As the rally-bred Evolution continues to evolve, with escalating levels of power and technology (not to mention base price), it leaves its economy-car origins in the dirt. As the Evo moved up in performance and price, it created a hole in the Lancer lineup, one filled nicely by Subaru‘s Impreza WRX. In the interest of gaining back lost ground, Mitsubishi recently introduced the Lancer Ralliart, a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive sedan that bridges the gap between the Lancer GTS and Evolution X models.
That gap is rather large both in terms of performance and price. Consider that two-wheel-drive Lancers start at $14,665 for a DE model, with the sportier GTS topping the lower portion of the range at a base price of $18,915. With high-performance Evolution starting at $33,665 for a manual-equipped GSR (a fully optioned MR model costs nearly 50 grand!), it’s easy to see why Mitsubishi chose to inject some affordable performance into the middle of the Lancer range.
How’d they do it? With some careful corporate parts-bin shopping. The Ralliart takes only what it needs from its fellow Lancers.
Looks Like an Evo on the Outside
Style-wise, the Ralliart does a decent job of aping big brother Evolution. The hood is lifted directly from that car, while the front end gets an Evo-inspired fascia with the familiar gaping trapezoidal grille opening. There’s another unique fascia in the rear, and the taillights get black bezels for a more sporty look.
Looks Like an Evo on the Inside
Sitting in the Ralliart, you’d be hard pressed to tell it apart from an Evolution. The small-diameter steering wheel with paddle shifters is right out of the Evo MR, as is the console-mounted shift lever. The optional Recaro Sport Package includes a 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate stereo with Sirius satellite radio, HID headlamps, and, of course, supportive Recaro front bucket seats. The available navigation system is billed as the only one in the U.S. with carpool-lane guidance, though we were unable to test this feature in suburban Detroit.
A note about the Recaro seats: while they’re very comfortable and effectively keep drivers and front passengers in place, they lack height adjustment, making it difficult for many people – short and tall – to find an appropriate driving position. We’ve heard the same complaint around the office about our new Four Seasons Evolution MR. Mitsubishi says it might add vertical adjustments to the seats.
There’s one key practical advantage that is derived from the Ralliart’s GTS roots: cargo room. Whereas the Evo X cars have their battery and windshield washer fluid bottle in the trunk up against the seatback, the Ralliart has those items in more conventional underhood locations. This means increased trunk room and the ability to fold down the seats.
It Even Has an Evo Engine
Continuing the parts-bin plundering, Mitsubishi gave the Ralliart the 4B11 engine block from an Evo X, but with different intake plumbing, turbocharger (single-scroll as opposed to the Evo’s twin-scroll unit), and intercooler. This is nothing an afternoon’s worth of work and some Evo parts from eBay can’t fix, right? Not so fast; Mitsubishi points out that the engine and transmission computers, as well as differing underhood packaging, will make the job of Evo-izing a Ralliart very difficult. But the laptop-toting tuner crowd will no doubt attempt it anyway.
The resulting not-quite-Evo four-cylinder engine displaces a familiar 2.0 liters and puts out a respectable 237 hp and 253 lb-ft of torque, exhaling through a dual-exhaust setup that’s nearly identical to the Evo’s. Peak power arrives at 6000 rpm and max torque is available from 3000 rpm – both peaks occur at lower engine speeds than in the Evolution engine. The Ralliart is not as high revving, with a 6500-rpm redline versus the Evo’s at 7000 rpm.
For now, the only transmission offered is Mitsubishi‘s new Twin-Clutch SST, first seen on the Evolution MR. We say “for now” because a manual might be added in the future if demand is there. The changes made to the TC-SST for this application reflect the Ralliart’s more practical, less-track-focused nature – fifth and sixth gears are taller for increased fuel economy, and the number of shift modes has been reduced from three to two. (Normal and Sport modes remain, while S-Sport is reserved for the Evo MR.)
The all-wheel-drive system is borrowed from an Evo as well, but not the newest iteration. The Evolution IX mechanicals include helical front and mechanical rear limited-slip differentials, as well as Mitsubishi’s Active Center Differential. Drivers can select Gravel, Snow, or Tarmac settings that govern the behavior of the ACD.
But It’s Not an Evo?
At this point, you may be thinking that the Lancer Raliart sounds a lot like a detuned Evo X, rather than the improved GTS that Mitsubishi would have us believe it is. One look at the suspension should erase that thought, since most of its parts are from the Lancer GTS. The front suspension is mostly a carryover, with dampers tuned for the Ralliart’s personality and an anti-roll bar that measures 22 mm in diameter instead of the 21-mm bar on the GTS. The multi-link rear is a modified GTS setup that now accommodates the Ralliart’s all-wheel-drive system. Because of the similarities, ride and handling are more in line with the GTS than either of the Evolution models. The suspension is firm, but forgiving enough to be comfortable on long trips.
The Ralliart’s standard 10-spoke, 18-inch alloy wheels are also borrowed from the GTS. Brakes with larger-diameter pistons come from the Outlander V-6 SUV, which is itself built on the Lancer platform.
Nevertheless, the Ralliart behaves more like a GTS than an Evolution over rough pavement, making it a livable daily driver. The steering isn’t super-sensitive like the Evo’s, which some people may prefer. The suspension is biased toward street (not track) use, while the smooth-shifting dual-clutch transmission is less aggressive with its gearchanges. Downshifts are rev-matched so the car won’t lurch forward. As a side benefit, onlookers will think you are driving a car with a manual, and that you know what you’re doing.
Okay, how much is all of this practicality and compromise going to cost me? Mitsubishi has given the Ralliart a base price of $26,490 but hasn’t yet announced the destination charge – currently, it’s $675 for all Lancers, but could go up for the 2009 model year. That’s slightly more than the WRX, which starts at $24,995 for a sedan. Mitsubishi is also considering importing the new Lancer Sportback so that it can go head-to-head with Subaru‘s five-door hatch. So, unless you plan to visit the track regularly or can’t live without that third pedal, the Ralliart looks like a good Evo alternative that won’t dig as big a hole in your bank account.
Base Price: $26,490 (excluding destination charge)
On Sale: September 2008
Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve I-4
Horsepower: 237 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 253 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automated manual
L x W x H: 180.0 x 69.4 x 58.7 in
Legroom F/R: 42.2/36.1 in
Headroom F/R: 39.6/36.9 in
Cargo capacity: 10.0 cu ft (9.1 cu ft with optional subwoofer)
Curb Weight: 3462 lb
EPA Rating (city/highway): 17/25 mpg