“Factory rice” rides are always a conundrum. On the one hand, they’re rife with unabashed cheesiness: grotesque rims, offensive exhaust notes, a prominent wing and assorted cladding. Yet they’re too expensive for the teen tuners at which they seem targeted. So who’s buying these augmented econoboxes? Guys like me: 28-year-olds torn between adolescent rebellion and conformist careerism. So, can Mitsubishi’s entry in this semi-nihilist Nipponese niche, the Lancer Ralliart, fulfill the existentially-challenged man-child’s need for wheels?
Externally, there’s no mistaking this car’s appearance. A huge, gaping maw at the front kicks-off the theme of exaggeration continued in the hood vents, body skirt and (of course) rather large wing. So yes, it’s ugly. On the other hand, it’s ugly. The base Lancer, already designed with a pitched forward stance and frowning headlights, looks positively aggressive given the Ralliart treatment– a kind of Japanese answer to Chevrolet’s Cobalt SS. A bit too “2 Fast 2 Furious.” But that’s the point.
As a souped-up Lancer, the Ralliart’s interior reproduces many aspects of its donor’s design. Unfortunately, that isn’t a great thing. While there are welcome upgrades– paddle shifters and a leather-wrapped wheel and shifter– the rest of the Lancer’s pedestrian interior is left largely untouched. The radio (sans Nav) presents an ugly interface sprawled out over a convex dash, giving it an air of Trisomy-21. Meanwhile, the HVAC– nestled in a concave, silver strip below the radio– is split into three plain round knobs. It’s not a unified design. The dreariness is not limited to the center stack; the rest of the cabin is awash with hard, unrelenting, black plastics that have become the norm in these cost-conscious times.
Fortunately, my Ralliart tester came equipped with optional racing seats. The buckets offered great bolstering and moderate thigh support. Based on a back-to-back sitting in a Ralliart and an Evo, the Ralliart’s seats are more accommodating and roomy. In other words, Mitsubishi clearly intended the Ralliart as a great street car that’s adequate on the track, and not vice-verse. Still, if you’re dying to communicate the fact that you’re not quite ready for the plush, totally conformist thrones found in a Lexus, these seats are the ones for you.
Underneath all that skin, the Ralliart is a real hodge-podge of Mitsubishi bits (Mitsubitties?) from three other cars. It holsters the same 2.0-liter block and twin-clutch manumatic (with flappy paddles) as the Evo, but with a smaller turbo, detuned to 237hp (as opposed to the Evo’s 291). It borrows its all-wheel-drive system from the previous generation Evo IX. And most of its suspension parts come off the current generation Lancer GTS, the FWD Lancer variant right below the Ralliart. In theory, it sounds like a mongrel, butchered car. In practice, it’s actually surprisingly-well executed.
This current Ralliart is a marked improvement over the last, finally exhibiting the ability to actually rally somewhere quickly. The turbo-four is thrashy and punchy. Coupled with very fast throttle-tip in and a well-mated six-speed gearbox, the blown mill offers brisk performance and rapid shifts all the way to 6000 rpm. The Ralliart’s twin-clutch gearbox is easy to downshift and satisfying to upshift. That it comes with an automatic mode gives the Evo an edge in versatility over some of its traditional competitors (namely, the Mazda and Subaru offerings). On performance alone, the Ralliart’s get-up-and-go is enough to make you question the Evo’s price premium.
Until you hit a bend. By using a sport-tuned suspension from a lowly Lancer GTS, rather than the Evo suspension, the Ralliart reveals itself to be primarily a street car. Over your average neighborhood roads, the Ralliart offers a smooth, almost unexpectedly refined ride – much more Corolla than Evo. Punch it in the corner and the Ralliart rolls like an every-day Suzuki Aerio, despite a deceptive amount of grip augmented by an excellent AWD system. It’s enough to make you truly appreciate those sport seat bolsters. The Ralliart’s not as surgical as an RX-8 or any better than a Civic SI. Still, drivers with resolve to ignore the body roll will find a competent carver that handles with the predictability an AWD sport compact, where understeer only really appears at the very end of its driving limit.
On looks alone, it destroys the Subaru WRX, its perennial rival. The manumatic twin-clutch transmission makes it perfectly suited to the hillside jaunt or the commute. And by giving up about 20% of the Evo’s handling & performance of an, it gains about 100% in refinement. It’s got four doors for the family man, yet comes with a tacky wing for the inner delinquent. If you can live with some dodgy interior materials and/or despise the “girliness” of a hatch-back, the Ralliart is perhaps the most versatile man-child car for $30,000 on sale today.