Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor
When you line up the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart next to its street-bred competitors, it might seem slow and expensive. But that's how a bean counter would make his purchase decision. A guy like that draws a line (with a straightedge) down the center of a sheet of graph paper to put pluses on one side and minuses on the other. He'd never be able to get his pointy head around the visceral experience the rally-inspired Ralliart supplies. But he might just have another point to make here.
As they now exist, a front-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Lancer GTS with its naturally aspirated 168-horsepower engine is priced at $18,665, while the twin-scroll turbocharged 291-hp all-wheel-drive Evolution GSR starts at $33,665. If we were to follow the accountant's rigid method of finding the average of these two cars, it'd be a three-wheel-drive Lancer with a single-scroll turbo making 229 hp and costing $26,165. And if we would add the $1,500 price of the Evo MR's state-of-the-art dual-clutch six-speed transmission with its shift paddles on the steering wheel, our dream car's price would rise to $27,665.
And wouldn't you know it? That's almost exactly the price of the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart. As a bonus, it has four-wheel drive (not three) and 237 hp at no extra cost.
Driving the Tires Off No, really. If you buy a 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, the first thing you must do is put your narrow, heavy 18-by-7-inch GTS wheels and 215/45R18 Yokohama Advan A10 summer tires on eBay so you can offset the cost of buying a new set of rolling stock all around. Speaking of offset, we're not sure if the Ralliart's 0.6-inch-narrower track and less-blistered steel fenders will accept the 18-by-8.5-inch Enkei or BBS wheels and 245/40R18 tires, but it's worth looking into.
At the test track we measured the all-wheel-drive Ralliart's maximum stick to be 0.81g on the skid pad. The last front-wheel-drive Lancer GTS we tested managed to grip better with 0.86g, and that was with all-season tires. The performance of the Ralliart also trailed in the slalom test with a 65.0-mph best to the GTS's 65.5 mph. The Evo GSR posted 0.99g and a blistering 70.7-mph run through the cones. It doesn't add up to an impressive performance by the Ralliart.
The story doesn't get much better in the braking test, either. The Ralliart, with its two-piston front calipers borrowed from the Outlander SUV, covered 128 feet stopping from 60 mph, whereas the GTS only required 118 feet. The Evo? 112 feet. Tires make a difference, don't they?
Lazy Launch On the drag strip, the Ralliart's transmission programming didn't do it any favors either. If you simply whack the throttle to the floor from a standstill, the tach slowly ramps up to about 3,500 rpm, and the clutch gently releases the car. Smooth, yes. Fast, not so much. As a result, 60 mph arrives in about 6.6 seconds (6.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip).
Of course, there are a couple tenths to be found if you don't mind burning the clutch down by simultaneously standing on both the throttle and the brakes before leaving the line, but we'd hate to be the next in line to drive a car so grossly and childishly abused.
The twin-clutch transmission clicks off upshifts measured in milliseconds, so by the end of the quarter-mile, the Ralliart is really feeling its oats with a 14.8-second run at 94.6 mph. Power delivery is surprisingly solid throughout the rev range because the torque curve is so broad and flat, delivering nearly the maximum 253 pound-feet from about 2,500 rpm all the way to 4,500 rpm. In truth, the Lancer Ralliart feels much faster than its time slip suggests.
By the way, we don't apply atmospheric corrections to acceleration numbers of turbocharged vehicles. Unlike naturally aspirated engines, modern turbo engines make their own atmosphere, so applying a weather correction to them is double-dipping and you get a bogus acceleration time.
In the end, there are three things working against the Ralliart at the test track: weight, electronics programming and those tires. Our Ralliart weighs 3,512 pounds (386 pounds more than the GTS thanks to its turbo engine, AWD system and dual-clutch transmission), and 60 percent of that rests on the front wheels. Without the Evo's super-grippy tires, better brakes and electronic yaw controller to make this car dance, it just isn't capable of making headlines with instrumented testing.
Yes, But... OK, so the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart is looking pretty sad for Evo Junior. But you should consider that this car is tuned for hard driving in the real world, not on a skid pad or drag strip. Do like we did and take Mitsu's 'tweener to a dirt portion of Mulholland Drive or to our favorite, Glendora Mountain Road (a.k.a. GMR), and this car starts to come together as if it deserves its Ralliart badges.
No, this car's bodywork and suspension hardware hasn't been manufactured from aluminum (like the Evo), but the Ralliart's vented hood is. The Ralliart's Twin-Clutch Sequential Sportshift Transmission (TC-SST) doesn't have the Evo MR's launch- or S-Sport mode, but 5th and 6th gears are both overdrive ratios, lending the Ralliart better-than-Evo fuel economy. There's no Active Yaw Control (AYC) in the complement of the Ralliart's AWD hardware, but the three-mode center differential and front/rear mechanical limited-slip diffs are.
So, put the transmission in Sport Drive mode and it'll run a real-time tutorial on how and when to shift gears. While you're standing on the brakes and entering a tight corner, the transmission rips off one, sometimes two perfectly rev-matched and timed downshifts, making you feel like a pro.
