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Tony O'Kane | Mar 13, 2009 | 9 Comments

How hot is hot enough? We strapped the O’Kane rabbit into the Ralliart Lancer and let him loose to find out. He came back (damn) with a note-pad filled with heretical views. Here is his report.

Forget about racetracks and dragstrips: tight, twisting country backroads are arguably the ultimate proving ground of road-going sportscars.

Out here, bumpstop-smashing crests and troughs make good ground clearance and long suspension travel a must, and the occasional variance in surface quality (whether caused by a patch of gravel or a stray cowpat) means all-wheel-drive is preferable.

No surprise then that one of the most favoured ‘B-road’ blasters these days is Mitsubishi’s technological triumph, the Lancer Evolution X.

With a banzai 2.0 litre turbocharged four-pot singing away under the bonnet and a sophisticated AWD system directing power to whichever corner can make the most of it, the Evo has unsurprisingly made its mark on virtually every form of motorsport – most notably rally.

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But what happens when you take the same engine and the same twin-clutch gearbox as the top-spec Lancer Evolution X MR, hang just a single-scroll turbo on the side, hook it up to a slightly less-sophisticated AWD system and drop it into a slightly less-focused chassis?

You get the Lancer Ralliart - and by gum, in my opinion, it’s even better than the Evo.

A controversial statement, people have been stoned for less. Especially considering the Evo boasts a 0-100km/h time that’s well over a second quicker than the Ralliart and utilises a far less compromised chassis and suspension.

But real-world performance is far from just being a matter of outright power and cornering G – there’s more to it than that. We’ll get to this later, but first, let’s delve into the nuts and bolts and discover what makes the Ralliart, a Ralliart.

The Body

Our tester came in Sportback flavour, the hatch-backed sister to the by-now familiar Lancer sedan. If you asked me, I’d tell you it’s the prettiest of the Lancer family, but if you ask anyone else it seems the sedan has the broadest appeal. Whatever.

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The Lancer Ralliart Sportback is virtually identical to the sedan from the B-pillar forward, meaning you get an Evo-esque front bumper with an attractive chrome bezel around the central opening, as well as the very same aluminium bonnet from the Evolution X.

Along the Ralliart’s flanks there’s a chrome beltline moulding, but the rest is standard Lancer fare. The Evo’s bulging fenders, sadly, are nowhere to be seen.

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Out back there’s a dual exhaust framed by a faux diffuser, and a sizable wing atop the hatch imparts sufficient ‘sportiness’ to the Lancer’s rump. Ralliart badges on the hatch and within the front grille add the finishing touch, and the whole package is rather attractive.

The Cockpit

The interior definitely ranks as one of the nicest in the Lancer range. Torso-hugging seats are among the best in the hot hatch class (although we wish the Evo’s Recaro’s were an option), and the leather-wrapped tiller is pinched straight from the Evolution parts bin.

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The keen-eyed among you will have noticed that the gear lever is also a dead ringer for the Evolution X MR’s unit. It’s similar, but not entirely the same – I’ll give you the low-down in just a minute.

Elsewhere, the interior should be pretty familiar to anyone who’s ever been in a base Lancer Sportback. Door trim, seat material and the lid of the centre console box are unique to the Ralliart, but the hard plastic dash, rear seats and boot space are not.

But honestly, who gives a toss. The Ralliart isn’t premium motoring – it’s all about performance on a budget. And it delivers that in spades.


The Stuff You Really Want To Read About

Okay folks, let’s get serious.

The Lancer Ralliart looks nice enough on the outside and its cabin is fairly comfortable, but this car’s real beauty is definitely more than skin deep.

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Lift that alloy bonnet and you’re looking at Mitsubishi’s newly-developed 2.0 litre 4B11 inline-four. Internally, it’s exactly the same as the engine that powers the Evolution X.

That means fully-floating forged Mahle pistons, forged gudgeon pins and forged conrods whirl around within an all-aluminium crankcase, while the entire valve-train is identical in spec to the Evo.

The real differences are external. Due to the battery being housed under the bonnet rather than in the boot (as in the Evo), the induction piping takes a different route from air intake to inlet manifold. Exhaust gasses are expelled into a single-scroll TD04 turbine too, rather than the bigger twin-scroll TD05 unit found in the Evo.

