Given Mitsubishi's perennial competition with Subaru, the new Lancer Sportback was inevitable. When Subaru updated its Impreza in 2008, the basis for the WRX STI, it included hatchback and four-door versions of the car. Mitsubishi updated its Lancer, the basis for the Evo and Ralliart, on a similar timeline, but only offered a four-door sedan. The 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart fills in the space between roof and trunk lid of the original Lancer body with a hatchback. Otherwise, the car is identical to the standard Lancer Ralliart.
The Sportback invites controversy, as it looks underdesigned. The side windows look unchanged from the sedan, while the C-pillar is merely widened to fill space and hold up the rear hatch. But it also offers the functionality of a hatchback, with easy access to the cargo area from rear seats or hatch.
Looks aside, any sport driving enthusiast will find much to love about the car's running gear, with the Ralliart's standard double-clutch transmission, called SST by Mitsubishi, and the 2-liter four-cylinder engine topped by a turbocharger big enough to give it 237 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque.
Not surprisingly, that much turbocharging leads to excessive turbo lag. From a standing start, the car makes an initially weak effort at full throttle, edging forward for half a second or more until the turbo spools up, giving the car a mid-launch pulse of acceleration that can take you by surprise if you aren't ready for it.
But drag-racing aside, the transmission's automatic sport setting takes turbo lag out of the equation by keeping engine speed up around 3,000 rpm. With the car in this mode, drop your speed before a corner and the transmission downshifts quickly, letting you hit the gas and get full turbo thrust.
You can get similar performance using the transmission's manual mode, flipping the column-attached paddles to move sequentially through the gears, experiencing shifts faster and harder than any torque converter-based transmission. The transmission's automatic normal mode short shifts, going for fuel economy over power.
The Lancer Sportback benefits from its all-wheel-drive in the corners, which is not as sophisticated as that found in the Lancer Evo, but is still very advanced. We appreciated the grip afforded on rain-slick roads, as the car began to slide a little in a turn, but got right back in line with a little pressure on the gas pedal.
The all-wheel-drive system uses differentials on both axles and in the center of the car, allowing a wide range of torque distribution to get power to the wheels that need it most. And in its rally-bred style, all-wheel-drive can be set for asphalt, gravel, or snow, limiting the amount of wheel slip allowed as you get onto more difficult surfaces.
Although the all-wheel-drive and transmission are two stand-out performance features on the Lancer Sportback, the car is let down by its brakes and suspension. The brakes are similar to what you will find on the standard Lancer economy car, not providing the stopping power or the modulation capabilities for barreling toward a turn.
And while the suspension uses stabilizer bars to help the car maintain composure when the laws of physics tell it to go tumbling off the road, it doesn't have the precise feel of that in the Evo, or even the Mazdaspeed3. Instead, the suspension feels heavy, and the car reacts similar to many midsize commuter cars to hard cornering.
To earn its Ralliart badge, Mitsubishi also built some stiffness into this suspension, making it a little rough for the daily commute. Our car came equipped with the Recaro seat package, adding serious sport seats with high side bolsters running all the way up to the headrests. While doing an excellent job of keeping butts in seats when the car is slewing sideways, dragging yourself over the bolsters every day will start to feel like an unreasonable burden.