Sure, the Ralliart sheepishly understeers into corners, but man, does it exit like a lion. There's no question the active center differential plus front and rear limited-slip diffs are sorting out the best way to put the power down. Switch off the standard stability control and the Ralliart provides as much breathtaking oversteer in high-speed esses as you dare attempt. That's something the GTS will never do.
Despite the lackluster stopping distances at the test track, the Ralliart's pedal feedback, ability to modulate minute pressures and unfaltering fade-free brakes are fantastic out here. Perhaps a little less rearward bias would keep the car better settled while dabbing the brakes midcorner, though.
Finally, the Ralliart's 237 hp might be 54 horses shy of an Evo motor's output, but for most people looking for a thrill, it's plenty. Accelerating to freeway speeds, passing slower cars at freeway speeds and attacking GMR are all done with ease and delight. And those two overdrive gears really work. Even with all the aggressive driving we did, we managed to earn 18 mpg over our loan period, and regularly observed more than 26 mpg while cruising at 75 mph on the freeway.
Welcome to the Real World
Pricing hasn't been announced for the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, but we're going to bet we're darned close with our estimate of about $27,665, and you should figure an added $1,750 for our car's optional Recaro Sport Package (highly recommended) which mirrors exactly Mitsu's Sun and Sound Package but substitutes race-ready front seats for the moonroof. Grand total: $29,415 — and we've been given not-so-subtle confirmation that this is a very, very good guess for the car you see here.
So is the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart slow and overpriced? No. OK, a little. It's not a drag racing car; it's an all-wheel-drive rally car like the Evolution GSR and MR, but with a great big discount. Mitsubishi did a very good job of selectively raiding the parts bin of each of these dedicated sports cars to deliver enough performance to earn its Ralliart designation.
Does Subaru have reason to worry? You bet it does, especially since it decided to make the 2008 Impreza WRX Sedan appeal to a wider cross-section of buyers. The Lancer Ralliart now stands alone as the low-cost entry-level rally car. The mild-mannered Ralliart will take you more than halfway to Evoland for $6,000-$11,000 less than a GSR or MR.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot says: Mitsubishi's twin-clutch SST transmission is a revelation. It is the perfect solution for those seeking the best of both worlds — a car with equal parts traffic-slogging and mountain-road abilities. This gearbox can transform the Ralliart from a darned serious driving tool to something the wife won't be frustrated to use for the daily commute. And the SST box comes as standard equipment. Standard equipment!
Then there are the Ralliart's three limited-slip differentials, which ensure power goes to the ground more effectively than in any other car at this price point. The electronically controlled center differential even offers the same three modes (Tarmac, Gravel and Snow) as the Lancer Evolution.
This is a lot of car for less than $30 grand, no question. If there's a problem here, it's that $30 grand is a little pricey to play in the heat of the sport compact segment. Both the Mazdaspeed 3 and the Chevy Cobalt SS offer 23 and 26 more horsepower for between $5 and $6 grand less green. But neither of those machines will launch out of slow-speed corners with the same authority as the Ralliart. Nor can they match the Mitsu's all-weather abilities.
In fact, the Ralliart's most obvious competitor, the Subaru WRX, can't match its value when it comes to go-fast goods or the performance they produce. And it costs just as much or more.
If the choice were mine, I'd buy the Ralliart and spend another grand on sticky tires that will raise its limits dangerously close to Evo levels — territory the WRX, Cobalt SS and Mazdaspeed 3 can't hope to match. And my wife would still be happy in traffic.
How does it sound: B+ Like other optional Mitsu audio systems, the one found in the new Ralliart delivers plenty of punch, yet maintains a clean, clear sound at the same time. At full volume, the system doesn't get rock-concert loud; this may be a conscious choice on the part of Rockford engineers, as more volume could mean unwanted distortion. As it is, there's very little audible distortion.
Bass is deep, sharp and uncluttered thanks to a 10-inch, trunk-mounted subwoofer. The only real criticism we can level at this optional Ralliart stereo is that the sound quality in general tends toward too bright, which can occasionally feel intense. It's slight, yet can be noticeable when listening to rock or country music. Otherwise there's just plenty of clean, clear sound that reproduces highs, mids and lows very well and with great separation. Crossover for lows is nearly perfect. Also, there are various DSP settings like "Live" and "Stage," but the system sounds best with everything in the "Normal" setting.
How does it work: B- There's nothing really special about the head unit or the way it works; it's just very straightforward and simple. We miss the Chrysler-style steering wheel controls for the audio system — placed on the back side of the steering wheel, they seem a perfect ergonomic fit for a car that's as engaging as the Lancer Ralliart. Still, there's nothing glaringly wrong with the current setup.
A larger volume knob would be a nice addition. As it is, the knob feels too small and doesn't protrude far enough from the dash. You have to use your thumb and index finger to adjust the volume — a rather dainty process with the small-diameter knob, and we don't like feeling dainty, much less using the word in public.
Special features: Sirius Satellite Radio is available as an option, and Mitsubishi gives you six months free. Also, Bluetooth is standard on the Ralliart.
Conclusion: Like every other Mitsubishi/Rockford audio system, this one is impressive on many fronts. Mitsubishi obviously knows Lancer Ralliart customers care, so it has given the car excellent sound at a reasonable price. — Brian Moody, Road Test Editor
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