By on November 17, 2008

“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.

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34 Comments on “Review: 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart...”


  • avatar
    beetlebug

    I’ll take the utility of the WRX hatchback any day. Especially now that the 2009 packs such a punch power-wise. I’ll give Mitsu a thumbs up for selling a car with guts at that price point, though. Not being wealthy I appreciate any low priced sporty cars.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    The front end styling on Japanese cars must be assigned to rogue interns these days.
    Honda in particular has gone bad, but this Mitsu has similar symptoms.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Wow – that is the first time I have seen a description of an audio unit as being afflicted with Down syndrome. Nice review.

  • avatar
    AKM

    Why is a hatch considered girly? Is an ungainly sedan on a platform too small to ever look good as a 4-door body preferable?

  • avatar
    Samir

    AKM : Why is a hatch considered girly?

    Because they’re easier to parallel park.

  • avatar
    autonut

    That wing on top of the rear deck reminds me of socks stuffed in tight jeans during 70′s. Especially in combination of manumatic tranny.

  • avatar
    NickR

    Maybe I am stodgy, but I can’t help but wonder about the longevity of a two litre mill forced-inducted to generate well in excess of 100bhp/L. Those better be some strong connecting rods, head bolts, and head gaskets.

    Looking at the car makes me believe that it is designed for Gran Turismo 3 first and the street second. At least it’s not as ugly as Nissan’s GT-R.

  • avatar
    ARacer

    @NickR
    100+bhp/L is fine in a reasonably designed engine. My 2003 WRX (113bhp/L) has 180,000 miles on it and still runs great. Original everything.

  • avatar

    Yes, that power output isn’t so extreme these days. I wouldn’t be concerned about its longevitity on that basis alone.

    I had hoped that the new Ralliart would hit a price/performance sweet spot. But reviews of the handling have been so-so at best. So it seems that without the electonics of the Evo to balance things out the current Lancer simply isn’t much of a handler.

    In my experience of the GTS, the ride also isn’t smooth, owing not to the suspension but to the low-profile tires.

    The interior–well, it is s big step up from the old Lancers…shame they don’t offer the upgrades shown in the concept Lancers / Evos, though.

    TrueDelta has reliability information on the regular 2008 Lancer–seems solid so far.

    http://www.truedelta.com/latest_results.php

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Well, hard, dour black plastic at least looks better than hard, dour gray or beige plastic. Heck, I’d take hard black plastic over soft plastic in any other colour.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    “Flappy paddles” is a toy? As in: entertaining? I thought a well-executed stick-shift would be the appropriate toy in the class of car.

  • avatar
    BEAT

    This is the Mid Grade Lancer. If you want the Evo power with lesser price this is the car.

    $28,000 fully loaded. Yes WRX is faster but only a hundred of a second.

    I have the Mitsubishi Lancer 2008 with 37,600 miles WTIH NO Problems. I have been to Michael Karesh web site True Delta but I can guarantee you won’t get dissappointed

    My Lancer has a 2 liter engine but it pack a punch. I can drive it rough and aggressively with no complaints and get about 300 to 350 a full tank compared to WRX.

    see and drive it on the real Life.

    A lot of cars today have similar design with the new Lancer. If I can only download my pics of my car. you will be suprise what it looks like and the 4 star is accurate.

    I love the Lancer AUDIO system. Compared to all Japanese cars out there. the sound system is GREAT and I am only talking about the system without the Sub-Woofer and 6 speakers but handling is the best.
    I love my Lancer

  • avatar
    Robstar

    Wow have cars gotten that expensive?

    I bought my 05 STi new for only $33.5 with a ton of options….

  • avatar

    I kind of like the Ralliart and Evo’s exterior styling (the basic Lancer’s more cautious approach to the same shape and body shell is not an improvement), but every time I see one, I’m startled by how big it’s gotten. I saw one parked next to an Acura RSX, and I was amazed at the size disparity. Aside from the hodgepodge handling and dodgy interior, it’s just way too big for my tastes.

  • avatar
    iganpo

    I could never own cars like the Infiniti FX or Lancer because looking at them makes me feel … angry. Japanese car designers should find other ways of conveying sporting intentions. Get some ideas from German cars, for example.

  • avatar
    Orangutan

    I’ll take the Ralliart Sportback, please.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    I can’t help but feel like this car, an affordable, fun and direct competitor the WRX (as opposed to the expensive EVO) is arriving several years late to the scene.

  • avatar
    Squares

    From what I’ve read and I’m sure some of you have as well, is that the problems with the Ralliart’s handling stems from it not having the wider track and control arms of the Evo as well as not sharing miscellaneous other bits.

    I’m pretty sure that the suspension in the WRX and STi are more similar to each other than the relationship between the Ralliart and Evo.

    The Ralliart with the Recaro Sport Package is $3700 (+/-) less than a base Evo GSR :( .

    Also, hoon vs suit age sucks.

  • avatar
    James2

    About that front end… I blame some egomaniac over at Audi. We must hunt him down and beat him senseless. But even then it would be too late.

