Every once in a while, a car comes along that you just know will be a future classic by the sole virtue of how rare it is. Enter the Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart, whose name is so long we'll run out of ink if we continue to use it. So, in the interest of saving precious natural resources, we'll call it the LaSpRa.
A smiling valet attendant called it "a really cool car," but then again, it was at the parking lot for H&R Block - and practically anything is cooler than the beige Toyota Camrys that all those accountants drive. But then a random dude walking by glared at the LaSpRa's bulbous rear end and asked, "Ew, is Mitsubishi actually going to try to sell that thing?" Ouch.
In either case, Mitsubishi is. And here's the lowdown: the LaSpRa is a slightly awkward-looking hatchback sibling to the very attractive Lancer sedan. The "Ralliart" part means that we're talking about the quick version: a low-compression (9.0:1), high-boost (17.9 psi), 237-hp turbo four-cylinder resides under the hood, and it sends its power to the computer-controlled all-wheel-drive system used on the previous-generation Lancer Evolution. The engine itself is a version of the current Evo's mostly aluminum unit, equipped with a single-scroll turbo in place of the dual-scroll charger you'll find in the quickest Lancer.
The LaSpRa comes only with the six-speed dual-clutch transmission that we whined about in our Four Seasons Evo, with slightly taller fifth and sixth gears for quieter and more fuel-efficient cruising. It suffers from the same reluctance to move off the line, especially up hills, where full throttle results in 3000 rpm of clutch slippage and little else until the lazy turbo spools up. The gearbox then redeems itself with damn-near imperceptible part-throttle shifts that happen within, oh, fourteen-billionths of a second of tugging on one of the steering-column-mounted magnesium paddles.
Optional Recaro seats are incredibly comfortable and supportive, if you happen to fit in them without needing adjustment, because they don't really do adjustment. The rear seats are more flexible, folding forward in one graceful movement and freeing up an enormous cargo hold that will swallow near-SUV levels of stuff that - thanks to quick and communicative steering - will likely wind up getting flung around the cabin as you dart through bends.
Unfortunately, when we saw the price tag, a couple of obscenities flew around the cabin, too. Our test car was well-equipped, but like the Evo, it seems to be priced a whole category too high. Its shocking $33,000 as-tested price is enough to ensure that this quick hatch, like its Evo brother, will be one rare car. We'll call it a classic in the making.
ON SALE: Now
Price: $28,310/$33,059 (base/as tested)
Engine: 2.0L turbo I-4, 237 hp, 253 lb-ft