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2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart Review

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2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart

SEE ALSO: Mitsubishi Buyers Guide 1997-2011

...EVO Lite, 5-door hatch with power and good AWD, what's not to like?


2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart

Does the combination of four-door hatchback functional practicality and high performance sound like your idea of "sport utility"? If so, Mitsubishi has something that you might find interesting: the Lancer Sportback Ralliart.

The Ralliart combines the very Euro-style five-door hatch Lancer Sportback body with a more mildly-tuned (merely 237 horsepower) version of the corporate hot-rod Lancer Evolution's 2.0-liter turbo engine and the All-Wheel Control (AWC) all-wheel drive system from the previous-generation Evo in place of the regular Sportback GTS's 2.4-liter, 168-hp naturally-aspirated engine and front-wheel drive. As a bonus, the Ralliart used the high-tech "TC-SST" dual-clutch automated manual gearbox also found in the Evo MR to create a quick and comfortable grand tourer.

Designed to have a broader appeal than the take-no-prisoners Evo, the Sportback Ralliart is in no way "decontented". Even the GTS is well-equipped, a step above the more common sport compacts, and the versatility of the four-door-plus-hatch body style is hard to beat in a car. A little evolution diminishes the usefulness not at all, and makes the Ralliart just the vehicle for those who seem to be the darlings of auto company marketing departments everywhere, "active lifestyle" people. Especially if one of the preferred activities is driving, something a larger, heavier crossover with a higher center of gravity is just not going to be as good at. You can't ignore basic physics…

A key option available in the Sportback Ralliart is the Recaro® Sport Package, featuring namesake Recaro seats for the driver and front passenger. Back in the 80s and before, when car seats were not taken as seriously as today, Recaros were the best way to add the support and low-fatigue comfort for serious driving. They weren't inexpensive then, and are found in a number of exotic sports and GT cars today. And, potentially, in a Lancer Ralliart or Evo… as part of a package with an audio system upgrade. The $2,750 for that sounds familiar - like the cost of two Recaros for a car I had 25 years ago. 25 years ago and no upgraded audio. I ended up with something else.

But the 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart that I've been driving for the past week had the Recaro Package. It beat any chair in the house, and with the fun-to-drive factor and usefulness of the Ralliart's Sportback body made for a very pleasant week. As with a small crossover, there's plenty of room for four adults, or fold down the 60/40 rear seat for packages, camping gear, a bicycle (some disassembly required), or other oddly-shaped things too big to fit through a sedan's trunk opening.

Unlike a small crossover, a relatively low weight, low center of gravity, sport-tuned suspension, sticky performance tires, and first-rate performance-oriented full-time all-wheel drive system mean that the Ralliart is a sports car at heart, not sport-utility wannabe. Long ago, high performance meant sacrifice of usefulness. That's no longer true, and the Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart shows why.

APPEARANCE: With its long, semi-fastback roofline and moderate visor-style spoiler above the leading edge of the rear window, the Sportback Ralliart has much less of a racer-replica look than the Evo. It does share the Evo's "jet fighter" oversize upside-down trapezoid grille, and the aluminum hood has vents and a NACA duct to let cooling air into the engine compartment. Slightly hooded headlamps give it a determined look. A small chin spoiler and door sill extensions add to the high-performance look. Dual exhausts and a larger spoiler distinguish the Ralliart from the GTS at the rear.

COMFORT: There are good reasons Recaro seats have their fine reputation, and a long day in a Recaro-equipped Ralliart will bring understanding. These are firmly padded, yet comfortable, and moderately bolstered to keep the driver and navigator, er, front passenger securely in place during hard cornering. Grippy cloth upholstery helps, too. Adjustability is manual, with, unfortunately, no driver's cushion height adjustment. The side bolsters are not a major impediment to access. The driver's task is further aided by a tilt-adjustable leather-rimmed steering wheel with cruise, auxiliary audio, and phone controls and alloy shift paddles mounted correctly -- stationary, on the steering column, not moving with the wheel. Simply shuffle your hands on the wheel when cornering and they will be in place for quick shifting, downshift to the left, up to the right as seems to be the de facto convention. Brightly backlit instruments, aluminum pedals with rubber inserts, and good visibility also help make driving the Ralliart a safe pleasure. The climate control system works quickly, and there are useful spaces for storage of small items. The rear seat has good room for the two outboard passengers, with, no surprise, less space in the center. Add its 60/40 split fold ability and easy access thanks to four doors and a rear hatch that extends down to bumper level, and cargo duty is easy.

