Thursday, June 10, 2010

Review: 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart—A practical rally car for the streets

2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart - Subcompact CultureNestled between the standard Lancer and the fire-breathing Lancer Evolution is the Lancer Ralliart. New for 2010 is the Sportback—a versatile cargo-carrying hatchback bodystyle. With many of the accoutrements of a sportscar, the Ralliart Sportback variant is a nice combination of performance and practicality. Plus, with its all-wheel drive system, drivers can use the Lancer Ralliart’s athleticism to its fullest in all four seasons.
Pros: Outstanding performance; good practicality; unique but attractive looks; Recaro seats.
Cons: Some chintzy interior bits; thirsty engine; getting in and out of Recaro seat can be difficult
Overall: A rally car for the streets that can not only haul ass, but hauls groceries and cargo, too.

EXTERIOR STYLING: Handsome raciness meets practicality
Even before the Sportback came out, I thought the Lancer was one of the more attractive compact cars on the market. The Sportback maintains its good looks, but adds an interesting twist with its rear end styling. Up front, you get that distinctive shark-like front end, and an attention grabbing hood with a functional hood scoop, which directs air onto the turbocharger. You can also see the intercooler in the lower grille. I like. The Sportback also has great looking 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in high-performance ADVAN tires. Its stance is aggressive, too. I can’t tell you how many under 30-somethings males ogled this car.

INTERIOR: Part race car, part economy car
The interior of this car works well and yet, has a bit of a multi-personality disorder. There’s no denying the practicality: Good cargo capacity thanks to a hatchback configuration. Fold the spacious rear seats down and you’ve got scads of storage. The optional Recaro front seats are a boy-racer’s dream. You sit very low and are hugged by the giant side bolsters. The seats put you in what feels like a race-ready position. However, several people complained about entry/exit with the Recaros, which are much better suited to young, agile bodies than those in their 60s, such as my parents. Plus, due to the maneuvers required to get into the seats, I can see the side bolsters wearing quickly. But, consider me a boy racer: I love ‘em.

Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart - Subcompact CultureBut there’s more to this interior, and not in a good way. There’s a lot of cheap feeling items. The vinyl-covered visors look and feel like they came out of a 1989 Mitsubishi Mirage. The climate control system, while easy to use, feels cheap. The radio is very simple—almost too simple—with Bluetooth, satellite radio, regular radio, and CD controls, this system needed more buttons. The interior design is good, practical, and functional. However, it’s a bit chintzy. But those Recaros—oh yes.

TECHNOLOGY: Techy drivetrain; amazingly loud stereo
The Lancer Sportback Ralliart features many of the amenities buyers will want inside the vehicle from a tech standpoint: Bluetooth, available satellite radio, automatic climate control, and CD/MP3 player with auxiliary input. Speaking of aux input, the Lancer Sportback Ralliart was the only car I’ve been in that uses RCA inputs (like the ones on the back of a TV) vs. a standard 1/8” input, like on an iPod. My car was equipped with the optional 710 watt Rockford-Fosgate stereo, which includes a 10” subwoofer. What a stereo! Possibly the loudest factory system I’ve ever heard, and it sounded awesome.

The Lancer Sportback Ralliart is also packed with drivetrain technology. You get limited-slip front and rear differentials (helical and mechanical, respectively); full-time all-wheel drive; front and rear stabilizer bars, fully independent suspension; selectable All Wheel Control (tarmac, gravel, or snow); and of course the turbocharged, intercooled engine. This is essentially a practical rally car for the streets—and this isn’t even the higher-end Evolution model!

ENGINE/DRIVETRAIN Power and sophistication
There’s no doubt about it: The 2.0-liter turbocharged/intercooled MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve-timing Electronic Control) engine is a screamer. It’s smooth, not the quietest, but racy for sure.

This was my first experience spending time with a twin-clutch geartrain. It’s a unique experience. You can place the car in full automatic mode and simply aim and drive the car. You can also put it into the manual mode and change gears with the shifter, or tap the magnesium paddles located on the steering wheel. This is not an automatic transmission you shift manually: This is a Twin-Clutch SST setup (simply put, it’s like two manual transmissions put together in one gearbox that is shifted electronically).

