2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart SedanPosted on October 6th, 2008
Affordable compact for driving enthusiasts
By Nina Russin
The world is full of hot-looking, fun-to-drive cars, a fraction of which are
affordable to the average buyer. The new Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart sedan is one of those rare animals.
The Ralliart bridges the gap between the base Lancer 2.4 GTS and the Lancer Evolution. Like the more expensive Evo, the Ralliart has an all-wheel drive powertrain that maximizes traction on snow-covered or unimproved roads.
A turbocharged 237 horsepower engine and twin-clutch automatic transmission are ideal for producing quick bursts of speed that rally cup drivers need. The driver can choose gears manually using paddles on the steering wheel, or let the six-speed gearbox shift automatically.
A sport suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars keeps the chassis flat in the corners. Eighteen-inch wheels with low-profile Yokohama summer tires aren’t very forgiving, but they do keep the car glued to the pavement.
Inside, optional Recaro seats have deep side bolsters to hold the driver and front passenger in place during hard cornering. Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking stop the car on a dime.
Mean looking grille and a really big spoiler
Rally cup cars seem to be all about the spoiler. The Lancer Ralliart is no exception: the rear spoiler is tall and wide enough to impact the driver’s rear view.
The grille is pretty mean looking too: it reminds me of Johnny Rotten’s smile: a big wide gap at the bottom of the face, without much in the way of teeth. Since I’m old enough to remember Johnny Rotten, I’m a little too old to love this type of styling; but I respect it. In a world full of plain vanilla sedans, the Lancer Ralliart is a cherry bomb.
Inside, the Ralliart looks the way a sport sedan should. The Recaro seats are covered with a dark charcoal cloth upholstery. The leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob have contrasting white stitching.
The second-row seats have enough legroom in the outboard positions for average adults: there is very little room in the middle position due to a tunnel through the floor. The tall Recaro seatbacks obstruct the back passengers’ forward view, making the area seem rather claustrophobic.
A digital readout in the middle of the gauge cluster displays ambient temperature, fuel, odometer and trip meter readings. A larger screen at the top of the center stack shows the optional navigation display and audio settings.
The Recaro sport package adds a Rockford Fosgate premium sound system with big enough woofers to send a jolt up the spine on every base note. The audio system comes with Sirius satellite radio, including six months of free service, and is MP3 compatible.
A large glovebox is can easily hold a purse or small pack. There is a twelve-volt outlet at the base of the center stack, and a 120-volt plug-in inside the center console bin. Two cupholders in the floor console are big enough to hold water bottles.
Rallying up to the north country
It’s criminal to have a car like the Ralliart and not drive it hard. For me, that means heading up to the north country, to test the sedan’s performance on some mountain roads.
Despite its powerful engine, the Lancer Ralliart gets decent gas mileage. I averaged about twenty-four miles per gallon in the city and driving the car hard on the highway.
Turbocharging enhances the Ralliart’s fuel economy since it makes the engine breathe better. It also gives it better performance at altitude. The car had no problems accelerating hard up hills at about 5,000 feet.
When used in fully-automatic mode, the transmission shifts fairly hard. There’s a lot of shift shock, especially off the line. But I can almost forgive that, since the car is designed for a type of racing that requires a lot of low-end torque.
The paddle shifters are big enough to get at from almost any point on the steering wheel. I found the offset of the accelerator pedal uncomfortable when I held it at a constant speed for a prolonged period: putting the left foot on the dead pedal helped make the position a little less awkward.
The low-profile tires and sport-tuned suspension give the car a firm ride, but produce less road noise than I expected. During hard acceleration, the exhaust lets out a pleasant rumble.
An active center differential automatically sends power to the wheels with the best traction. It’s not something most drivers will notice on dry, paved roads, but it makes a big difference on wet roads and in dirt.
Visibility to the front and right side of the car is excellent: there is a fairly large blind spot to the rear of the driver’s side. Despite the spoiler, visibility out the back is pretty good. High intensity discharge headlamps that come with the sport option package improve visibility on unlit rural roads at night.
Except for the hard shifting, the Ralliart is quite civilized in stop-and-go traffic. Braking is firm and linear without being grabby. There is plenty of steering assist at low speeds: the car is quite easy to back into a parking space.
The sedan’s trunk is adequate for holding groceries or luggage, but it’s neither long nor deep enough for larger items. Cyclists would need to install a separate rack: ditto for those planning to haul surfboards, skis, or other long items.
The Ralliart comes standard with front, driver’s knee, side and side curtain airbags. Active stability control, traction control and antilock braking prevent excessive yaw, wheel spin or lockup from affecting the driver’s directional control.
Base price is $26,490, not including a $675 destination charge. Mitsubishi produces the Lancer Ralliart at its assembly plant in Kurashiki, Japan.
Likes: Handling and performance the rivals much more expensive sport sedans, with better-than average fuel economy.
Dislikes: Small trunk; blind spot to the rear on the driver’s side.
Model: Lancer Ralliart
Base price: $26,490
As tested: $29,915
Horsepower: Est. 237
Torque: Est: 253 lbs.-ft.
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Fuel economy: 17/25 mpg city/highway
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