, electrically operated door mirrors with automatic power-fold function, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.
However, if you want satellite navigation you’ll need to tick the optional luxury pack ($3895) that adds a 7-inch touchscreen with voice activated Bluetooth and navigation control, leather seats with front heaters, power driver’s seat and HID headlamps.
With its large truncated rear-end looking like it might be able to swallow the contents of an entire two-bedroom unit, the Lancer Ralliart Sportback gets a surprisingly small boot area (288 litres) – at least with the rear seats in place. Fold them almost flat (via remote levers in the boot) and the load space quadruples.
There’s plenty of passenger space in the cabin too, with generous amounts of rear legroom for comfortable travel during longer trips.
Safety is well catered for, with the Lancer Ralliart scoring a five-star ANCAP safety rating. Lifesaving inventory includes seven airbags and all the usual active and passive safety kit on top of its full-time all-wheel drive and active centre differential systems.
There’s a lot to like about the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart Sportback: a potent 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, sophisticated all-wheel drive system, fast-shifting twin-clutch transmission and a generous appointment of standard features.
However, the price tag is uncompetitive and that tiny Ralliart badge promises more than this car delivers with its soft-sprung suspension, slow steering and spongy brakes robbing it of its bona fide hot hatch status.