Here we go - finally, Mitsubishi has decided to build a car for the middleman, the enthusiast stuck between the base Lancer's dullness and the Lancer Evolution's balls-out craziness. Find the 152-hp, curdled-milk base Lancer to be too ordinary, too milquetoast, too slow? Offended by the Evolution's somewhat harsh ride, darty steering, big price tag, and humongous wing? Have we got the car for you. The turbocharged, all-wheel-drive, 247-hp Lancer Ralliart might as well be called the Evo Lite - it's fast, agile but still comfortable, and cheap enough that you don't mind its few flaws.
Personally, I love the Evolution in all its forms (one of these days, I'll pawn a spare kidney and pick up an Evo VIII or IX), but one low-volume, high-zoot rally rocket cannot keep a company afloat. More than anything, the Ralliart is the volume car that Mitsubishi needs in order to stay profitable and stay alive in the United States. Like Subaru's WRX, the Ralliart trades on the street and special-stage cred of its homologation-special sibling, only it dulls a few of that car's sharper edges for the sake of a lower MSRP.
Even given its low price, the Ralliart is impressive. You do tend to miss the Evo's wickedly good steering (the power-assisted rack is both slower and less communicative than that of the Evo), its fantastic brake feel (no Brembos here, unlike the Evo), and its razor-sharp body control and limit balance (suspension tuning errs on the side of understeer and comfort, unlike the oversteering, teeth-jarring Evo), but these are all pretty minor issues, especially given the Ralliart's price point. Happily, the Evo's twin-clutch, six-speed automatic transmission remains, albeit retuned a little, and while its reactions are a bit dulled, it's still an excellent transmission.
Complaints are few: The optional Recaro buckets, ported over from the Evo, are an acquired taste and produce a bit of back and thigh pain on longer drives. The twin-clutch transmission is occasionally slow to react, even in sport mode, and, unlike the Evo, full-throttle shifts are whack-you-upside-the-head jarring. And, as on the Evolution, if you don't happen to be the same size as Mitsubishi's development engineers, you'll never be comfortable behind the Ralliart's wheel. Not everyone fits.
On a whole, though, the Ralliart is a fun, composed, and healthy set of utterly logical compromises, and one heck of a bargain. And while I wouldn't buy one in place of an Evolution VIII, IX, or X, I'd take one over a WRX any day. Long live the Ralliart, long live Mitsubishi, and God bless the company's engineers for not going down the path more traveled and producing another pointless SUV variant in the name of sales.
Sam Smith, Associate Editor