First Drive Review: 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart
By Mike Monticello of Road & Track
Malibu, California — After our first look at the Lancer Ralliart, it seemed Mitsubishi's latest entry into the sport-compact market would be just a slightly milder version of the Lancer Evolution X, in the interest of hitting a lower price point. But at a recent press event, company officials were quick to point out the Ralliart has a lot more in common with the lower-level Lancer GTS than it does the mighty Evo: "Think of the Ralliart as an uprated Lancer, not a detuned Evo," they told us.
Still, the Lancer Ralliart shares the 4B11 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder with the Evolution. In Ralliart form it uses a smaller turbo (a single-scroll vs. a twin-scroll for the Evo), a smaller intercooler and a different intake system, though its twin-outlet exhaust system is identical to the Evo's. So instead of 291 bhp and 300 lb.-ft. of torque, the Ralliart makes 237 bhp at 6000 rpm and 253 lb.-ft. of torque from 2500-4750 rpm. Which means that while the Ralliart definitely has some giddyup, don't be expecting to yell "yee-hah!" on acceleration as you would in an Evo.
The two engines are both on the noisy side, especially during hard acceleration, but the Ralliart has less turbo lag — the power comes on sooner, evidenced by its peak torque arriving at 2500 rpm versus the Evo's 4400, but the Ralliart never blows you away with the incredible top-end turbo rush the Evo is famous for.
Clearly one-upping arch-rival Subaru and its WRX, the Ralliart will come only with Mitsubishi's quick-shifting 6-speed paddle-shift Twin Clutch-SST (or Sportronic Shift Transmission) gearbox, which also comes on the Evo MR. The Ralliart's version has its own specifically calibrated algorithms. It works great when you're driving hard, but can be a bit abrupt in stop-and-go traffic, even in full auto mode. As for a true manual, Mitsubishi says there won't be one...for now.
Huge differences between the Evo and Ralliart are apparent in the suspension systems. To start, the Evo has a wider track than the Ralliart, while the geometry of the Ralliart's front MacPherson strut setup and multilink rear are shared with the basic Lancer. It also uses steel stampings, versus the Evo's forged aluminum pieces; shock and spring rates are Ralliart-specific — stiffer than the Lancer, softer than the Evo.
Hop into a Ralliart after getting out of an Evo and you'll notice dramatic differences. Where the Evo feels utterly stiff and has grip galore, the Ralliart's narrower and far less grippy tires (Yokohama Advan A10s), softer suspension and looser steering mean it will start sliding around a lot sooner. Now don't get us wrong — the Ralliart is lots of fun, and very controllable. Turn the stability system off, get aggressive and you can rotate the rear — but it just doesn't have the pure poise at the limit the Evo possesses, and it all starts happening at a much lower speed. The upside? The cushier ride is easier on your backside.
While the Ralliart has all-wheel drive like the Evo, the system itself is from the Evo IX, so it won't come with the Active Yaw Control (AYC) system that blew us away on the Evo X. Brakes are virtually identical to those on the Lancer, the only change being that the Ralliart's front calipers are two-piston versus the Lancer's single-piston units — clearly showing Mitsubishi's intent for the Ralliart: street, not track.
So is the Lancer Ralliart an Evo junior, or a pumped-up Lancer? While the engine has the same raspy idle as the Evo, and the SST gearbox is terrific, it feels like a Lancer with some cool parts on it. Mitsubishi has yet to set pricing, but our semi-educated guess places the Ralliart between $27,000-$28,000 when it goes on sale this September.