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Review: 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart Darwinism

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By Nicholas Frankl, Senior Editor

Having driven from sea to shining sea in a yellow Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and put a not too inconsequential 3,400 miles on the beast in just 5 days, it could be fairly said that I am somewhat of an expert on the driving dynamics of the 271bhp turbo-charged rocket. It was a car and a trip that I enjoyed immensely, the EVO handling itself with great aplomb in a rally full of serious exotica. Imagine therefore my excitement when Mitsubishi invited me to drive another Lancer in L.A recently. Now these marketing folk are pretty smart. They know that everyone who plays driving video games and saw the recent hit movie, Fast ‘n Furious, wants the EVO, problem is that not too many can afford the payments on $30,000 and even fewer (as Mitsubishi are discovering to their pain) can afford the stinging insurance on top of that. Enter Mini-EVO. No, not a Mini Cooper with Evo wings, but a less muscular version of the Lancer. A sort of decaf variety - the same type of taste but none of the punch.

Ralliart is to Mitsubishi what NISMO and Prodrive are to Nissan and Subaru. They are race techies that make ordinary looking cars (but with stickers and loud exhaust pipes) go through Welsh forests and Finnish ice lakes at absurd speeds in the WRC. The Lancer Ralliart which I drove showed no propensity to make lurid four – wheel slides around the Malibu Canyons or get airborne over the crests of small humps – but it was nevertheless very enjoyable and reassuring to drive. With a 2.4 liter four benefiting from Mitsubishi’s Innovative Value timing and Electronic Control (MIVEC) and pumping out 162 bhp at 5750 rpm and 162 ft lb of torque the car is no slouch. General equipment has also been upgraded over the OZ Rally edition and the 120bhp ES and LS models. The Ralliart has discs all rounds instead of drums at the rear and they are aided by ABS and electronic brake force distribution. Tires are also beefed up, 205/50R resting on16 ins alloy wheels.

 Improvements have also been made to the shocks and damping settings and the car feels significantly stiffer than the ES – although no where near the levels of the EVO. Neither the LS or Ralliart have four-wheel-drive and essentially they are mass market tools aimed at benefiting from the hallo effect of the EVO. Mitsubishi may well lose money on every EVO it sells – but who cares. When was the last time you saw a Mitsubishi looking cool with hot actresses on the big screens or on covers of so many auto magazines? In fact it would be fair to ask when was the last time you actually desired and coveted anything from this brand – except maybe the great music in their TV commercials. So the EVO has done its job, raised awareness and ‘coolness’ of the brand, opening the way to the hearts and minds of the young consumer – the target of every manufacturer in the land.

For $18,000 it is hard to fault the Ralliart. The ES at $14,600 is not my personal cup of tea but would be cheap to run and insure. In terms of pure DNA you could make the case that the Ralliart is an authentic off-spring of the great EVO