Test Drive: Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart

With a strong emphasis toward the engineering, mechanics and technical features plus little toward styling, the Mitsubishi Lancer may be a classic case of left brain dominance.

The engineering bias is reinforced further by company?s own press releases that are sent to auto journalists to make sure we ?see? all the changes they?ve made, even though we can?t actually ?see? most of them.? The only reference to styling in the Mitsubishi press release for the 2011 Lancer was a three word phase ?polished good looks.?

It?s not that the Lancer is not attractive; it?s just kind of blends in with the crowd with little to set it apart or make people say ?wow,? when looking at it, if they even look at it.? On the other hand, driving a top model of the Lancer lineup, the Ralliart, for a few days can elicit a ?wow? because it is exceptionally fun to drive.

The Lancer is much more than a Mitsubishi model, it makes up an entire family of cars with two body styles (sedan and five-door hatchback), three distinctive models (Lancer, Sportback and Evolution) and six trim levels. ?Lancer pricing has a broad range, too with the DE sedan starting $15,970 and the Evolution MR at $37,955.? Of course, those two models are about a far apart as you can get with the DE as a basic entry level sedan and the Evolution (EVO) MR being a legendary performance car.

We recently spent a week driving in the Lancer Ralliart with the Touring Package.? This is the top model in the Lancer range and boasts a turbocharged engine, all-wheel drive, leather seating, premium Rockford-Fosgate audio system and Mitsubishi?s impressive Sportmatic? transmission.? Bottom line on the test car totaled $31,505, so it was far from the entry-level DE, but definitely a ?Wow!? car.

Lower level models are powered by a pair of naturally aspired four-cylinder engines rated at 148- and 168-hp, while the Ralliart gets a 237-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine.? Rather than a five-speed manual or the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) the Ralliart gets the dual clutch Sportmatic, which is one of the fastest shifting automatics we?ve driven.? Pull the right steering column-mounted shift paddle and the transmission shifts quicker than most drivers even dream of shifting.? Pull the left shift paddle and the engine ?blips? matching the transmission speed for a super smooth downshift.

This much power in a front-wheel drive car would make traction and handling difficult, so the Ralliart is equipped with one of the best full-time all-wheel drive systems available. The system includes an Active Center Differential, which allows the driver to set the traction level for various road surfaces, along with front and rear limited-slip differentials.

The powertrain combination produces a very impressive 0 to 60 mph time of 5.4 seconds, with a top track speed limited to 130 mph. ?Fuel economy is more in line with a performance car than the fuel-thrifty entry level Lancers that boast numbers as good as 24 mpg city and 33 mpg highway.? The Ralliart is rated at 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.? We actually averaged 23.7 mpg during a week behind the wheel.

The Ralliart with Touring Package trim level does not skimp on features.? It has a full range of safety equipment, HID headlights, heated front seats, rain sensing wipers, 18-inch allow wheels in addition to the features mentioned earlier plus a long list of other comfort and convenience items.

As a performance model the Ralliart ride is not gentle but is bearable as a daily driver.? It is however, much more forgiving than the super performance Evolution models. The car handles beautifully.? Running through the windy mountain roads near our home, the Ralliart inspires total confidence even when being pushed hard through sweeping curves and hairpin corners.? The brakes are solid and quick and the steering is precise. ?In essence, the Ralliart is a car that is nearly as much fun to drive fast as is its big brother the EVO but with more manners.

The Ralliart is an excellent example of Mitsubishi?s left brain car building attitude.

Bill & Barbara Schaffer