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Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Lancer - Ralliart range

Our Opinion

We like
SST dual-clutch gearbox, styling, performance, comfort, versatility, safety, grip, reputation, value, five-year warranty
Room for improvement
No steering column reach adjustability, shiny black dash trim cheapens cabin, some road noise intrusion, sedan’s vision-obstructing rear spoiler, some slight steering rack rattle, no manual availability

24 Oct 2008

AUDI’S seminal 1980 Ur-Quattro started it and the Ford KE-KH Laser TX3 and Mazda BF 323 Turbo 4WD twins brought the concept to the mainstream, but we have to thank Mitsubishi for truly kicking off the definitive and practical affordable forced-induction all-wheel drive pocket-rocket package in Australia.

Some 15 crucial months before Subaru hijacked the idea with its epochal Impreza WRX (little more than a scaled-down version of its 1991 Liberty RS Turbo, it must be said in Subaru’s defence), the CC Lancer GSR Turbo 4WD stunned recession-weary small-car buyers in October 1992 by sheer virtue of its formidable performance and all-weather grip.

That Mitsubishi introduced the GSR four-door sedan at a giveaway $28,960 (almost the same price as a Toyota Camry CSi) gives you some idea of how sensational the fastest Lancer of the time really was.

A skyrocketing Japanese currency soon put paid to the Mitsubishi’s price advantage, and eventually helped kill the car when the all-new CE Lancer lobbed in during 1996, but the GSR still holds a special place for bargain-performance car lovers.

In 2008, Mitsubishi is trying to rekindle some of this love, and show upstarts like the WRX and Golf GTI (only worthy of its reputation in Australia since 2005) with the Ralliart.

Let’s start with its static virtues and vices.

The Ralliart’s even-sharkier nose and bonnet treatment lift this above bread-and-butter Lancers for sure, and the Sportback’s high-set hatch spoiler looks better in our opinion than the sedan’s rather too-ostentatious (and vision-impeding) boot-mounted item.

It’s too bad there aren’t sexier alloys either, as the VRX items are more ‘Verada’ than va-va voom.

Inside, it’s a similar story, with the CJ Lancer’s neat if slightly dull dashboard doing little to add the same sense of occasion as, say, the camp tartan trimming the interior of a Golf GTI. Shiny black plastic just doesn’t cut it on a $40K-plus car. Sorry, Mitsubishi.

But other than restricted reversing vision (spoilt on the Sportback by its thick pillars) and an occasionally rattly steering column that will tilt yet not reach, the driving position is fine, and the seats amply supportive.

They need to be, because the Ralliart lives up to its name by liking corners, on all manner of road surfaces.

Ours were mostly dry with only the occasionally damp patch and one loose track bit experienced during our 200km-odd driving session, but we came away secure in the Mitsubishi’s mighty all-wheel drive grip.

Thrown into a fast, sharp corner, and the Ralliart’s attitude centred on the neutral, keeping calm and composed despite the speed in which the turn was taken.

Body control is one of this car’s greatest assets, as is a steering set-up that is nicely weighted and quite instantaneous in its reactions. If only Mitsubishi could dial in a bit more feel from the helm.

Initial acceleration in the admittedly low-mileage test cars was more sparkling than startling (and we are willing to swear that the 35kg lighter sedan seems sprightlier than the porky Sportback), but the turbocharged 4WD Lancer is still an extremely swift and smooth cruiser anyway, easily coping with all manner of sealed roads while stealthily tracking along at quite illegal speeds, in the manner of a much larger vehicle.

Adding to this is the super-slick workings of the TC-SST dual-clutch sequential gearbox, which lives up to expectations as an ideal compromise between a conventional automatic and manual gearbox. The paddle shifters are well placed too.

Maybe it’s the almost 1600kg weight of the Sportback, blunted by the AWD system and held back by the tenacious hold of the rubber, but getting the most out of the Ralliart’s performance by flooring it constantly has obvious fuel consumption consequences.

On the other hand, we really did enjoy exploring the power and driving dynamics of this particular Lancer, and realise that 12.5 to 13.5L/100km is not too bad a figure for a car capable of 220km/h.

Certain bitumen types betrayed the Ralliart’s road-noise deadening abilities, though, but this wasn’t always the case on the rural roads we drove on. A test in more built-up urban areas is needed as well, since we found little to complain about with this car’s ride quality.

Like the low-key styling, the attributes of the fastest Lancer this side of the heroic Evolution X takes time to fully realise and appreciate.

The more we drove in it, the more apparent it became that, for the outlay, the Ralliart does offer an outstanding alternative to the WRX as well as its hot-hatch rivals.

If you loved the idea of the original Lancer GSR from all those years ago, then the reborn CJ Lancer version makes for a fitting successor.

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