Road Test

2011 Mitsubishi Ralliart blends nice with spice

Evo's little brother clearly shares the same performance gene pool, just doesn't go quite as deep

Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart 2011 front

The Ralliart occupies the middle spot in the Mitsubishi Lancer lineup, between the base ($16,000) Lancer sedan and the testosterone-laden $42,000 EVO. At $31,798 the Ralliart marries the Lancer·s compact family sedan attributes with additional features and some of the go-fast goodies from the EVO.

That middle ground is a pretty decent place to be as the Ralliart has some serious suds but not the pure-performance features of the semi-racer EVO that require some compromises for street use.

All share the same rigid four-door body which is augmented as you move up the price/trim scale with higher levels of trim and features. The base Lancer is a very well-equipped vehicle so each step up the ladder adds frosting to the cake

Standard equipment on the Ralliart includes automatic climate control, power windows, locks and mirrors, heated, six-way adjustable driver·s seat, 18-in alloy wheels, aluminum pedals and wireless connectivity.

The Ralliart and EVO get lots of add-on visual pieces to make their performance character evident. My aptly-named Rally Red test vehicle had a unique grille and bumpers, front air dam, lower side air dam, big rear spoiler and an aluminum hood with three vents · two of which were functional: one to extract hot air from the above the exhaust-driven turbocharger and the other to feed cooler ambient air to the intercooler.

It also boasted a ·sport-tuned· suspension with a brace connecting the front MacPherson strut suspension towers for additional rigidity. On top of this was a $4,200 package that added leather/suede interior, a nine-speaker, 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate audio system, power sunroof, satellite radio, HID headlights, keyless ignition and heavily-bolstered Recaro sport seats.

Those seats provide loads of lateral support but are awfully snug for anyone larger than a size 44 or so. They also do not adjust for height like the standard seats and since the steering wheel is adjustable for height but not reach, the combination deserves trying before buying.

The rear seat has competitive head and legroom for two adults, three in a pinch. The rear seatback is split 60/40 and either or both sides can be folded down to increase the already-impressive trunk space.

The aptly-named spoiler did an excellent job of interfering with rear vision.

The Lancer comes with a class-competitive 148-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels through a choice of five-speed manual or CVT automatic transmission.

The EVO gets a highly-strung, turbocharged, intercooled version of that engine pumping up to 291 horspower to all four wheels through a five-speed manual transmission and very sophisticated all-wheel-drive system.

Sitting nicely in between is the Ralliart with a detuned version of the EVO engine, producing 237-horsepower and a stout 253 lb-ft of torque at only 2500 rpm.

It too is turbocharged and intercooled but the electronics are dialed back and the result is not as intense. Performance is satisfying to say the least, with zero-to- 100 km/h times of just over six seconds and serious amount of punch for passing.

The engine does call for and drinks a fair bit of premium fuel. I averaged 10.3 litres/100 km for 500 km of less-than-calm mixed highway and city driving,

The Ralliart also gets a full-time all-wheel-drive system with an active centre differential and one of the industry·s best automatic transmissions -- Mitsubishi·s six-speed, twin-clutch ·Sporttronic·.

The transmission is a real Jekyll and Hyde affair. One of the growing number of dual-shaft ·manumatic· boxes that selects two gears at once, one engaged and the next pre-selected. When it comes time for a shift, whether dictated by the electronics in automatic mode or console or paddle shifters on the backside of the steering wheel, the first clutch disengages and the other engages.

All this happens incredibly quickly and without the torque converter and related slippage it is more efficient in terms of both performance and fuel economy than a conventional automatic.

Driven aggressively it is remarkable, easily one of the best in the industry for its uncanny ability to be in the right gear · and hold it, instead of shifting at an inopportune time. But driven sedately, in everyday situations the transmission is a bit lethargic and emits the occasional clunk when starting from rest.

The Jekyll and Hyde personality extends to the two drive modes offered for the transmission · normal and sport with a choice of automatic or manual within each. Normal is as the name suggests, with the option of selecting shift points yourself. Place the system in Sport and shift points are heightened and gears held much longer.

A second switch on the centre console allows the driver to tailor how power is apportioned between front and rear axles by choosing tarmac, gravel or sport settings.

The Lancer Ralliart is a surprising blend of nice and spice. It can be an every-day grocery-getter or a back road brawler.

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