There's just one thing wrong with the 400-hp, all-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Eclipse Ralliart turbo: you can't buy it. It's a one-of-a-kind SEMA concept that showcases Ralliart, Mitsubishi's new line of performance parts. But maybe one day you'll be able to buy it. Anyway, that's what we told ourselves when we showed up at Willow Springs International Raceway to become the first to drive the car in anger.
The Ralliart enhances the Eclipse's voluptuous teardrop shape by dropping it closer to the ground and adding wider fender extensions. Like the forthcoming Mitsubishi Evo X, this Eclipse uses carbon fiber for the roof panel, the hood, the air-gulping front grille, and the aero pieces. The twenty-inch Dymag wheels even have carbon-fiber rims fastened to billet-aluminum centers.
Mitsubishi commissioned John Mueller of Muellerized Road Race Engineering to slide the drivetrain of the Lancer Evo VIII under the skin of the Eclipse. Mueller's makeover of the Evo's 2.0-liter four features a big HKS turbocharger, but he's calibrated the powertrain for drivable torque instead of peak power, so the turbo four's quick bang of power is a huge step forward from the lazy personality of the Mitsubishi V-6. There's not much suspension travel, but Mueller's coil-over dampers keep the car from bounding off its bump stops, and there's no trace of awkward, all-wheel-drive-style front-end dynamics when you jump on the power. For all this, the Evo powertrain doesn't make this Eclipse any lighter, so it probably still weighs about 3500 pounds.
It's hard to know what the future holds for the Eclipse Ralliart. Mitsubishi left behind its constituency of street punks when the third-generation Eclipse was introduced in 2000 with its unexciting V-6, and the Eclipse Ralliart is meant to coax those guys back under the tent by reviving the turbocharged, all-wheel-drive formula. There's not as much money in the youth market as many manufacturers anticipated, but we think Mitsubishi needs to proceed with the Eclipse Ralliart anyway. Simply put, street cred delivers long-term sales in a way that even dramatic styling cannot.