2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart Review
By Kevin Miller
Last summer, I had the good fortune to spend a week reviewing Mitsubishi’s 291 HP Lancer Evolution GSR. The car was fast, capable, and confidence-inspiring. I covered over 700 miles during my week with the Evo, and found it to love going fast and going around corners, but not so much toddling around the suburbs. With that positive experience relatively fresh in my memory, I was excited to spend a week with the 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart. While the Ralliart edition of the previous-generation Lancer was essentially a body kit and tacky wing on a front-wheel-drive Lancer, the 2009 Lancer Ralliart has a 237 HP turbocharged 2.0 liter four cylinder, all-wheel drive, and a twin-clutch Sportronic Sport Shift six-speed automated manual gearbox with magnesium paddle shifters, plus the same body kit and tacky rear wing found on the Lancer Evolution.
The gearbox mentioned above uses two clutches in the transmission rather than a torque converter as is found in traditional automatic transmissions. Such automated gearboxes have been the subject of much debate among auto journalists and drivers alike, and this was my first time driving a vehicle so equipped. That being said, I wasn’t really impressed. Sure, the shifts were fast, whether in automatic or manual mode. And the rev-matching on downshifts was impressive. But the conventional automatic in Pontiac’s G8 GT matches revs nearly as well. In stop-and-go or slow-and-go traffic, the gearbox was shifting constantly and noticeably, yet when stomping on the gas to move over a lane, the car always seemed to be caught momentarily flat-footed, pausing to audibly change gears before finally accelerating quickly. The sensation was surely a combination of shifting time and turbo lag.
In automatic mode the transmission was not smooth when it shifted, and it was positively rough before the car warmed up each morning. A big part of my problem with the transmission, though, was mental. I felt like a poser using the nicely tactile shift paddles. I’ve always thought that having shift actuators for an automatic transmission was a bit of overkill, features for use by boy-racers and wannabe sports-car drivers who don’t know how to drive a car with a manual transmission. The fact that there is no clutch pedal, and there is a lever with P, R, N, and D detents makes me feel like the car is “just an automatic”. Perhaps the mental block just something I need to overcome.
Among my favorite features of the Ralliart were the Recaro front seats, which are included in the Recaro Sport package. Shared with the Lancer Evolution, the Recaro bucket seats are upholstered in a cloth resembling alcantara, and feature very firm bolsters on the bottom and side cushions. While I loved the feeling that the seat was giving me a big hug to hold me in place, nobody else who sat up front with me found the seats to be comfortable, Words like hard, confining, and horrible were used by my wife and both of my parents when they sat in the wonderful Recaro buckets, which they compared to a tiny airplane seat.
Just as hard as the fancy Recaros was the Lancer Ralliart’s ride. While I appreciated the communication from the chassis when driving near the limit, most of the time the ride was just bumpy and noisy. On the freeway, I had to raise my voice to simply carry on a conversation with passengers in the car. Through the suburbs, the suspension was pointlessly jarring.
As in the Lancer Evolution, steering in the Ralliart is incredibly direct and communicative. Unfortunately, the Ralliart comes standard with 215/45R18 Yokohama ADVAN summer tires. My week with the car was spent in January, and included two snowy mornings and one icy morning, with daytime temperatures only in the low 40s Fahrenheit. As I’ve come to learn, summer tires are made from a formulation of rubber that becomes softer when warm, to provide more traction. This fact means that the colder the tires get, the less traction they have. On cold, icy, and snowy streets, the Lancer Ralliart’s tires had about as much traction as a hockey puck on an ice rink. The car’s fancy three-mode AWD system with Active Center Differential and powerful motor was easily able to break all four tires free or pitch the car into a short all-wheel drift even on dry pavement until the stability control cut power to regain control of the car.
Critical dimensions and basic layout inside of the Ralliart are like other Lancers, meaning reasonable front seat space but tight rear seat space. The dash consists of the same uninspired-yet-functional black slab and communicative instruments. I did manage to fit two car seats into the back of the Ralliart: a rear-facing infant car seat and base behind the passenger seat (which compromised front passenger legroom and backrest angle), and a front-facing convertible car seat behind the driver’s chair (though my three-year-old’s shoes were in constant contact with the back of the driver’s seat). Unlike the Lancer Evolution, the Ralliart has a reasonably-sized trunk with 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks to expand the cargo space into the back seat.
Autosavant recently reviewed a Subaru Impreza 2.5GT, which is a seemingly close competitor to the Lancer Ralliart. The Impreza 2.5 GT has 13 fewer horsepower, two fewer ratios in its automatic gearbox, and costs a few hundred dollars less than the Lancer Ralliart. The Lancer Ralliart features 18” wheels instead of 17s,. Nice features on the Lancer Ralliart included automatic climate control, Bluetooth handsfree phone connectivity, Fast-Key keyless entry and keyless starting, and Sirius satellite radio. The Ralliart’s optional 650 W Rockford Fosgate stereo seemed to lack high-end punch for being 650 W, but was faultlessly clear. So the Lancer Ralliart seems to give a buyer more for his (or her) money than the Impreza 2.5GT.
Base MSRP for the 2009 Lancer Ralliart sedan is $26,490. The lone expensive option package on my tester was the $2750 Recaro Sport Package (Recaro front seats, HID headlamps, 650 W Rockford Fosgate stereo with 6-disc in-dash CD changer and Sirius satellite radio). Including the $675 destination charge, the total MSRP a substantial $29,915. The Lancer Ralliart has an EPA rating of 17/25 MPG city/highway. Mitsubishi announced last week that beginning in July, the Lancer Ralliart will be available in a wagon body style called Sportback.
Overall, I didn’t enjoy driving the Lancer Ralliart as much as the faster, more expensive Lancer Evolution. Some of that had to do with the 54 fewer horsepower and less-sophisticated AWD system, some with the fact that the summer tires were inadequate for winter driving, and some had to do with the twin-clutch automated transmission. Had I never driven the Evolution, though, I’d never have known the Lancer’s full potential. Having experienced both cars, I find the Ralliart to be a quick, capable performer, though not one that stirs the soul like its sibling, the Evolution.
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