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VIDEO: 2009 Lancer Ralliart

 

High-octane fun in Mitsubishi’s black beauty

What you get Pricing Specs Rivals VIDEO

You might call it son of Evo, or a Lancer GS sedan that’s been given an overdose of steroids and a pumped-up appearance.

Neither really hits the mark, for Mitsubishi’s newly-launched Ralliart Lancer is very much its own car, a vehicle which thoroughly deserves the Ralliart name, and one that is streets ahead of some of the dubious vehicles that have borne Mitsubishi’s hallowed motorsport moniker.

Cars like the Ralliart Colt Plus, a high-performance version of that Cinderella’s coach-shaped five-door. The standard Colt Plus is no great shakes as a handler, with a determined desire to steer straight off the road if you push hard into a tight corner.

Adding more power to create a supposedly-sporty variant simply made matters worse, and detracted from the lustre of the Ralliart name.

The new Ralliart Lancer is a potent high-performance middleweight, with good power and handling poise and a generally likeable nature.

Unlike its predecessors, it has permanent four-wheel drive and uses a turbocharged MIVEC 2.0-litre twin cam four-cylinder, developing 180kW of maximum power and 349Nm of peak torque..

It bridges the gap between the 127kW/230Nm 2.4-litre engined front-wheel drive Lancer VRX and the sublime Evo X with its 220kW/372Nm twin scroll turbocharged and Intercooled 2.0-litre four.

The Ralliart is a logical rival for the milder of Subaru’s two high-performance Imprezas, the WRX; and till this month it had the Subie licked.

But in a masterpiece of one-upmanship reminiscent of the see-sawing power and torque battles played out by Ford and Holden’s Falcon and Commodore V8 sports sedans, Subaru has given the WRX a huge shot of go-faster juice.

Where it previously had 169kW of power and 320Nm of torque – figures easily outgunned by the Ralliart – the new model four-door – and the five-door which benefits from the same engine upgrade – WRXs now have 195kW and 343Nm.

The Ralliart develops its maximum urge lower in the rev range than the WRX, but its performance edge has gone even if it still holds a slight torque advantage.

The game is very much on. Subaru’s mild-mannered Clark Kent has turned into Superman.

How well they compare will have to wait till we get hold of a new-generation WRX, but in a week with the black Ralliart test car we found very little to dislike. It looks the part, but doesn’t attract quite the same level of attention as an Evo X.

It has a massive, Evo-like grille/air intake, but without the Evo’s bulging front wheelarches, the frontal styling veers a tad towards over-the-top, especially on black painted cars where the chrome rim around the grille starkly emphasises the mouth wide-open look.

Though Mitsubishi refers to the bootlid spoiler as “large type” it’s much more discreet than the Evo’s. In fact, though it takes cues from the X’s styling, the Ralliart is much less muscular in detail.

It’s also more conventional in construction. The front fenders are steel rather than aluminium, the rear fenders standard Lancer rather than flared. There is no protruding front aerodynamic splitter, and the roof is steel, not aluminium.

Mechanically there are marked differences too. Though both cars run 18-inch alloy wheels, the Ralliart’s run narrower tyres – 215 against 245 for the Evo. And the brakes are smaller.

The Evo runs18-inch/four caliper Brembo discs in the front and 17-inch at the rear; the Ralliart has 16-inch/two caliper at the front and 16-inch drum-in-disc at the rear, the same set-up as the front-drive Lancer VRX.

Brakes are an Evo strong points, providing massive stopping power with never a hint of fade, so we had our doubts about whether the Ralliart’s brakes would be up to the job of hauling down this 1555kg car from speed time after time. Our fears proved unwarranted. The Ralliart’s brakes were fine – not as strong as the Evo’s obviously. But reassuring and fade-free nonetheless.

Dynamically, the Ralliart is capable and lots of fun, though till you activate the little Sport switch that sits unobtrusively on the centre console, you don’t realise exactly how much fun it can be.

The Ralliart is quick in Normal mode, with agile handling but overall there’s no real feeling of anything special going on. Pushed hard, there’s mild understeer, and the general impression is of a pleasant car, quick enough to be entertaining and with good roadholding, but nothing outstanding – close but no cigar, if you like.

Flick that innocuous little switch, though, and the club rugby star turns instantly into an All Black winger.

The car seems to get up on to its toes as the active centre diff changes to a sportier program, the gear shift points – both upshift and downshift – get more aggressive, and sixth gear is deemed superfluous.

In Sport mode the Ralliart truly comes to life, and an extended run on a favourite stretch of road was an absolute blast. The car darted from corner to corner, the brakes hauling it down reassuringly for the tighter turns, the steering accurate and full of feel.

The twin clutch gearbox shifts quickly and smoothly – in both Normal and Sport modes – and has a manual shift option operated by steering wheel-mounted paddles. The manual shift is useful when you’re pushing hard because it allows you to hold the car in a desired gear.

Pressing-on across our handling test route, we found it was easy to establish a rhythm and the car flowed seamlessly from corner to corner, the grip unshakable, the responses razor-sharp. Understeer had all but gone.

In short it delivered pure automotive fun, so much so that we were tempted to go back over the 150km test route one more time, but time was against us.

There’s plenty of power – 0-100km/h is in the low six-second bracket – and lots of urge for open road passing.

The Ralliart rides firmly but not unpleasantly, and the Recaro bucket seats provide good lateral support during hard cornering – there was never a need to find something to brace your legs with.

