In our opinion, the most fun you can have in a car is driving a twisty mountain road, negotiating hairpin turns as fast as possible without overshooting and taking a tumble down a 100 foot cliff. Big dogs like the Cadillac CTS-V and the Audi S8 are no good for this kind of work, where all that power just goes to waste. No, in this territory the small, rally-bred 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart shines.
Similar to its more sophisticated big brother, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR, the Lancer Ralliart squeezes power out of a 2-liter four-cylinder engine through the use of a turbocharger and variable valve timing, then puts it to the wheels that need it most with its advanced all-wheel-drive system. The result is some of the most impressive cornering performance on the most difficult roads we've found.
Based on Mitsubishi's humble Lancer platform, the Lancer Ralliart adds a turbo, all-wheel-drive, and, best of all, the Sport Shift Transmission, a twin clutch automated manual, also found in the new Evo MR. Unlike the Evo MR's 291 horsepower, the Lancer Ralliart's engine only makes 237 horsepower. Torque numbers are 300 foot-pounds for the Evo MR, and 253 foot-pounds for the Lancer Ralliart. And the Lancer Ralliart's all-wheel-drive system comes from the previous generation Evo, so it lacks advanced features such as active yaw control. That reduction in performance tech also equals about a $10,000 reduction in price.
Our Lancer Ralliart featured the same fighter jet grille and hood vents as the Evo, along with the mundane, economy car profile, only broken up by a spoiler attached to the trunk lid. Unlike the Evo, or a base Lancer, Mitsubishi's colorful Ralliart badges bedeck the grille and trunk. The Lancer Ralliart's seats may not have had the bolstering of the Recaro seats found in the Evo, but they were more comfortable, and easily adjusted for a comfortable seating position. The dashboard and console show a lot of plastic, in line with the base Lancer's economy appointments.
Unsatisfying urban character
Once in the driver seat, we immediately headed for roads that would challenge the car, where we could push it through twists and turns to see how well it holds the road. But getting there entailed a drive through city traffic, where the Lancer Ralliart really isn't in its element. Turbo lag is definitely present, although predictable. We hit the gas and the car started to creep forward before it suddenly picked up speed when the turbo kicked in. The car bucked with each gear change when we were stuck in very slow moving traffic.
In standard drive mode, the SST keeps the engine running around 2,500rpm, but a switch near the shifter puts the transmission into sport mode, raising the engine speed and generally combating turbo lag. Don't let the lack of a clutch pedal fool you--the SST shifts like a manual transmission. Rather than the slushy feeling from a torque converter, the SST has two clutches controlled by computer. Each shift has a satisfyingly hard feeling of a gear being engaged. The transmission can also be shifted manually with column-mounted paddles, not as convenient during traffic driving but making it easier to control the revs.
We quickly forget the dissatisfying experience of city driving as the Lancer Ralliart took an on-ramp to the freeway. Slamming the gas pedal with the SST in sport mode, the tachometer pushed the redline, the needle only dropping briefly at each upshift. Acceleration felt very fast, and other publications have achieved a respectable 5.5 seconds to 60 mph. This sort of work is part of the Lancer Ralliart's raison d'etre, and it shows it by losing most of that uncomfortable character we found on the congested streets of the city.
At freeway speeds its fuel economy also started to climb, eventually balancing out the wasteful city driving for an average of 21.8 mpg. The EPA rates the Lancer Ralliart at 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, numbers we found realistic even with a good dose of sport driving thrown into the mix.