Review: 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, Take Two
First impressions can be misleading. Maybe it’s the new car smell. Or the hallucinatory effects of automotive anticipation. But there are times when a thrilling first date can turn into the marriage from hell. That’s why I’m all in favor of pre-purchase rentals and . . . press cars. Yes, carmakers’ fleetmobiles are often pampered ringers. But a week with a car is an excellent way to decide if it deserves a major portion of your/my hard-earned money and ongoing patronage. Quite often, I’ll find that my initial perceptions weren’t quite on target. After sojourning with a Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, I can report that first impressions last.
The Ralliart is slotted into the Lancer’s lineup above the GTS and below the Evo. It’s made from parts of both. Outside, it’s a Lancer with the Evo’s snout, aluminum hood and wing. The front looks like one of those algae-eating tropical fish you see snuffling along the sides of aquariums, only angrier. In the middle, it’s standard Lancer. The overweight wing perched on top of the shallow truck doesn’t do anything but obstruct the lower half of the view through the rearview mirror. Neither I, my twenty-something son, nor anyone else that I asked liked the overall look.
Inside, it’s worse. The black interior is a mosaic of plastics; I counted six different patterns, textures and finishes including the cheesy fake carbon fiber trim that spans the instrument panel. The interior’s only classy touch: seats upholstered in a sturdy-looking faux suede.
At least the front seats are decent. They mimic lower-line Recaros (the real Recaros are part of a $2750 package). They’re firm, supportive and comfortable. Unfortunately, that’s as far as the comfort goes; the steering wheel feels like it’s in another time zone. This is the first car I’ve driven in a long time where I had to stretch to reach the steering wheel when the seat was far enough back to accommodate my long legs. I ended up driving with my knees splayed at an uncomfortable angle so I didn’t have to position the seatback bolt upright to reach the wheel.
Those with shorter arms will also find it a reach to the radio controls which are spread across the center of the dashboard (fortunately, there are redundant controls on the steering wheel). The AC’s rotary controls are hung beneath the dashboard like a cheap set of aftermarket gauges. At 10K miles, they were already loose in their housing (did I say “pampered”?). Combined with the rattle from the passenger side of the dashboard, I wasn’t getting a good feeling about the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart’s long-term durability.
The leather-covered steering wheel, shift knob and shifter boot have contrasting white stitching that looks like a summer camp craft project. Moving the shifter out of park involves lifting a collar that sits on top of that boot. Those without large hands or long fingers will find it cumbersome. Once you’re underway, the first couple of shifts from the six-speed Sportronic SST transmission are as abrupt as a 16-year-old . . . Anyway . . .
Thankfully, once the transmission warms up, the shifts smooth out. You can start to appreciate the dual-clutch action, which knows what gear you need better than you do. That’s good, as the shifter paddles don’t move with the steering wheel and when you’re busy threading through the twisties they’re often out of reach, unless you’re into shuffle steering.
The Ralliart’s goodness lies under the hood: a 2.0L four sporting a single-scroll turbocharger and intercooler pumping out 237hp and 253 lb·ft of torque. The power’s transmitted to all four wheels via an active center differential with limited slip axles front and rear. If that sounds Evo-ish, it is. Unfortunately the suspension holding it in place isn’t. That part is basic Lancer GTS with a bit of additional firmness.
So, in spite of your aspirations of being the next Andrew Comrie-Picard, you end up driving like Jean-Luc Picard: streaking forward at warp speed and then slowing drastically for maneuvering. Don’t get me wrong. It’s by no means a pig in the turns, but with the Evo DNA in the drivetrain, you’d think it would have some in the suspension too. Unfortunately that’s not the case. There’s plenty of grip but the body roll keeps you from wanting to take advantage of it.
I wasn’t impressed with the Ralliart’s boy-racer looks when I first saw it. After a week of driving it I was even less impressed with it overall. The inherent cheapness of the Lancer comes through too strongly for the Evo bits to overcome. If you’re looking for a hot Mitsu on the cheap, look at a used Evo. Or save your milk money until you can afford a new one. But if you buy a Ralliart, in the long run you’ll be looking to sign those divorce papers, STAT.
(Mitsubishi provided the car, gas and insurance for this review. Photos by the author.)
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