Test Driven: 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart (8.5/10)

The Lancer Ralliart is the second born of the Mitsubishi clan, overshadowed in many ways by its older brother the Lancer Evolution. The Evo has made a huge name for itself in automotive performance over the years, and the Ralliart is clearly riding that wave in the market. It is placed to compete with Subaru’s WRX, but Mitsubishi waited 3 model generations into the US market before they finally produced a true, turbocharged competitor for the highly successful Subaru. What you see here is that car, the supposed “baby Evo”, but I will tell you right up front, that the Ralliart is far from that. It is something all its own, and it should be more widely recognized as such. This Ralliart belongs to my friend Josh, and he agreed to let me take the wheel for an afternoon to discover what it’s all about.    

Mitsubishi has put the Ralliart in a weird place in the market. It is rather expensive compared to a Mazdaspeed3, or a WRX, and you cannot have one with a clutch pedal. The SST dual clutch is the only transmission available, leading many ignorant people to believe that it has an automatic transmission. This may not be true, but it has created a stigma around the Ralliart that has hurt sales, making these cars fairly uncommon on US roads. In fact I most assuredly see more Evos driving around than I do Ralliarts, which is not the same trend at all on the Subaru side of things; WRXs are far more common than STIs.

If the Ralliart were a “baby Evo”, then it would almost certainly have been selling off the shelves faster than they could be stocked. It would have the stiff suspension, razor sharp steering, and hardcore Recaro Racing seats; albeit with a good bit less power and for a lot less money. Immediately after driving off I noticed that this is clearly not the case with the Ralliart. It doesn’t have the same sharp, racy sensation to it, no essence of extreme focus and uncompromised performance. So, the Ralliart is not an Evo Jr, but that is not a drawback by any means.

Where an Evo is hard and unforgiving, the Ralliart is firm, but tolerant. Every aspect of the car has a nice touch of refinement over the Evo. The steering is a bit looser, but you get a tighter turning circle in return (useful in the real world where 20 point turns are frowned upon by society). Despite the fact that Josh had aftermarket springs, the chassis was still a lot softer than an Evo’s and it rode quite smoothly. In the real world on a day-to-day basis, the Ralliart has a far better setup than its extreme sibling. Evos are great on the track or when you are attacking back roads, but sometimes it is nice when your car doesn’t break your back over and over again. The Ralliart is much more forgiving, but I don’t mean to say that it has gone soft either.

One of the big gripes many people have with the Ralliart is how it appears underpowered on paper. Mitsubishi claims 237bhp from its 2.0L motor, which is basically the same as the one in the Evo. Knowing this I had really expected to be disappointed with the car’s speed, but when the time came to putt the foot down the car pulled just as hard as the 260bhp Chevy HHR-SS I had driven a few weeks earlier. The Ralliart is also a good bit heavier than that car so it became clear to me that Mitsubishi had underrated the Ralliart’s power level on paper, likely to protect Evo sales. I confirmed this idea later on when I checked the stock dyno numbers of various Ralliarts, and they ranged from 205awhp-220awhp. This suggests that the Ralliart’s engine is actually producing something in the area of 270-285hp, making it perfectly competitive with the likes of the Mazdaspeed3, WRX, etc. Power is something that this car is not lacking, and in fact it comes close to the Evo at stock levels.

The centerpiece of the Ralliart’s experience is its SST transmission. No joking, it is up there with the best I have experienced, Ferrari and Porsche included. It has a nice smooth action off the line, and even creeps forward without hitting the gas pedal like an automatic does. In some ways Mitsubishi made it behave very conventionally, but in others it added a well-connected sensation to the drive. There are two modes, auto and manual, with two settings, sport and normal, and you can select any combination of each. Normal keeps auto mode feeling like a conventional automatic transmission, and it gives manual more relaxed shifts. Sport turns everything into race mode, with manual shifts becoming crisp and lightning quick, and automatic holding gears like you’re on a racetrack. Each of these four configurations has a place in practice, and the slightly simplified setup from the Evo’s bodes better for real world real world usability. The dual clutch works well in the Ralliart, giving it a variety of personalities and uses.

