Turbocharged engine, twin-clutch transmission, all-wheel-drive - who could ask for more?
Mitsubishi officials recently announced plans to revamp the company's car line, dropping some existing models to focus more on new hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full electric vehicles. Enthusiasts hope Mitsubishi keeps two existing models, though - the surprisingly good Outlander Sport compact crossover and the high performance Lancer Ralliart sedan, which is also available in the even more powerful Evolution version.
The Outlander Sport impressed a lot of the automotive writers who tested it during last year's Mudfest, the annual test of off-road vehicles conducted by the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Although it did win any categories, the strong engine, supple suspension and responsive automatic transmission drew praise during the on-road portion of the test. It also surprised many writers by easily handling the more serious of the two off-road test courses, the one intended for such serious vehicles as the Jeep Wrangler, the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, the Range Rover Sport and the Land Rover 4, otherwise known as the LR4.
As the name suggests, the Ralliart is based on the Lancer, Mitsubishi's entry-level compact. While that car is considered reasonably priced but not very exciting, the Ralliart and Evolution are both true street fighters. The Rallairt comes with such added equipment as a 237-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, an available six-speed automatic transmission with dual internal manual clutches dubbed Twin Clutch SST, and an all-wheel-drive system that can be set for pavement, gravel or snow. It also features such body modifications as an aluminum hood with heat extractor vents, a rear spoiler, dual exhausts and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Evolution ups the ante with an even more powerful 291-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and additional special bodywork.
Even though our test car was the less powerful Ralliart, we found it to be an absolute blast to drive. The engine was reasonable docile when driven gently but produced massive amounts of torque with only the slightest encouragement. We could feel the transmission shifting through gears as though it was a manual, both accelerating and decelerating. The effect was even more pronounced in Sport mode, which also increased acceleration and the braking effects of the downshifts. The all-wheel-drive system kept the car glued to the road, and the four-wheel-disc brakes were impressively responsive.
Driven hard in Sport mode, the Ralliart bolted to wherever it was pointed. The effect was both brutal and exhilarating. The steering was precise enough to handle even sharp corners well, even at speeds that should not be recommended.
Compared to a lot of other cars, all Lancer models can appear unsophisticated. The blunt-nose design is dated, the doors feel heavy and the interior includes a lot of hard plastic surfaces. But all that adds to the impression that the Ralliart is some kind of factory-backed racecar that got onto Mitsubishi sale lots by mistake. You almost want to ask if it's legal.
The relative cheapness of the exterior is offset by clean dash with very readable gauges and controls. The Ralliart and Evolution packages also include leather-trimmed heated-and-cooled sport seats. They proved very supportive in hard corners.
Mitsubishi has a long history of producing turbocharged all-wheel-drive cars, both for itself and for Chrysler, its former partner. The two companies sold small sports cars from 1990 to 1998. Mitsubishi sold theirs as the Eclipse, while Dodge sold it as the Eagle Talon and Plymouth called it the Laser. Mitsubishi also made a larger sports car that could be ordered with a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine and all-wheel-drive called the 3000 GT that Dodge sold as the Stealth in the 1990s.
The Ralliart and Evolution compete directly against two high-performance Subaru's, the Impreza WRX and more powerful STI. The Impreza-based cars are more refined than the two Lancers, with more contemporary lines and better interior materials. But it can be argued that the Mitsubishi's are more fun to drive, especially the Ralliart with its aggressive-shifting Twin Clutch SST transmission.
A well-equipped Ralliart costs around $26,000, which is about the same as the Impreza WRX. That's a good price for the entertainment value - and we hope Mitsubishi officials keep the fun coming in the future.
• Model: 2011 Lancer Ralliart.
• Manufacturer: Mitsubishi.
• Class: Compact.
• Layout: Front engine, all-wheel-drive.
• Style: Five door, four-passenger car.
• Powertrain: 2.0-liter inline 4 (237 hp, 253 ft-lbs).
• Transmissions: Five-speed manual; six-speed Twin Clutch SST with manual shift modes.
• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 17/25.
• Price: Starting around $27,000 ($31,505 as tested).