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The intercooler is also smaller than the Evo’s, and ECU maps are unique to the Ralliart. The result is an engine that pumps out 177kW and 343Nm of torque – a fair whack less than the Evo’s 217kW and 366Nm.

But – and here’s where I justify my heretical preference for the Ralliart over the Evo – it’s how the Ralliart makes its power that makes all the difference.

Having a smaller turbine than the Evolution means peak power is lower, but the upside is that boost builds further down in the rev range. The Ralliart’s huffer starts to produce positive pressure around 2400rpm, and the car’s peak torque figure of 343Nm is on tap from 2500rpm all the way to 4750rpm.

It’s not as grunty as the Evo, sure, but is its grunt more usable? Hell yes. Rather than wringing its neck, you can simply ride that ample torque-wave from corner to corner, exploiting the 4B11’s considerable twist. Roll-on acceleration is brisk as a result, and you’ll find yourself prodding the accelerator just to feel the swell of power that results.

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But power is nothing without control, and the Ralliart has more than enough tech beneath its unassuming skin to rein in all that turbocharged muscle.

Bolted to the 4B11’s block is a variant of the Evolution X’s clever twin-clutch Getrag-sourced SST gearbox – the only gearbox on offer for the Ralliart. Able to change gears in the blink of an eye, the twin-clutch unit is a real revelation for performance cars and the Ralliart is easily the cheapest AWD sportscar to flaunt such technology.

But there are a few crucial differences between the TC-SST fitted to the Ralliart and the one that sees service in the big-daddy Evo. For one, there’s no launch control. Off-the-line performance is tardy as a result, and Mitsubishi claims a 0-100km/h sprint time of 6.3 seconds.

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We managed to get to triple digits in the mid-fives by stalling up the engine before releasing the brake, but we’ve no idea what long-term issues that might give the complex twin-clutch gearbox. Best not to do it, and avoid any stoplight drag races.

Secondly – and perhaps more crucial than the lack of launch control – is the absence of a Super Sport mode for the TC-SST. In the Evo, Super Sport ensured that gears were held right up until redline and beautifully-blipped down-changes were executed whenever revs dropped below 4500rpm.

The Ralliart, however, only gets two modes for its gearbox: Normal and Sport. Sport is good, but it’s nowhere near as manic as the Evo’s Super Sport.

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The throttle is blipped rather satisfyingly on downshifts though, and it’s still perfectly adequate for a weekend blast down your local B-road. But if you’re planning on going to the track, it’s probably best to use the magnesium paddles and change gear yourself.

As eyebrow-raisingly impressive as the TC-SST ‘box is though, it is eclipsed by the AWD system it’s hooked up to.

Similar in concept to the clever AWD underpinnings of the previous-gen Lancer Evolution IX, the Ralliart’s AWD tech endows it with a startling level of grip.

Torque is split 50-50 front to rear by default, with the Ralliart’s All Wheel Control (AWC) system varying torque distribution between the axles via the hydraulically-operated Active Centre Differential (ACD).

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Yaw rate, G-load, steering angle, throttle position and wheel-speed are all fed into the AWC ECU, which then controls the ACD itself.

A spokesman from Team Mitsubishi Ralliart explained the system thusly:

“The ACD regulates the differential limiting action to optimise the front/rear torque split, which produces the best balance between traction and steering response as it moves between an ‘open’ and ‘closed’ state.”

If that made no sense to you, then let me summarise it this way: it’s brilliant.

Pitch the Ralliart into a corner under neutral throttle and there’s the usual understeery result; but get on the gas and the car simply pulls itself out. Easy, no fuss.

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Push it further and you can even provoke it into a slide, which is all the more controllable thanks to the clever AWC system.

Power delivery is always rock-solid thanks to a helical LSD up front and a variable-lock mechanical LSD on the rear axle.

Changing AWC settings between the Tarmac, Gravel or Snow programs alters the clamp load of the rear LSD’s clutch plates, and also changes the level of stability control intervention. Favour a more tail-out attitude? Select Gravel or Snow. Prefer to keep things on the straight and narrow? Tarmac’s the mode you want.

The suspension, while not quite as impressive as the AWC, ACD, TC-SST or 4B11, is still an integral part of the Ralliart experience.

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It is nowhere near as firm as the Evo’s gear, and it pays dividends in real world driving. Potholes and rutted asphalt are dispatched with little complaint, and it soaks up undulating pavement in a way that’s impossible in the stiffly-damped Evolution.