Mitsubishi quotes fuel use of 10 litres/100km on the combined cycle which is maybe a little optimistic side. In Normal mode running we were in the 11s, but even pressing-on that only deteriorated to low 13s.

Like the Evo 10, the Ralliart requires 98-octane petrol which will be a problem in some parts of New Zealand where 98 is not available.

Cabin design is clean and uncluttered and the Lancer is a nice vehicle to be in, with good rear seat legroom. The boot is usefully-sized and shaped, though Mitsubishi has opted for a space-saver rather than a full-sized spare wheel and tyre.

It’s an easy car to live with and has excellent manoeuvrability in tight spaces – the turning circle is a compact 10m metres – and its excellent lock dealt with the particularly tight turn into my home carpark much better than cars of similar size.

The Ralliart isn’t an Evo, and isn’t intended to be. It lacks the Evo’s no-compromise sharpness and brutal performance, but it still has plenty of mumbo and is a much more viable proposition as an everyday driver.

I’m not usually impressed by car company marketing puffery, but Mitsubishi has got it dead right in its remarkably matter-of-fact description of the Ralliart in the Lancer press kit.

It says the Ralliart “is placed between the Lancer VRX and Lancer Evolution X and draws upon both models to provide a good balance between performance and everyday practicality.”

I couldn’t agree more, and if Subaru hadn’t just given the WRX a tickle up, both dynamically and price-wise, the Lancer Ralliart would be a no-brainer first choice for a use-every-day sports sedan.

autotrader.co.nz rating: four out of five.

What you get for your money

The Lancer Ralliart is comprehensively equipped, with leather-wrapped steering wheel rim and gearshift knob, cruise-control and hands-free Bluetooth telephone compatibility.

Automatic climate-control air-conditioning is standard along with a trip computer, and side windows have privacy glass.

Paddle shifters for the automated twin clutch gearbox’s manual mode are mounted on the steering wheel.

Power windows and power-adjustable exterior mirrors are standard, and the central door-locking has keyless entry with a dual-transmitter. There is no ignition key as such. Engine on/off is activated when the transmitter is within the car, and a steering column-mounted rotary key-like knob is turned.

Front seats are by Recaro and the driver’s and front seat passenger’s are adjustable only fore-aft and recline, not for height.

The six-disc dash-mounted CD stacker is MP3-compatible, and the audio system has nine speakers, including a boot-mounted sub-woofer.

Auxiliary sound system controls are mounted on the steering wheel.

The headlights have an auto switch-on mode activate in low light, and are self-levelling and have cornering lights which activate when the steering wheel is turned. The lights have auto washers.

Windscreen wipers have a variable auto intermittent phase, and an auto-on rain sensor.

The body kit includes front and rear air dams, a deep Evo-like grille and a large bootlid spoiler. The dual tailpipes are chrome-tipped.

Passive safety kit includes seven airbags – front and side for driver and front seat passenger, cabin-length side curtain airbags and a driver’s knee airbag.

All five occupants have lap/sash seatbelts.

There are two ISOfix child restraint anchor points, and three child seat tether anchors.

Active stability control, traction control, and ABS anti-lock braking are standard.

2009 Mitsubishi Ralliart pricing

Mitsubishi offers the Lancer Ralliart in only one spec, with the six-speed twin-clutch automated manual gearbox.

It lists for $49,990, and comes with a three-year, unlimited kilometres factory warranty.

The price also includes a Gold Service Card, valid for five years, which provides a free car wash after every scheduled service and a three-year roadside-assist 24 hours/seven days breakdown help.

Specifications of the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart

Type. Four-door high-performance sedan.

Engine. Twin Cam (DOHC), 16-valve, 2.0-litre (1998cc) MIVEC four-cylinder. Turbocharged. Maximum power, 180kW at 6000rpm. Peak torque, 349Nm at 3000rpm.

Transmission. Full-time four-wheel drive. Helical limited slip front diff. Active centre diff. Mechanical limited slip rear diff. Active Stability Control with traction control. Final drive ratio, 4.062:1. Gearbox, twin clutch automatic with manual gear selection using steering wheel mounted paddles; Normal and Sport modes.

Brakes. Front, ventilated disc with two-pot calipers. Rear, drum in disc. ABS anti-lock system with electronic brake force distribution.

Suspension. Front, MacPherson strut with stabiliser and strut tower brace. Rear, multi-link with stabiliser.

Wheels. 18-inch alloy.

Tyres. 215/45 T18. Space saver spare tyre.

Performance. CO2 emissions, 223 grams/km. Turning circle, 10 metres. Towing rating, none given.

Fuel economy (Mitsubishi figure), 10 litres/100km.

Dimensions. Length, 4570mm. Width, 1760mm. Height, 1490mjm. Front track, 1530mm. Rear track, 1530mm. Ride height, 150mm. Kerb weight, 1555kg. Boot capacity, 293 litres. Fuel tank capacity, 55 litres of 98 octane.

Ralliart Lancer rivals

2009 Subaru Impreza WRX. More power, ballpark torque. Subaru quotes 0-100km/h in 5.3 seconds against Ralliart’s six. Has a $3500 price advantage over the Lancer. Yet to be tested.

2008 Renault Megane R26 F1. One of motoring’s best-kept secrets. A stunning three-door hatchback with quirky but purposeful looks and wheels that REALLY fill the wheelarches. Race car-like brakes and go-kart handling with acceptable ride. Front-drive only but a characterful and stunning performer and worthy of consideration as an alternative to the Japanese 4WDs. Price is right on the button with Ralliart at $49,990.

VIDEO


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