Mitsubishi Colt Ralliart

The best small sporting car you can buy

by Julian Edgar, pics by Mitsubishi

Click on pics to view larger images

At a glance...

  • Brilliant small car package
  • Excellent engine although takes a while to boost
  • Fantastic suspension and brakes
  • Practical body
  • NVH and interior features from cheaper car
  • A little expensive
 

Remember the tarted-up hot hatches of yore, those with a few go-fast stripes, alloys and some black-outs? You’d pay a few thousand dollars more, go no faster but look a bit better.

Well, let us tell you that the Ralliart Colt is nothin’ like that. This is one car thoroughly developed from nose to tail to go fast on real roads.

From its upgraded brakes (not just discs but master cylinder as well) to its radically revised suspension (dampers, rebound springs, new main spring rate, improved lower arm rigidity, different bushes, bigger sway bar with Teflon-lined bushes – and that’s just the front!), to its turbo 1.5 litre MIVEC motor, this car shows thorough factory development that’s resulted in the best sporting small car we’ve ever driven.

You want to carry four adults in comfort? You can. You want to slide the rear seat forward and then tumble it to give you an incredible 594 litres of cargo capacity? You can. You want to peel down your favourite stretch of twisting tight black-top, standard ex-Evo Recaros holding you tight as you use the small size of the car, the meaty mid-range torque and the quick and accurate steering to despatch the kilometres in a time that would leave your average Commodore or Falcon owner simply incredulous? Well, you can do that too.

And all at an ADR 81/01 fuel consumption of 6.7 litres/100km or even, as we achieved on test, 8 litres/100km.

The Ralliart Colt is a car that we’ve been long waiting for. We loved the Daihatsu Charade turbo and bemoaned the missing GTTi. The fast Familia and the incredible Kei class Japanese were more cars we never saw in decent numbers. But now we have just such a pocket rocket – and if it costs a bit more than we’d really like; well, it also has more capability than we ever expected.

So enough of the hyperbole: what of the facts?

Under the bonnet – equipped with specific-for-Ralliart exit louvres – you’ll find a 1468cc 4G15 turbo and intercooled engine. The long stroke design (bore is 75.5mm and stroke 82mm) uses a very high compression ratio for a turbo engine – being quoted at variably 9 or 10:1. Peak power is 113kW at 6000 rpm (redline is 6500 and cut-out at 6700 rpm), while peak torque is developed at a high-ish 3500 rpm. While that’s not high for older turbo cars, it’s certainly way up there for a current turbo engine – and you can feel it on the road. No boost gauge is provided but it feels like lots starts happening at only about 2800 rpm. However, it should be said that on a flowing road, the Ralliart Colt is very seldom caught off-boost.

The relatively small intercooler is tucked in the front-left guard and the exhaust manifold appears to be hydro-formed tubular steel. Given that the turbo feels a little big for the engine, we figure that a bit of extra boost would really wake-up the top-end... The exhaust system is a low back-pressure design that runs a huge oval exhaust tip and a specific centre muffler. The exhaust noise level is generally low except when the idle is high immediately after a cold start, where the exhaust can resonate. However, the most irritating characteristic of the engine is the electronic throttle action on sudden accelerator lifts, where a strong ‘dash pot’ effect can delay the closing of the throttle.

Bolted to the end of the engine is a Getrag 5-speed transmission. The shift action is good with relatively short throws. However, first gear is very low which has two effects: you can fall into a power hole on the change to second gear, and it’s also easy to spin the wheels right through first gear...

Wheelspin is puportedly controlled by the combined electronic stability/traction control systems, but the engineers have given plenty of latitude for the driver to play, so despite the system, there’s still lots of squeal if you tromp it in first gear. (And it should be mentioned that the engine in the test car was very green; we can only assume it will get even better with more kays under the rubbers.) The clutch is by ZF-Sachs.

And if the driveline is a bit of an eye-opener in terms of development, the chassis is an absolute class act. Together with the 9-inch booster, the big front ventilated discs and solid rear discs give braking performance which at first feels unremarkable. It’s only when you start punishing the stoppers with repeated real-world stops down a demanding road that you marvel at the consistent, strong stopping power. Mitsubishi claim the brakes have the same fade resistance as the Evo Lancer and we can believe it.

On a twisting road the Colt feels absolutely planted. The precision and weight of the steering, the millimetre-accurate placement that is easily achieved, and the grip provide by the 205/45 ZR Pirelli Dragons being worn on 16 x 6.5 inch wheels all mean that it’s easy to be embarrassed by your driving. Embarrassed? Yep, because at the end of the what you thought was a demanding section being taken fast, you wonder why the hell you hadn’t been entering every corner 10 or 15 or even 20 km/h faster... such was the ease with which the Ralliart Colt had been doing it.

At speed, understeer and oversteer aren’t apparent (well, not at sane speeds, anyway). However, in very tight corners, the front will wash into understeer which can be cancelled by a throttle lift. We didn’t bother trying the car with the stability control switched off: with it left on, there was still plenty of capability to slide the car and drive it with the right foot. This might not be the absolute best handling front wheel drive that we’ve experienced but it is a car that is immensely secure, predictable and forgiving.

Partly responsible for that handling is the much stiffer than standard body. Incredibly, the Colt body has been given a real engineering work-over – and not just with bolt-ons. There are 50 per cent more spot welds than normal; reinforcement has been added to the D pillar; some body panels are thicker than standard; and additional reinforcements are strategically placed. This adds 60kg to body mass (total is 1130kg) but body rigidity is up by 30 per cent. In fact, Mitsubishi state (and they should know!) that in terms of torsional rigidity, the Ralliart Colt is the stiffest Mitsubishi made – better, even, than the Evo Lancer.

We’ve seen some criticism of the ride but for our money, it’s fine. It’s certainly firm but the damping control is exemplary: the body always feels well controlled but is very seldom harsh. The unpleasant constant jiggle afflicting some small sporting cars is also absent.

So what don’t we like about the car? More than anything, the price. At AUD$29,990, the Ralliart Colt needs more interior equipment. There are only two airbags, no trip computer and no cruise control. You get a CD stacker and semi-auto climate control but the interior ambience and general NVH (eg the astonishingly loud starter motor!) are very clearly from a cheaper car. And as with the other current model Colt we’ve driven, the brand new Ralliart was afflicted with the strongest of interior plastic smells: we drove the car mostly with the windows open or else occupants starting getting headaches and feeling ill after 15 or 20 minutes.

But with its really good interior packaging, decent fuel economy, strong performance and on-road brilliance, the Ralliart Colt is an absolute standout car. Small fun is back in town again, and it’s better than it ever was....

The Ralliart Colt was provided for this test by Mitsubishi Australia.

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