There is a fair degree of body roll, however, but realistically that would only present a problem on a racetrack. On the road the Ralliart’s suspension is composed, compliant and comfortable while still packing a sharp enough edge for the odd eight-tenths blast.

Commendable then, considering it lacks the Evo’s additional body reinforcements, wider track and alloy suspension uprights.

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It is, however, let down by its tyres. The Yokohama Advans are the same as those fitted to the Lancer VRX, and it’s their lack of grip that really hurts the Ralliart.

Thankfully tyres are the easiest part of a car to change, and swapping them out in favour of rubber with a tread-wear rating of less than 240 would give the humble Ralliart an even greater turn of speed.


Where to from here?

The only way is up. While it’s been slow to respond to the release of the Lancer Ralliart, the automotive aftermarket industry is gearing up to release a plethora of tuning parts for Mitsubishi’s budget pocket-rocket.

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Melbourne’s own TMR (Team Mitsubishi Ralliart) will be one of the first cabs off the rank, with their Ralliart Lancer road car program well underway. TMR are currently running their own Ralliart Lancer development car, and are focussing their attention on suspension, brake, exhaust and ECU upgrades. These guys know their Mitsubishis better than anyone.

While TMR remain tight-lipped on specifics, we wouldn’t be surprised if something north of 200kW were achievable using stock hardware.

The Bottom Line

So, it’s less powerful than the flagship Evo X, but more tractable. Not as competent around a racetrack, but a better steer along a country road. Its performance potential is lower, but then again so is its price – a full $17,000 lower than the Evolution.

In short, it offers 75 percent of the Evo’s thrills at a proportionally lower cost. But thanks to its kinder on-road behavior and less-mental power delivery, it’s a far better car to live with every day.

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The Ralliart is perfectly suited to being both daily driver and weekend warrior, with its only major downfalls being a somewhat prodigious thirst for petrol and those woeful tyres. Minor niggles that true enthusiasts will overlook or rectify.

In stock form, the Ralliart is an absolute cracker of a drive. Judging by the gravel rash along the sideskirts of our tester and the partially-melted shoulders of its tyres, I’m clearly not the first journo to think so.

For those who could do without the bone-jarring ride of the Evolution X but still crave that turbo rush, the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart is near-on perfect.

With a starting price of $42,990 and Mitsubishi's ten year drivetrain warranty, it’s also a bona-fide bargain and one that punters would be hard-pressed to ignore.

Suffice to say, Mitsubishi deserves to sell every last one.

Tony’s Gospel

For performance on a budget, and for a drive you can live with, the Ralliart is brilliant. Though ‘softer’ than its manic brother, the Evo, it is still a blindingly quick tarmac warrior, but it lets you keep your kidneys.

Interestingly, most comparisons pit the Ralliart against the Evo, which suggests that it is likely to cannibalise Evo sales, as much as it steals from the opposition. With a 10 year drivetrain warranty, it’s damned secure buying.

Tony likes:

  • The Ralliart’s on-road composure and balance
  • (Arguably) more useable power, less mental than Evo X
  • Brilliant AWD grip
  • The 10 year drivetrain warranty (that’s confidence)
  • Ripper price ($17k less than Evo)

Tony dislikes:

  • The terrible standard tyres (no, really)
  • No Recaro seats option
  • Thirst at the bowser
  • Where are the Evo’s bulging guards?

Gallery

Specifications

Engine type: 16-valve MIVEC turbocharged, intercooled, fuel-injected four-cylinder
Capacity: 1998cc
Bore x Stroke: 86.0mm x 86.0mm
Compression ratio: 9.0:1
Max Power: 177kW @ 6000rpm
Max Torque: 343Nm @ 2500-4725rpm
Performance: 0-100km/h, 6.5 seconds
Transmission: six-speed TC-SST, twin wet multi-plate hydraulic clutches, AWD
Economy: 10.2 l/100km combined cycle (claimed)
Front Suspension: McPherson strut with coil spring and stabiliser
Rear Suspension: Independent multi-link with coil spring and stabiliser
Wheels: 18-inch alloys
Tyres: Yokohama Advans
Brakes Front: Ventilated disc
Brakes Rear: Solid disc
Nanny stuff: ABS with EBD and BA

Driver and passenger airbags, side curtain airbags, driver’s knee airbag

Kerb Weight: 1590kg
Price as tested: $42,490

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