There are two modes to choose from in full automatic mode: regular and sport. The sport holds gears in corners, and downshifts for you. However, even in regular mode, it held gears a bit too long for my taste. I couldn’t help but think if fuel economy is suffering because of this. In manual ”sport shift” mode, however, shifts are quick, revs are matched, and it makes driving fast very easy. During hard acceleration, the combination of the all-wheel drive system and the twin-clutch transmission would make some noticeable clunking while shifting. It should also be noted that drivers can select from three road conditions using a switch near the shifter: tarmac, gravel, or snow. How “rally car” is that? Overall power delivery is smooth, strong, and downright exciting under full throttle.

DRIVING: Fast, fun, and tightly sprung
Make no mistake about it: This car is fast and fun. And with the limited slip differentials, all-wheel drive, and plenty of power on tap, all this performance can be enjoyed all year round. I’ve seen 0-60 estimates of about 5.5 seconds, which is pretty quick. Off the line, until the car comes into the turbo boost, it does lack a little. But once the boost comes on, hold on! The Sportback Ralliart is also a corner carver. Dare I say unrelenting grip? Plus, the large four-wheel disc brakes are fantastic. This is a very fun, practical car! However, don’t expect to save much gas. Rated at 17 city and 25 highway (and drinking premium fuel), this isn’t the miserly version of the Lancer. I got the advertised 17 MPG during my week-long stay with the car with 50% city driving.

Ride quality and handling are two different things. While this vehicle’s handling is stealer, the ride quality borders on harsh. This car rides extremely stiff and every bump, crack, and imperfection is felt. This is not the car to buy if you’re looking for a smooth ride. However, you are rewarded with outstanding grip, handling, and little body roll.

2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart - Subcompact CultureOVERALL: A practical rally car for the streets
There is a high level of performance with this vehicle. However, if I pay $31,000 for a car, I’d like a bit better visors and switch gear inside; the Lancer's economy car roots did show through here.

With that being said, Mitsubishi’s Lancer Sportback Ralliart is essentially a practical rally car for the streets. With great performance, admirable practicality, and capable all-wheel drive system, this car is both fun and sensible. It’s a head turner, too, especially with the under 30 crowd. If you don’t mind the fuel economy and the somewhat cheap-feeling interior, the Lancer Sportback Ralliart makes a lot of sense for those looking for speed and cargo carrying ability.

Mitsubishi Motors


nlpnt said...

The $19k (w/manual) GTS Sportback is probably a lot more reasonable proposition. But the options add up fast-and inflexibly! Want a sunroof? It's part of the $1900 "Sun and Sound" package with a premium stereo.

Oh-kayyyy.... But, when you select it, the "Touring Package" (leather seats and some other stuff) is added, jumping the total to $23k.
These are the sort of shenanigans Toyota can get away with, but at the level Mitsubishi's playing at, they need to avoid turning customers off at the online-configurator level.

Oh, and a Lancer DE sedan starts at $15k - this is another pet peeve of mine. Offer the hatchback in uplevel trims only, steering value-seekers to sedans only, then drop the hatch at the next redesign because of a "low take rate". Aargh.

Mike said...

Er...I'd go buy another WRX wagon if I had a choice. I dig the Ralliart front end looks but rear end and price ain't looking to good. :D

Anonymous said...

Nice review but the Lancer still is a piece of crap.

$31,000 for this vehicle is ridiculous. Aside from the AWD, why wouldn't you get a Mazdaspeed3 which performs better and is made by a better manufacturer. If you NEED AWD, why not get the WRX which also performs better and is cheaper?

Anonymous said...

As you said, the Mazdaspeed3 isn't AWD and the WRX doesn't come with a quick shift auto. WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) may dictate the need for an auto of some sort. Right now, the Ralliart is the only one that gives the best of both worlds of AWD and an Auto(ish) transmission. The only other AWD's in this price range with autos are the Subaru Legacy which has grown beyond being sporty and comes with an underpowered 4 or a thirsty 6 which costs just as much as the Ralliart and gets the same crappy MPG. Or there's the Suzuki Kizashi which only comes with a CVT in the AWD flavour and boasts a blistering 10+ second 0-60 time (no thanks)