Mitsubishi’s release of the Ralliart Lancer marks
a return to affordable mid-sized Mitsubishi turbo cars. Available in sedan and
hatch (‘Sportback’) models, both cars are stickered at AUD$42,990. With a long
specs list that includes a 177kW 2-litre turbo engine, driver-selectable
multi-mode active all-wheel drive, SST twin clutch automatic transmission and
Evo-esque body kit, on paper the Ralliart looks the goods.
But what’s it like on the road? Rather like its
more expensive Evo brother, the Ralliart is a mix of good and bad.
The all-wheel drive system comprises Active
Traction Control, Active Stability Control, Active Centre Differential and
Electronic Control, and a rear mechanical limited slip differential. In short,
that’s most of the all-wheel drive system fitted to the 50 per cent more
expensive Evo model – and on the road it shows!
Tyres are good quality 215/45 Yokohama Advan A10 –
put a sophisticated and impressive all-wheel
drive system together with sticky rubber and you get a level of grip so high
that, in all normal conditions, you simply point and squirt. There’s little body
roll and the characteristics of the all-wheel drive can be subtly altered by
selecting Tarmac, Snow or Gravel modes.
Push really hard and the car torque-steers a
little – but it’s noticeable only in that a firm hand is needed on the steering
when exiting tight bends. At the limit there’s also some understeer, but it’s
The handling is not at the expense of ride
quality, which remains excellent for a sporting car. The steering, too, is a
delight, with great feel, weight, feedback and ratio.
In fact in terms of handling, ride and steering,
the Lancer is like a car costing $100,000 or more.
But come back to
earth with a thump when you evaluate the driveline...
The 4B11 16-valve design uses MIVEC variable valve
timing and the turbo is a single scroll unit that, according to Mitsubishi, is
designed to “focus on low- to mid-range torque”. But if that was the intention,
someone got things quite wrong.
The engine drives like an old-school turbo design,
with little torque down the bottom and a ‘swelling’ boost curve that makes
apportioning power much more difficult than it should be, especially as the car
comes onto boost. (The poor boost control is also noticeable in the action of
the cruise control – it’s often struggling to play catch-up with the boost
Peak torque is listed in one Mitsubishi document
as 343Nm from 2500 – 4750 rpm, which sounds great. But another Mitsubishi
official spec shows it occurring at 4725 rpm – and that’s more like it feels on
the road. Add the lack of bottom-end power to a mass of
1555kg (some quarter-tonne heavier than the base Lancer ES model!), and the
Ralliart can be reluctant to pick up its heels and really get going.
Not helping in this is the SST transmission.
Without a torque converter and with poor low-rpm torque, the driveline always
needs plenty of revs on board before performance starts to get quick.
The SST has two auto modes – Normal and Sports. (You
can also drive the trans manually, through either the central lever or steering
Normal mode is pretty hopeless for any sporty
driving – on the open road you’ll miss every apex as the slowly responding trans
and the slowly responding engine never gel. In urban driving, the SST trans can
be jerky; in multi-story carparks it is quite tricky to nudge the car forward
towards a wall or the like. In these conditions, a well set-up traditional auto
trans is clearly superior. (In fact, if a traditional auto behaved as badly as
the SST, you’d take the car back and ask for the trans to be fixed!)
But in Sports mode, which keeps revs higher, the
trans is much better behaved. And, if you view the SST trans as a manual with
electronic gear changes, then the system operates very well – especially with
its ultra-fast gear changes.
We think the engine would work better with a
6-speed manual trans (and couldn’t that also lower the car’s price?), and the
SST trans would work better with an engine with a lot more bottom-end grunt. In short, the
driveline simply never has the sophisticated competence of the Lancer’s handling
However, we had the car for three weeks and over
this extended period, got used to the driveline’s quirks and deficiencies - and
found many could be ‘driven around’. Whether the driver should be required to
compensate for the car’s shortcomings is another question...
Inside the car you’ll find a comfortable – but not
roomy – place. Unlike some cars of the Lancer’s size that have lots of space,
the Lancer is more of a two-adults-plus-two-children car. The boot opening is
small and the boot floor just thin pressed wood that looks like it would be
easily damaged in routine use. It covers a spacesaver spare.
Unusually, we found it hard to get comfortable
behind the steering wheel. The seats are good – the culprits were the lack of
reach-adjustment of the leather steering wheel and the way the driver’s seat
height adjustment lifts only the rear of the seat.
No less than seven airbags are fitted.
The doors shut with an awful hollow clang and the
glovebox and centre console box are not air-conditioned. The radio uses an LED
display that is impossible to see in some sunlight conditions (what’s wrong with
LCD digits?) and fuel and coolant gauges are available only as selectable
displays on the LCD in the centre of the instrument panel.
Fuel economy is poor. We recorded an absolute best
of 9 litres/100km on the open road, and in city conditions typically got 13
litres/100km. (At the same time as having the Lancer we had a Commodore V6
Sportwagon. The cars were driven in the same conditions – and the Commodore
returned clearly better fuel economy. An apples and oranges comparison, but
interesting none the less!)
The Lancer Ralliart is like two different cars.
One is a car with enormous competence in its
steering, ride and handling – amazingly good at this price. It’s also
surprisingly comfortable and practical. In fact, in its sheer unfussed
brilliance, it reminds us of a late model Porsche.
But the other car features an engine that can be
quite coarse (eg on cold start), has a poorly matched turbo and uses an auto
trans that needs far more development. A bit like a mid-Nineties turbo
After three weeks with the car, for us ‘Porsche’
convincingly won out over ‘mid-Nineties Subaru’. But the Lancer Ralliart remains
a car that could be so much better...
The Lancer Ralliart was provided for this story by