Blending performance with utility is a lofty goal -- a goal that Mitsubishi hopes to achieve with its all-new 2010 Lancer Sportback Ralliart. By borrowing heavily from the Lancer Ralliart sedan, Mitsubishi looks to have satisfied the performance side of the equation. In terms of utility, the Sportback model gets a sloping rear hatch to replace the sedan's short and boxy rear end. Mission accomplished, right?
Not so fast. On paper, the 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback gains an additional 40 percent of trunk space over the sedan, but much of that space is cannibalized by the aggressively raked hatch. In reality, filling this space with cargo effectively eliminates rearward visibility, and its tapered geometry prevents the hatch from closing over bulkier items. However, reaping the Sportback's rewards is as easy as folding the rear seats. The absence of the sedan's rear package shelf allows for a large, uninterrupted cargo space that bests the Sportback's closest competitors.
Despite this, comparing the 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart against the competition reveals some shortcomings that outweigh its cargo advantages. The Subaru Impreza WRX and Mazdaspeed 3 both offer more luggage space behind the rear seats and similar or better performance -- all at a lower price. However, the Sportback Ralliart manages to remain competitive with its aggressive exterior styling and multitalented dual-clutch automated manual transmission.
Pop the hood of the 2010 Lancer Sportback Ralliart and you'll find a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder that produces 237 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque -- basically a detuned version of the higher-performance turbo engine in the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. The real star of the show, however, is the standard six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, which is also borrowed from the Evo. With the tranny's ability to function in full-automatic mode, heavy traffic becomes much more tolerable. And when you're carving up more entertaining roads, the quick paddle-shifted gearchanges imbue the Ralliart with a flexibility not found in any other car in this class.
Still, the Sportback Ralliart doesn't exactly rocket off the line under hard acceleration; the electronic nannies keep things civil in order to prolong the driveline's life. Stomping on the throttle results in a rather pregnant pause, followed by a brief, slow crawl. About a second after throttle application, the initial crawl becomes a rush of acceleration. For the uninitiated, this pause can be disconcerting, but after enough time behind the wheel of the Lancer, the delay in power can be anticipated.
In testing, our 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback reached 60 mph from a standstill in 6.1 seconds, which is in line with the Mazdaspeed 3 but a full second slower than the WRX's time. Fuel economy is nearly a dead heat with the rest of the group, with the Ralliart making an EPA-estimated 17/25 mpg in city/highway driving. We were only able to achieve 16.8 mpg in a mix of city and highway miles -- no doubt due to the car's sporty leanings and our penchant for aggressive driving.
When driven aggressively, the Sportback Ralliart feels planted and solid through winding back-country roads, providing a decent amount of entertainment for more spirited drivers. Steering is on the light side, with plenty of feedback to the driver's hands, while the brake pedal has a solid and confident feel. However, the car's perceived abilities are not in tune with its actual performance capabilities. The tires seem to be one of the weakest links for handling, as they howl loudly in protest. Our test-driver also pointed out that the stability control steps in rather early -- an indication of the Ralliart's low handling limits.
The 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart suffers the same fate as its Lancer siblings in terms of comfort. The lack of a center armrest, a telescoping steering wheel and seat height adjustment often made for an awkward driving position. Pilots of average height or taller may feel either too close or too far from the wheel or pedals, and finding a happy medium proved futile for some. Based on previous experiences, we found that the optional Recaro seats (they weren't fitted to this test car) may alleviate some of these issues.
Rear-seat passengers may also find comfort lacking. Legroom is decent, but the low seat height will force knees upward for all but the smallest occupants. Headroom is also limited for the average adult, and the raised center seat will further exacerbate this problem for the unlucky fifth occupant.
One side effect of the Ralliart's solid cornering feel is a stiffer ride. Potholes can be jarring, and on heavily traveled highways, even a slight washboard surface can quickly become intolerable. Road noise is also quite prominent as well, filling the cabin with a constant low rumbling.
It's a shame that the driver's seating position is so out of sorts, especially considering the Sportback's otherwise decent ergonomics. The audio and climate controls are simple and easy to operate without requiring you to take your eyes off the road. The redundant audio controls on the steering wheel, along with the Bluetooth and cruise control buttons, further simplify operation. We're especially fond of the placement of the paddle shifters on the steering column -- right side for upshifts, left side for downshifts, just the way we like them.
Despite the rather thick rear roof pillars, outward visibility is adequate, with the sloping rear window giving the driver a good idea where the corners are when backing up. The gauges are legible, as is the audio readout, even in harsh sunlight. Interior storage comes up a bit short, though, with only a few small storage bins and shallow cupholders with rather flimsy coverings.
Trunk space is likewise disappointing, though it is better than the sedan's. A golf bag requires some jostling to fit into the trunk -- a feat that would be rendered impossible if the massive optional subwoofer were present. Compared to the Subaru WRX and Mazdaspeed 3, the Sportback holds significantly less behind the rear seats -- 13.8 cubic feet to the WRX's 19 cubes and the Mazda's 16.5.
Folding the 60/40-split rear seats allows for bulkier items, and in this configuration the Sportback can hold up to 47 cubic feet -- beating the competitors by a few cubes. In reality, though, the sloping rear hatch effectively negates that advantage in regard to usable space. With one or more of the rear-seat sections in place, a rear-facing child seat can just barely be accommodated with the front seats adjusted for a medium-size adult.
Those with more than a passing interest in car audio systems will probably want to spring for the upgraded Rockford Fosgate system, since the stock unit in our test car was merely passable. We were even less impressed with the lack of iPod integration -- the system has auxiliary input, but requires an adapter for the RCA jacks instead of a standard headphone socket.
Design/Fit and Finish
From aft angles, the 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart resembles a lowered Lexus RX crossover SUV, with its angled rear hatch and high-mounted spoiler. The Sportback's aggressive nose is nearly identical to that of the evocative Evolution model, with sharp lines and headlights that seem to frown disapprovingly at cars it is forced to follow. Style is subjective, but some of our editors prefer the wedgelike tail over the abrupt, squared-off look of the sedan. To Mitsubishi's credit, the Sportback looks as if it was designed as a hatchback from the beginning, rather than as an afterthought.
The interior at first sight appears to be well crafted, evoking a rather austere design motif. Upon closer inspection, though, the cabin is rife with hard plastic surfaces. These coverings are well-textured to give the impression of softer materials, and the tight fitment keeps squeaks and rattles silent. The otherwise dark and featureless cabin is livened up with a few simulated chrome and aluminum trim pieces.
Who should consider this vehicle
Drivers who aspire to a more sporting ride but need the convenience of a hatchback may gravitate toward the 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart. Those in areas prone to inclement weather will find the advanced all-wheel-drive system up to the task, but the Subaru WRX is a more capable choice on slick roads or on dry entertaining curves.
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