Driven: 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart and Evo X MR

By Seyth Miersma

July 09, 2008

We’re just back from a day of participation in what Mitsubishi called its Lancer Family Road Show, where the main event was our debut drive in the new center of the range, the 2009 Lancer Ralliart.

NextAutos readers who haven’t heard the Ralliart name since the variant’s 2004 debut in the U.S. could be forgiven for wondering why any driving enthusiast would get terribly worked up about the mid-range Lancer. But while the last generation car was little more than some suspension tweaks and vaguely sporting set of OZ wheels, the new-for-2009 car does a much better job of splitting the difference between the Lancer GTS sedan and the fire-breathing Evolution X.

For the 2009 model year, Mitsubishi has seen fit to equip the Ralliart with a modestly less powerful version of the Evo’s turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, capable of a more than credible 237 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque. The Ralliart motor is built from the same aluminum block found in the Evo, as well as having the same exhaust system; the lesser power specs come strictly from a the use of a smaller intercooler and a single rather than twin-scroll turbocharger. Those good genes are sure raise some eyebrows in the tuner community, whose craftier members are likely to have a field day with the sturdy powerplant.

The ample shove provided by the Ralliart motor also happens to be supremely well-managed by Mitsubishi’s fast-acting and incredibly slick Twin Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission (the only transmission available for the Ralliart model, sorry old-schoolers). The electronically controlled gearbox is able to pre-select the next ratio before a driver may have time to even consider it, creating up and downshift response times that are near telepathic. The system also happens to be exceedingly smooth in operation, as we found in our time with it on both road and track.

Despite having so much in common with the Evolution, the Mitsubishi staff pressed the point that the Ralliart should be viewed more as a “specced up Lancer,” than a “de-tuned Evo”, going on to say that car was “not necessarily there for the track, but there for the canyon roads.” As a means of showcasing the car in its intended light then, we were given an extensive tour of the local byways in the Ralliart, saving the Evos on hand (one GSR, one pre-production MR, and a full production-spec MR) for hot laps round the Waterford Hills Road Racing Track (more on that in a bit).

The Ralliart acquitted itself admirably over the course of our test drive, feeling appropriately like 75 percent of a full-fledged Evo. The car may lack the razor sharp instincts of the Evolution, with turn-in that’s a fraction slower, a bit less weight in the steering wheel, and a few seconds more hesitation when the accelerator is depressed; but by-and-large it seems to be a better car for those of us who would like the option of occasional rally-style thrills on public roads rather than a full-time commitment to a hardcore racing machine. The Ralliart maintains the Evo's all-wheel drive with active center differential, but it also has other nice concessions to livability that may appeal to the eight-tenths set, like the ability to specify the standard Lancer bucket seats in place of the rather stiff Recaros, additional trunk space, and a 60/40 split folding rear seat.

The Ralliart will also offer a considerable discount over the Evo X, with Mitsubishi spokespeople informing us that the company is targeting “just under $27,000” with destination charges as a base MSRP. That’s a handy $6,000 cheaper than the stripper Evo GSR, while still including Mitsu’s FAST Key system, Bluetooth connectivity, and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.

As nice as our time spent cruising southeast Michigan in the Lancer Ralliart was, we’d be remiss if we didn’t also mention the mesmerizing hour or more spent lapping the short and technical Waterford Hills track in the full-fat Evo. Mitsubishi clearly knew what it was doing by showing off its dual-clutch transmission here. We quickly found that, despite our dreams of harboring latent motorsport super abilities, selecting the “S-Sport” mode and moving the gearlever to “D” was the best way for us to run consistently fast laps. The transmission was able to pick the right ratio almost without fail; leaving us free to explore around the outer limits of the car’s fantastic grip. Through no fault of the transmission, we were slightly less adept at putting the five-speed manual GSR through its paces, but we sure had a good time trying.