2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart Sportback: First Drive

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2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart Sportback: First Drive
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Not to be confused with the four-door Ralliart sedan that went on sale last fall, this latest five-door version is scheduled to arrive in the States this September. With an MSRP expected to come in at $27,490, which is only $500 more than the sedan, it's basically the same car with a more functional hatchback-style rear end.

FAST FACTS

1. The Ralliart Sportback is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 237hp and 253 ft-lbs of torque.

2. Only one transmission is offered, the Evo’s six-speed TC-SST double-clutch system with a manual shift mode and paddle shifters.

3. All-wheel drive is standard.

4. A 237hp Lancer Ralliart sedan is also available, as is a 168hp Lancer Sportback.

While it looks like something that might appeal more to our polar pals in the North (in fact, this bad boy is already on sale in Canada), the 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart Sportback will compete hatch-to-hatch with the Subaru Impreza WRX and the new Mazdaspeed3 which is due out later this year.

AWARD-WINNING AWD AND DOUBLE-CLUTCH PADDLE-SHIFT TRANNY

Mated to its award-winning super all-wheel control (S-AWC) system and Mitsu's six-speed automatic tranny with sequential shift TC-SST, the Ralliart’s 2.0-liter turbocharged and intercooled Mivec four-cylinder (4B11) is essentially the same powerplant found in the more aggressive Lancer Evolution models. Here, however, a smaller single-scroll turbo, smaller intercooler and different intake plumbing results in only 237 hp and 253 ft-lbs of torque, which is still plenty.

Interestingly, fuel economy (17/25 mpg, city/hwy) is nearly identical to the 290-hp/300 ft-lb Evo’s, albeit with slightly better highway numbers.

Ralliart models line-up between the regular Lancers and pumped-up Evo models, though it's important to point out the latter trims aren't available in the new five-door Sportback body style.

IMPRESSIVE STANDARD FEATURES, BUT RECAROS OPTIONAL

Standard features of the Ralliart Sportback include 18-inch alloy wheels, a dual exhaust system, rear wing, height adjustable HID headlamps, power windows and locks, heated mirrors, seven airbags, four-wheel ABS and a one-touch 60/40 split-folding rear seat with actual legroom for passengers.

The models I tested came with cloth Recaro front seats as standard, with leather optional. In the U.S., these will likely be replaced by cloth GTS front seats (like the current sedan) with the Recaros available with other options like a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system and 6CD/MP3-compatible head unit, for example.

VARIABLE ALL-WHEEL DRIVE SETTINGS

Fortunately, the rest of the meat and potatoes are still there. As mentioned, the Ralliart still benefits from the S-AWC system. On this application, however, it maintains three of the system’s four functions, including stability (ASC), active center differential (ACD) and ABS. Active yaw control (AYC) is not available, although it's not like you’d notice.

The AWC button on the center console still lets you toggle between tarmac, gravel or snow modes to either match road conditions or driver preference. Front-to-rear torque distribution is still controlled automatically via the ACD while side-to-side actions are now handled via a pair of limited slip differentials in the front and rear, respectively.

The TC-SST transmission in the Ralliart is also missing the Evo’s “supersport” mode. Accessed via a simple switch near the shifter, the choices are normal or sport. Either mode allows paddles, manual stick or regular automatic shifting modes.

EVO-LIKE STEERING AND SUSPENSION

I prefer paddles that are fixed to the steering wheel rather than the column itself as they are here, but the magnesium units in the Ralliart Sportback are still long enough to be practical in most cases. For the best control, and the most fun, I prefer the sport mode. It offers faster gearshifts with only a small sacrifice in smoothness.

The Ralliart gives you the crisp Evo-like steering and suspension that makes the latter so nimble, quick and fun to drive. It's responsive, precise and linear, though the tilt-only steering wheel could be a nuisance for taller drivers. My average 5-10 frame didn't mind.

DOWN ON POWER AND BRAKES COMPARED TO WRX

Acceleration is spirited. It’s not as abrupt or forceful as the Evo – which further benefits from a launch control system – but it’s certainly a lot smoother with the pedal down. The sprint to 60 mph comes in at just over 6 seconds. Gearshifts are noticeably less jerky and smoother and the four-wheel independent suspension is definitely more comfortable when just cruising. It soaks up bumps well and isn’t overly jarring – certainly more forgiving than an Evo, day-to-day.

The brakes could have more initial bite but are certainly adequate for everyday use. My relatively short drive time and location didn’t really allow for much abuse of the brakes but they’d likely stand up to some track time thanks to the two-piston front calipers. (Rotor size isn’t any larger though).

The WRX has more power and arguably better brakes than the Ralliart. It too comes in a five-door flavor, though only with a five-speed manual transmission. That said, the TC-SST and S-AWC systems are what makes the Mitsubishi superior at this price point.

PLENTY OF CARGO ROOM

With the rear seat backs folded down, cargo volume springs from 13.8 to 46.6 cu.-ft., which is more than the WRX (44.4 cu.-ft.) and Mazdaspeed3 (43.4 cu.-ft.) have. In the upright position, however, the others offer a bit more volume – 16.5 and 19 cu.-ft., respectively (likely as a result of the Mitsu’s more aggressive rear glass angle).

The Ralliart exterior has some subtle differences from its current kin and is vastly improved over the previous generation (2002-04), which is boxier, taller and most definitely a wagon. Of course, it’s not quite as aggressive looking as the Evo, but it’s close and is still quite intense-looking with its pointy nose and sharp lines. The Ralliart even gets the Evo’s aluminum hood for weight savings.

LOW-COST ALTERNATIVES

Those looking for the practicality of this vehicle, without the performance (or the added price) can choose the front-wheel drive Lancer GTS Sportback, which starts at $18,970 and gets a 2.4-litre Mivec engine (4B12) making 168 horsepower and 167 ft-lbs of torque through either a standard five-speed manual (21/28 mpg) or optional CVT ($1,000) that gets 17/25 mpg (city/hwy) on regular octane.

THE VERDICT

The 2010 Lancer Ralliart Sportback has the bite to back up its bark. It has a great combination of performance, style and utility. Yes, it takes high test fuel and, no, it’s not Mitsubishi’s benchmark performance model, but if you haven’t driven one, you won’t even know what you’re missing. As it is, the performance-to-value factor is higher on the Ralliart editions – especially the five-door for its more functional hindquarters.

The Ralliart already comes in sedan trim, so what's missing in this equation? I'm told Canadian models can be equipped with a power glass sunroof with tilt shade features, but this won't be the case south of the border. And, quite frankly, I’m still bitter that the Recaros aren't standard.

PLUS

Amazing engine and tranny
Super AWC system is still great
Passenger/cargo versatility

MINUS

No telescoping steering wheel
Prefers 93 octane
Recaros should be standard

RELATED READING:

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 10 – The latest Evo scores a 10!

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