What's New for 2010
The Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback makes its debut for 2010 as essentially a hatchback version of the Lancer offered in only the two upper trims -- the sporty GTS and the rapid Ralliart.
Until now, some of the current-generation Mitsubishi Lancer's competitors offered four-door hatchback body styles while the Lancer didn't. With the 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback, the "triple diamond" carmaker changes all that. Yes, Sportback is just marketing speak for hatchback, a word that Americans stuck in the '80s tend to unfairly equate with functional but dull economy cars. But the reality is that the new Sportback is anything but boring, as it is offered only in the Lancer's uppermost trim levels -- the entertaining GTS and the even more capable Ralliart.
The Lancer Sportback GTS has an appealing mix of performance and value thanks to a smooth and energetic 2.4-liter inline-4, a sport-tuned suspension and welcome standard features such as Bluetooth and automatic climate control. The Lancer Sportback Ralliart takes it to the next level with 237 turbocharged horsepower, an automated dual-clutch manual transmission, all-wheel drive and an even more aggressively tuned suspension. In most respects, the Sportback mirrors the personalities of its sedan counterparts, meaning it provides communicative steering and a composed cornering attitude but suffers a bit in terms of interior quality. Of course, utility is the Sportback's calling card relative to its sedan siblings, as it offers up to a healthy 52.7 cubic feet of maximum cargo space.
This dynamic duo of Lancer Sportbacks is challenged mainly by the Mazda 3 and Subaru Impreza hatches and their related high-performance variants. In our tests of the Ralliart and Impreza WRX, we found the Lancer to be sharper and more in tune with the driver's will, while the WRX offered a softer ride over the bumps. The new Mazdaspeed 3 boasts extraordinarily athletic handling along with a compliant ride, a nicely trimmed cabin and a price tag that's thousands less than the other two, and even the base Mazda 3 hatch is a thoroughly entertaining ride. All of these models are worth a look, but overall we think pretty highly of the new Sportback and its endearing collection of virtues.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback is a compact four-door hatchback available in GTS and Ralliart trim levels.
The GTS comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, lower body skirting, a roof spoiler, a chrome exhaust outlet, a tilt-only steering wheel, keyless entry, full power accessories, automatic climate control, a trip computer, cruise control, sport bucket front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 60/40-split rear seat with a center armrest, manual driver-seat height adjustment, Bluetooth and a six-speaker CD/MP3 stereo (with steering-wheel audio controls and an auxiliary audio jack). The Ralliart ups the performance ante with a turbocharged engine, an automated dual-clutch manual transmission (with shift paddles), all-wheel drive and keyless ignition/entry.
The Sun & Sound package available on the GTS includes a sunroof, keyless ignition/entry and a nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate sound system with an in-dash six-CD changer and satellite radio. Also optional is a navigation system that features a 30GB hard drive capable of storing digital music files. The Ralliart can be outfitted with a Recaro Sport package that includes the namesake sport seats as well as the Rockford Fosgate audio system.
Powertrains and Performance
The Lancer Sportback GTS has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that cranks out 168 hp and 167 pound-feet of torque. It's paired to either a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The latter includes a manual mode with simulated gear ratios operated via paddle shifters. The Ralliart features a 2.0-liter turbocharged four (237 hp and 253 lb-ft), an automated dual-clutch manual transmission with shift paddles, and all-wheel drive.
Though we haven't yet tested the Sportback versions, we clocked an otherwise identical GTS sedan with a manual transmission at a quick-for-its-class 7.7 seconds in the 0-60 dash, while in the same test a Ralliart sedan turned in a sizzling 5.8-second time.
Fuel economy is subpar for this class. The GTS with the CVT is rated at 21 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined, while the manual version rates 20/27/22. The Ralliart is rated at 17 city/25 highway and 20 combined.
The 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback comes standard with front-seat side airbags, full-length head curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag, antilock four-wheel disc brakes and stability control. In our braking tests, a Lancer GTS sedan stopped from 60 mph in a scant 115 feet; the hatchback's performance should be similar.
In government frontal impact crash testing, the Lancer Sportback received a perfect five-star rating for the driver and a four-star rating for the passenger.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Lancer Sportback's interior is one of its principal weaknesses. Materials quality is on the cheap side, and the dull overall design doesn't live up to the bold statement made by the eye-catching exterior. The driving position for taller folks leaves something to be desired, with no telescoping steering wheel and little under-thigh support.
We also have mixed feelings about the touchscreen navigation system: It's well-equipped in terms of features, but its lack of volume and tuning knobs and not-quite-logical layout make operation tricky at times. Rear seat comfort is very good, though, with an impressive amount of legroom. With the seats up, the Sportback offers 13.8 cubic feet of storage. Maximum cargo capacity is either 47 cubic feet with the Ralliart or 52.7 cubes with the GTS, as the latter features an adjustable rear cargo floor.
The GTS model is an enticing choice for buyers on a budget who are looking for a more spirited driving experience than they'd find in a typical economy car. The 2.4-liter engine has adequate low-end power and a smooth, willing nature. Furthermore, the GTS's sport-tuned suspension provides unusually sharp handling for this class.
The Ralliart is built to thrill with its powerful engine and super-quick gearchanges (whether done via the column-mounted shift paddles or by the transmission itself in automatic mode). Overall, the Ralliart has an energetic, "on its toes" personality that makes for quick passing and merging maneuvers. The only caveat is that the tire fitment for the Ralliart could be better, as we've found that the capable chassis is let down by the tires' substandard grip.