For years the FWD Magna was seen as a sedate, seemingly bland but competent sedan that competed in a market dominated by its RWD Falcon and Commodore competition. In 2000, the Magna was given its TJ facelift, which now included both the Sports and new VR-X model variants.
Based on the ever so reliable and snappy G674 V6, the Sports and VR-X had their power bumped up to 163kW from a larger 2.5-inch free-flowing sports exhaust system and minor changes to the timing and duration of valve opening (both inlet and exhaust). Finally, the Magna could shed away its senior citizen image and sell a fast, competent four-door sedan.
Both came in a five-speed manual or five-speed ‘Invecs II’ Tiptronic sports automatic that was used in the JDM Turbo Galant VR4. It allowed for adaptive learning of the driver's style – a first for an Australian-made car I believe. That and the fact both the Falcon and Commodore came with a four-speed auto.
However, with HSV and Tickford/FPV having their performance halo vehicles, Mitsubishi Australia did a WTF moment at the 2001 Sydney International Motor Show with the unveiling of a Magna Ralliart concept vehicle. The Ralliart concept in sedan form only was a further development of the VR-X and the most powerful Magna ever designed to leverage off Mitsubishi's World Rally Championship exploits.
In fact, its overall styling was based on the legendary Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution range. In particular, the front bumper bar (void of any fog lights) and its bi-plane deck lid spoiler inspired by the limited-edition Lancer Evolution VI TME (the rest of the body kit included carry-over VR-X wheel arch extensions plus unique side skirts and squared-off chrome exhaust tip).
Among other things, in prototype form, Magna Ralliart was said to feature AWD, Recaro front seats, MOMO steering wheel and gear levers as part of a black and bright-red interior. Some 500 individually numbered Ralliart models had been planned.
As with any corporate structure, budgets are tight and the Ralliart concept suffered no less as a result. Production models remained FWD, the Recaros were replaced with Ralliart-badged cloth bolstered sports seats (again based on the JDM Galant VR4), and the MOMO wheel was slightly redesigned but was actually made in Italy by MOMO. The instrument cluster was unique in having red gauges with the Ralliart logo incorporating the always-on illumination as seen in the top-spec Verada models.
Through an ECU retune, new headers, higher-lifting camshafts and cylinder heads, a modified VR-X full free-flowing exhaust system increased power to 180kW with 333Nm of torque. The manual came standard with an LSD, while the auto came standard with Mitsubishi’s traction-control system under the guise of TCL. And you needed it. Torque steer was what most car reviewers disliked most about the drive. Personally, like any FWD car it was like fighting with an ex-girlfriend with the steering wheel in first or second. More so in manual guise.
The Ralliart also had its suspension reworked with new Koni shocks and dampers as standard and tuned to Australian conditions. The 17-inch lightweight Enkei alloys (sourced from the Evo 6) and bigger uprated pads and rotors completed the handling upgrades.
My Ralliart has been with me for 18 months (coming from a 2003 TL VR-X) and with the five-speed tiptronic. I’d always wanted one, and when a pristine example showed itself with only 110,000km on the clock, I jumped at it. Though not completely stock when purchased, it came with a full high-flow exhaust and cat plus aftermarket 18-inch wheels. Through patience and searching, I sourced a complete set of near-new OEM Enkeis to bring her back to how she left the factory.
The difference in power and handling is considerably noticeable coming from my VR-X. It’s a bit of laugh when you put your foot down because they really are deceptively fast, especially from standstill (best being a 6.6sec 0–100km/h on a private road with new sticky tyres and 98 in the tank). In-gear acceleration is smile-inducing and more than enough for any overtaking situation, and as a highway cruiser it's simply effortless.
What I love most about the car (apart from the above) is the fact that they are so damn rare these days. I’ve not spotted another once in 18 months in Sydney. Five hundred were made 16 years ago – that says enough really. It does get a fair bit of attention, mainly due to its rarity and the love it or hate it rear wing.
What’s gone wrong? Well, really nothing for a 16-year-old car. Apart from replacing leaking engine rocker cover seals, replacing old spark plugs, new brake pads and tyres, completely trouble-free motoring. Fuel averages around the 12L/100km with urban/highway, but cruising will see around 9L/100km.
Finding a clean example is hard these days, especially in manual, but bang for buck they are worth every dollar for what you get.