Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Colt - Ralliart hatch
Rorty turbo engine, responsive steering, efficient interior packaging
Room for improvement
Wide turning circle, space-saver spare, unremittingly harsh ride
2 Aug 2006
By CHRIS HARRIS
FOR some of us, pure fun doesn’t come more un-distilled than in a buzzy, bolted-down, tight-packed front-drive hot hatch.
There’s something immensely engaging about getting to grips with a car in which you’re so much a part of the action. It’s a hang onto the wheel experience in which you’re so connected with the car and the road that you can almost taste it.
It all probably started with the original Mini Cooper, which wasn’t a hatch fair enough, but plenty of car-makers got the message so that the whole thing was really rolling by the 1980s.
Stand-out hot hatches include the Peugeot 205 GTI which used a seemingly agricultural 1.9-litre pushrod four to great effect, the early VW Golf GTIs and even the Mazda 323 Turbo 4WD hatchback which, as an all-wheel drive, didn’t strictly fit the criteria but was a great example of how much technology could be crammed into a small space.
Today the market is awash with hot hatches from Europe and Japan and there’s such freedom of choice it can all get quite confusing – especially when you add hyper-hatches such as the Alfa 147 GTA, Mazda 3 MPS and Golf R32 into the mix.
But perhaps the truest to the hot-hatch tradition are cars like Mitsubishi’s new Ralliart Colt.
Coming in near the bottom of the hot-hatch hierarchy, but still an expensive Colt nonetheless, the Ralliart is all the things we so loved in the early cars.
You want buzzy? The Colt is certainly that.
You want driver involvement? Yep, it has that too, as only a small car with the driver close to the front wheels can manage.
You want engine punch? Tick the box again as the Ralliart’s omnipresent turbocharged 1.5-litre engine has plenty of eager torque on hand.
For $29,990 the Colt Ralliart does a good job of helping you forget its basic light-car origins.
Yes, it is based on a model that can be had for something like half its asking price, but there’s rarely any thought you’re not getting value for money. Bang for your bucks is clearly in evidence.
The 1.5-litre engine is significantly worked over compared with other Colts. It gets things like a hollow camshaft (for a 1kg weight saving over the standard item), low friction pistons, a hydraulic timing belt automatic tensioner and stronger engine and gearbox mountings with higher spring rates to cope with the extra demands.
The twin-cam, 16-valve engine uses Mitsubishi’s MIVEC variable valve timing, along with a relatively low-boost turbo, to produce 113kW at 6000rpm, and 210Nm of torque at 3500rpm. The little long-stroker exhales via a big-bore exhaust that is said to lower backpressure by 27 per cent while producing the necessary sonic boom.
Transmission is disappointingly a five-speeder, but it’s at least a quality Getrag box which works through a meaty ZF-Sachs clutch.
The suspension has been tied down too, with retuned dampers and changed spring rates, and there’s a strut brace between the two MacPherson struts in the engine bay which plays a part in the Colt’s overall stiffening-up process.
The brakes are upgraded over regular Colts too, with sold rear discs supplementing upgraded, ventilated front discs up front as part of a regime that already includes ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist. Mitsubishi says the Ralliart Colt has the same fade resistance as the Lancer Evolution.
The electric power steering has also been given a sharper ratio than other Colts.
The Ralliart also gets Mitsubishi’s ASC electronic stability control system which incorporates traction control to keep those wild Newton metres in check.
Add to this a bigger set of alloy wheels with Pirelli 205/45 R16 P Zero tyres and you have the makings of a tight, punchy compact front-driver.
The conviction that the Ralliart Colt is not something to be taken lightly is further confirmed with an interior that offers the best possible deal for the driver, with a pair of tight-gripping Recaro seats taking pride of place in a cabin where touches of fake alloy trim abound. The foot pedals get the usual aluminium inserts and the instruments are presented on a white background.
There’s a leather-topped gearshift and nice, thick-rimmed leather steering wheel too, although the adjustment is limited to height only which could be a problem for some as the Recaros – which sit lower than the regular Colt seats - don’t adjust up and down either.