  • avatar
    mastermik

    To anyone who is interested (and has a mac), I’ve made a handy little TTAC RSS reading widget for dashboard. Grab it at http://www.people.virginia.edu/~mst3c/TTAC.zip

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    That it comes with an automatic mode gives the Evo an edge in versatility over some of its traditional competitors

    But, I would hope not an edge among those who seek a cheap sporty car. How many people looking for a rally type car a) can’t drive a manual or b) prefer an auto to a manual?

    Maybe my wife and I are atypical, but we both prefer a manual over an auto. My wife has stated that she will never own a manual; I guess that I’m a little more pragmatic or less strident. I will never own any of the current automatic offerings if given a choice.

  • avatar
    ambulancechaser

    I say it time and time again. That car will retail in the high $40k’s in Canada.

  • avatar
    SupaMan

    Is it me, or do those 18″ wheels look small compared to whats on the base Evo?

    In my opinion, the Ralliart Lancer is less an Evo-Lite (which I think was what everyone was expecting) and more of a Lancer-Plus. If Mitsubishi had fiddled with the suspension a bit more, threw in some wider 18″ tires and had a manual tranny option, the car would’ve been better aimed.

    Oh well…

  • avatar
    BEAT

    Superman the rims are Lancer GTS rims. The Evo has a wider rims and it’s a spider spoke style almost has wide with a BMW M3 rims.

    The tranny is develop but Aisin Seiki of Japan.

  • avatar

    I was impressed when I read this review – it sounds light years ahead of the old Ralliart, which was just a tarted up Lancer with a few extra horses. Now it’s a tarted up Lancer with AWD and a lot of extra horses.

    Then I poked around for info on the new WRX. 265hp and 0-60 in… 4.8 seconds. That obliterates the LR which posts in the 6 second range.

    Nice to know the power wars have gone a bit further downmarket… But they are all still too expensive. Put them up for 25K (Canadian) and people would flock to the dealers. As is you get more bang for your buck from the Camcordtima6 lineup (if you opt for a V6 and don’t mind porky road manners).

  • avatar
    kurtamaxxguy

    TTAC’s true taste in cars is revealed!

    So would this car work for TTAC if it got the COBB or other tuning treatment: track-tuned suspension and the usual stuff along with it?

  • avatar
    Samir

    TTAC’s true taste in cars is revealed!

    Careful, at any given time, TTAC uses about 20 writers. All of these writers have their own opinions.

  • avatar
    Matthew Sullivan

    I own an ’03 Evo. I love it.

    If I had been designing something like a Ralliart, I would have forgone the flappy paddle gearbox and instead used the money to get the Evo’s suspension.

    I think my car’s “Evo-ness” comes from its steering, suspension, and utter driver-focusedness of the cockpit.

    All that Evo-ness could have been had in the Ralliart. Mitsubishi focused on the bling, rather than the substance.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    it looks like it needs an orthodontist.

  • avatar
    joker702

    ok NickR who ever u are i grant you that u know ur shit about cars but ur taste in cars sucks u are the first person i have ever hear say that the GT-R is ugly so in response to that you are a idiot it is by far one of the sexyest cars on the road pull ur head out of ur ass and enlighten the world and everone on this site if u think that car is ugly what looks good in ur book?

  • avatar
    ar_ken

    joker702: ok.. just because he said the GT-R is ugly… doesn’t mean he has no taste… there are numerous reviews out there for the GT-R from various publication and usually “beauty” is not the first word to describe it…

    I agree the GT-R might be a great performing car at a great price, but “sexy” is usually not the first thing that comes to mind…

    Back to the Ralliart. Here in Canada it starts at 33k for a “base” model and shoots up to 39k fully loaded.. not a bad price, but I wonder at 39k, how many people would still pick this when the Audi A3/A4′s starts around the same price (yes, with worse performance, but unfortunately it’s not everything when it comes to buying a car). I haven’t seen one on the road so far and I’m in the Toronto area (ricer-central). Either the supplies are very low or they are just not selling…

  • avatar
    Michael Ayoub

    PLENTY of people think the GT-R is ugly (I’m not one of them, but still).

  • avatar

    Wow this is the harshest review I have read for the ’09 Mistu Lancer.I agree that the interior furnishings are kind of cheap for what i paid for the car,on the other hand I love the shark looking exterior. I’m a fan of tuner exterior styles. I love to race the 1/4 mile. But I don’t have the money to afford a sleek 600hp super car.

    So I bought a Ralliart for it’s looks, performance and price. I have done the 1/4 mile in 14.443 sec. that’s pretty good for a family car I have two kids.

    Take a look at what the Ralliart has, now go look up those parts online and see how much they cost seperately…yeah. In my opinion Mistu did the right thing, cut costs on the interior so you can put more into performance.

  • avatar
    Rain

    It’s a nice looking car, but the interior is simply atrocious and its performance is not that great either (steering/acceleration). At that price range I would definitely consider a GTI.


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