The interior is an area of best improvement for any of the current generation Lancers. Prior models featured shamelessly cheap interiors that seemed to be just slapped together at the last minute. These new models, however, have exactly what I would hope for in a car costing nearly $30k. Fine leather and wood are a stretch of course, but the Ralliart does feature suede-like seats, decent plastics/metals, and a clean design overall. It also has a good array of gadgets and hookups for all your modern stuff. Josh opted out of getting the Recaro racing seats, but I think the car is better for it. The standard seats are nice and supportive with a good bit of cushion so you always stay comfortable, again just more livable. The steering wheel is also flanked, from behind on either side, by proper magnesium paddle shifters. Overall, the Ralliart’s cabin is a great place to be.

So how does all of this tie together? Right now it may seem that we have been going in all sorts of different directions with little in common between them. However, it is all of the aforementioned aspects that come together to make the Ralliart one solid package. The real world has a variety of places and situations, and the Ralliart can handle them all equally. Where the Evo is an uncompromised racer, the Ralliart turns compromise into a art form; it has a real world balance the likes of which I have not seen in any other car.

Photo by Dan Valanzola

On the commute to work you can relax and let the car do the driving in normal mode, or you can go balls out  in sport mode if you are late. Having nearly 300 turbocharged horsepower gives the car a wide range of performance capability, and makes it capable of some very illegal speeds on the highway. Its solid chassis will keep things in control while at speed, or whisk you along smoothly as you enjoy the ride. Also, having a 6th gear makes highway cruising much more livable and economical compared to Mitsu’s 5 speed manual in the Evo GSR.

If back road attack is more your game, the Ralliart is still very competent despite not being an Evo. It handles tight, with good feel in the steering and chassis. The gearbox instantly does as it is told, and you feel like you’re shifting and not just pressing a button. The turbo motor gives the Ralliart a wide powerband, and it is quick to leap out of corners with its all wheel drive traction. The softer suspension also means that the car wont beat you up when you hit the inevitable potholes that exist on such small roads. It is quite formidable, even compared to an Evo.

When you are done fooling around in the woods, and you want to pop into town for a snack, you can set the car in normal/automatic and relax while in the midst of the urban sprawl. This is where a manual car gets tiresome, stuck in traffic and endlessly having to press the clutch. With the Ralliart, you simply press a button to change modes, so the former is a problem it does not have.

As a package the Ralliart is as practical as any sedan its size, and returns decent fuel economy (low 20mpg range average). Its all wheel drive makes it impervious to (or even fun to drive in) bad weather, such as snow, as well. It is also a Lancer, so it has decent curb appeal, while not being quite as much of a cop magnet as an Evo because it lacks the huge wing and flared bodywork.

As a car the Lancer Ralliart is basically without any objective fault. It offers much of what the Evo has, but with fewer day-to-day drawbacks. In my opinion is a far better car for the real world. It also has some decent gains to be made from modifications if more speed is desired, but can be made to keep in the process. Used Ralliarts are available in the high-mid teens, with low mileage, making them very good bang for the buck. However, insurance rates are higher for Lancers because lots of people have wrapped them around trees, so weigh your costs prior to purchase.

The comparison between the Ralliart and the Evo is unavoidable because they are siblings. In actuality I see more similarities between the Ralliart and an Audi S4, as far as what it is that each car offers. It is not an Evo, nor is it trying to be one, and you have to see that before you can really understand this car. What the Ralliart is, on the other hand, is one of the best all round packages on four wheels that money can buy. I struggle to think of a better car for the real world, all things considered. Sure it may be a touch expensive on gas and insurance, but buyers aren’t cross shopping it with hybrids and whatnot. The SST transmission is really the centerpiece of it all, because everything you do while driving basically depends on the transmission. It is an affordable marvel of current technology, but I am not sure it has been marketed correctly by Mitsubishi; hence the slow sales. It is a very different car from the Evo, but they were too focused on riding the popularity wave that they forwent highlighting the Ralliart’s own unique appeal. Consequently, everyone gets into the Ralliart expecting a “baby Evo”, and that is not what they get. This is unfortunate for Mitsubishi, who is struggling, but favorable for buyers on the secondhand market. The Ralliart is a hidden bargain, and those who realize it will get a great deal. This car surprised the hell out of me, and hand on heart; it is one of the best cars out there.

WoM Score: 

Primary Function: Performance: 2
Secondary Functions: Practicality(2), MPG(1): 1.5
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 1
Value for Money: 2

Final Score: 8.5/10

A special thanks to Josh M for allowing me to review his car.

-Nick Walker

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