None of this makes the Ralliart an unpleasant place to be though.
Despite the quite heavily tinted side windows – and the forward-flung, heavy A-pillars - the car still doesn’t feel at that small inside with good shoulder width and heaps of headroom.
If the sliding rear seat is set in its most rearward position, the amount of back-seat legroom is amazing for a car that belongs in the light class. The penalty taken in boot space with this configuration is not so welcome.
From outside the Ralliart is also clearly different. A more aggressive front end, complete with an impressive bonnet vent that looks like it might feed the intercooler but actually merely exhausts hot air from the engine bay, the 16-inch alloy wheels and an integrated roof spoiler – and the tinted rear windows – help set it apart.
On the road, the Ralliart Colt delivers a hard, aural experience that brings to mind some of today’s great-handling small cars - in particular the Mini Cooper S.
The Colt fires up with a muted but noticeably meaty exhaust boom that is a precursor of things to come.
First impressions, on light throttle openings, are that the Ralliart has something serious up its sleeve. The car responds with unusual alacrity for a small-capacity turbo.
Wind it out a little more and it begins to feel more like what it is – which means there’s the usual powerful mid-range punch preceded by a few moments of waiting for the boost to come in.
The Colt seems to start delivering from about 2600 or so rpm, which suggests the torque curve is relatively flat from there to 3500rpm where the maximum 210Nm is developed.
The slick shifter takes some acclimatisation before smooth high-rpm shifts can be made as the power seems to come off very quickly once the accelerator is released on an upshift. Clean shifting won’t come with lazy or inept driving.
Mitsubishi didn’t say how fast the Ralliart is supposed to be, but we’d reckon zero to 100km/h in about eight seconds would be about it.
Ride and handling?
Well it’s best to quickly bypass by the former. Remembering that the Colt is a relative of the DaimlerChrysler Smart Forfour, and that car’s very noticeable suspension deficiencies, it might come as no surprise to hear that the Ralliart is not the best ride in town.
Small bumps it can cope with okay, but try something a little harder and sharper and the Colt goes to pieces. The crashing that comes through the cabin when the springs on one side are in compression is unnerving and of a degree we’ve not experienced within recent memory.
A lack of wheel travel, the poor absorption of the low-profile tyres, the stiffer body (with half as many sport welds again as regular Colts) and firmer bushings in the suspension all conspire to make the ride unacceptably harsh on anything other than perfectly smooth surfaces.
The payoff – once again on sympathetic roads – is a delightful chuckability that brings to mind the great hot hatches of the past. The faster-ratio (by eight per cent) steering, with its just-right weighting, quick response and accuracy, might just be the best electrically assisted system we’ve yet tried.
The car holds its line prodigiously, with the ASC lurking in the background to step in if you go over your head.
The Recaros are in their element here too, holding driver and front passenger with levels of security you don’t often get to experience (the trim material doesn’t match anything else in the car but that doesn’t seem to matter).
The brakes feel the part too, and are quite capable of arresting 1130kg of impertinence with controlled ease.
On the negative side, the Ralliart has an appalling turning circle for its size – a typical Mitsubishi trait – and, despite their being optionally available elsewhere, this most expensive Colt lacks side and curtain airbags.
Standard fare is really pretty basic and includes semi-automatic air-conditioning, remote central locking, a four-speaker MP3/WMA compatible audio with six-disc CD player, power windows and mirrors. There’s a decent supply of cup holders in the centre console and front doors, plus an overhead sunglasses holder.
Like other Colts it’s also a versatile luggage holder with the sliding, multi-folding rear seat and a big, wide-opening rear hatch – although in the end it is still a light car in terms of overall space.
How much fun should you expect for $30,000? Surely this is the benchmark in terms of an in-your-face, blatant hot-hatch statement.
VW’s also-impressive Polo GTI is undoubtedly more refined and gentler to live with, but if you want a car that doesn’t let you forget what it actually is, it’s hard to go past the Ralliart.
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