SAFETY: All Lancer Sportbacks utilize Mitsubishi's RISE body construction for maximum strength and rigidity. Front dual-stage airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side head curtain airbags, and a driver's knee airbag are all standard. As are four-wheel antilock disc brakes with Active Stability Control, Traction Control, and, in the Ralliart, Hill Start Assist.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The Ralliart's MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension is calibrated more moderately than the Evo's, but it's still firm enough for true sports car handling -- and everyday and long-distance comfort. Traction is ensured by Mitsubishi's rally competition-based "All-Wheel Control" (AWC) all-wheel drive system with a computer-controlled active center differential to vary the fore-and-aft torque split, and a helical front limited-slip differential and mechanical rear limited-slip diff to vary torque side-to-side. It's basically the same system as was used in the previous-generation Evo, and has "tarmac", "gravel", and "snow" settings for different driving conditions. "Tarmac" is all you need most times and places, and while with 5.9 inches of clearance improved forest roads will be fine places to try "gravel" mode, watch for ruts, rocks, and debris if you want to play rally driver. Your oil pan will thank you…

PERFORMANCE: Anaheim, jalapeno, or habanero? The chili analogy holds up to the Lancer lineup, with the 168-horsepower GTS mild but still piquant, the 237-hp Ralliart plenty hot enough for most, and the muy picante 291-hp Evo for the brave. The Ralliart's version of the 2.0-liter twincam four-cylinder gets a different turbocharger and intercooler and revised cam timing that decrease peak torque and horsepower but significantly broaden the torque curve. The Evo's 300 lb-ft peak is at 4000 rpm; the Ralliart makes its peak 253 lb-ft between 2500 and 4750 rpm, with horsepower peaking at 237 at 6000 rpm, 500 down from the Evo. That makes for easier and more relaxing driving, and the "Twin Clutch-Sportronic® Shift Transmission" (TC-SST) dual-clutch automated manual gearbox shared with the Evo MR is the only transmission offered. Which is fine, as it fits the Ralliart's contemporary high-tech personality perfectly. In regular automatic mode it shifts better than most torque converter automatics, and better than any other commonly-available automated manual. The broad spread of torque and excellent shift logic makes "D" just fine, even for spirited driving. There are no surprise shifts at inopportune times. Sport mode keeps the engine high in the rev band, so will be of limited use outside of autocrossing and track days. Manual mode is enhanced not only by the very quick shifting, but by the correctly-placed magnesium alloy shift paddles, which are solidly located on the steering column.

CONCLUSIONS: Mitsubishi's Lancer Sportback Ralliart strikes a fine balance between high performance and high usefulness.

2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart

Base Price			$ 27,590
Price As Tested			$ 31,060
Engine Type			dohc 16-valve turbocharged and
				 intercooled aluminum alloy inline
				 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower			237 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			253 @ 2500-4750 rpm
Transmission			6-speed dual clutch automated manual
Wheelbase / Length		103.7 in. / 180.4 in.
Curb Weight			3572 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		15.1
Fuel Capacity			14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		premium unleaded gasoline
Tires				215/45 R18 89W Yokohama ADVAN
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, ASC, TCL standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 full-time all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		17 / 25 / 21
0 to 60 mph				est. 5.8  sec

Recaro® Sport Package - includes:
  Recaro front seats, HID headlamps, 710-watt (max)
  Rockford-Fosgate 9-speaker premium audio system,
  Sirius® satellite radio, 6CD/mp3CD in-dash
  head unit					$ 2,750
Destination Charge				$   720