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First drive: Magna gets performance makeover

Speed demon: The Ralliart Magna will out-sprint and out-handle its six-cylinder Commodore and Falcon competitors.

Mitsubishi draws on its rally heritage to deliver the best Magna yet

28 Feb 2002

THE hottest Magna ever built by Mitsubishi is set to hit local roads in just over two months' time, promising giant-killing performance to rival the traditional sports sedan models from Ford and Holden.

The Ralliart Magna is the result of collaboration between Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited and the private company that runs the local factory rally team, Ralliart Australia.

The car was developed and manufactured by MMAL with design and engineering input from Ralliart, along with the use of its name.

The production car relationship between the two companies came to prominence in the middle of last year when Ralliart imported a limited number of the road-going Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI rally weapons for local consumption.

Now the two companies have again combined their talents, this time with an eye on the local product, to produce a new model poised to dent some egos in the Ford/Holden-dominated sports sedan segment when it goes on sale at the start of May.

Five-speed manual and five-speed "Sports Mode" automatic transmission variants of the Ralliart Magna will be available, with both priced at $48,990 - a figure that represents a premium of between $7200 and $9200 over the previous top-line sports model, the VR-X (depending on transmission).

But the extra money is not just going towards a healthier bottom line for the Adelaide-based manufacturer, as the Ralliart Magna has been subject to a raft of mechanical changes, most of which have taken place under the car's skin, as well as a few cosmetic ones that are easier to spot.

The basic Magna's 3.5-litre V6 engine is already a smooth and powerful unit, but it has come in for some significant re-working for its duties under the bonnet of the Ralliart model.

The list of modifications includes a new cylinder head, increased compression ratio from 9.0:1 to 9.4:1, high-lift camshaft, high-lift valve springs, revised engine management calibration and a set of stainless steel exhaust headers.

There is also a sports exhaust with a large bomb-type muffler in the centre pipe, which is said to have improved the mid-high rpm exhaust note.

Power and torque have risen as a result of the enhancements, up 10 per cent and 5 per cent respectively to 180kW at 5500rpm and 333Nm at 4000rpm.

Mitsubishi claims the Ralliart Magna can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 6.71 seconds for the manual version and 7.15 seconds for the auto - times which should enable it to see off both some eight-cylinder and supercharged versions of the competition, while at the same time returning combined city/highway fuel figures of 12.0L/100km and 12.8L/100kms respectively.

The five-speed manual transmission is carried over from the VR-X unchanged, although in the Ralliart application it is coupled to a helical gear limited slip differential in an effort to harness the performance gains from the new engine.

The five-speed automatic transmission has been upgraded with a revised shift pattern - affecting both upshifts and downshifts - which according to Mitsubishi is more closely matched to the power and torque characteristics of the 180kW engine.

Wide open shifts have been programmed to occur at the point of maximum power, enabling the next gear to engage around peak torque engine speeds.

The auto variant misses out on the limited slip differential but picks up the traction control system from the VR-X, although no changes were made to the system as Mitsubishi claims it performs even better on the Ralliart Magna with the different suspension and tyres.

Suspension spring rates were also carried over from the VR-X while new Koni struts and shock absorbers were chosen to extend the car's link with the rally program - the Group N Lancer Evo of current lead driver Ed Ordynski is also fitted with Koni suspension products.

New front and rear anti-roll bars - 22mm at the front and 18mm at the rear - complete the uprated suspension package.

The base car's power steering system was also retuned for the Ralliart model, with changes to the power steering valve and the fitting of a constant flow rate power steering fluid pump, which is said to improve steering response at high speed.

The brake package has also come in for some attention, with this car using a redeveloped version of the 16-inch wheel system from the Japanese market Diamante 4WD.

Front ventilated disc diameter has increased 18mm over standard to 294mm with the callipers boosted to a twin-piston design. The rear discs are now ventilated and measure 284mm in diameter with a stronger calliper body.

Wheels and tyres have also been upgraded in line with the engine developments, with the Ralliart Magna wearing W-speed rated Pirelli P6000 low profile rubber on Lancer Evo-style 17-inch Enkei alloy wheels.

Although the tyres are rated for speeds up to 270km/h, Mitsubishi has allowed the car's tyre placard to permit V-rated tyres to be fitted as replacements, given an electronically limited top speed of 240km/h.

The Lancer Evo VI has clearly been the inspiration behind the bodykit styling, which comprises an aggressive front bumper/spoiler, side skirts, wheel arch flares and a massive dual-wing rear deck spoiler.

Exterior colours for the hot Magna conform to Ralliart's traditional colour scheme with the range including Flame Red, Mawson White, Pewter (silver) and Sable (black).

The interior has also been changed in keeping with the overall performance image Mitsubishi is striving for.

In-house designed and manufactured sports seats have replaced the VR-X pews and are trimmed in a unique red and black material with embroidered "Ralliart" logos.

The steering wheel is wrapped in red and black Momo leather, matched by a Ralliart instrument cluster with red face and white markings, while metal finish highlights on the centre console complete the package.

The standard audio system was discarded in favour of a premium Eclipse system made by Fujitsu Ten, which features 14 speakers, seven-CD in-dash facility, remote control operating card and the ability to be expanded with other Fujitsu Ten components.

At this stage the stereo unit is unique to the Ralliart Magna, as it has not yet been released onto the Australian market.

On top of the standard Magna immobiliser security system, the Ralliart Magna will have additional theft protection courtesy of the Data Dot security system, as used by BMW, HSV and Tickford.

The only option available for the Ralliart Magna is an electric sunroof, which will set the customer back a further $1850.

Mitsubishi expects to sell 1000 examples of its premium sports model over the next 12 months through a specialist sales network of 20-25 selected dealers.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

FIRST there was the Ralliart Australia rally team, which has successfully represented Mitsubishi in the local rally arena for many years.

Last year came the road-going version of the rally car, the Mitsubishi-built Ralliart-named Lancer Evolution VI Tommi Makinen Edition.

Now MMAL has let its engineers - and the rally boffins from Ralliart Oz - loose on the cardigan-wearing image of the humble Magna to produce the hottest version of that car yet seen, the Ralliart Magna.

But the car is much more than just a souped-up engine and wild bodykit. It is a complete package with improved brakes to match the engine, class-leading handling that is not at the expense of ride comfort and a level of spirited, yet refined performance that is at odds with the Magna's staid image.

The roads of north-western Tasmania were the perfect location for the Ralliart Magna to present its considerable abilities as a comfortable and competent sports sedan that is deceptively quick point to point, regardless of the roads or the conditions.

The suspension tune is an almost ideal compromise between ride and handling, with the Koni dampers ironing out low speed and small bump harshness while also exhibiting high-speed control and allowing minimal bodyroll.

The limited slip front differential is the standout feature of the manual version, allowing all 180kW of power to reach the road almost all of the time, while thumbing its nose and the Magna's usual wheelspin, torque steer and understeer characteristics.

The LSD is a local development of the unit found in the Mitsubishi FTO coupe, as well as one that has spent the past five years beneath the front end of MMAL product development manager Rob Chadwick's GT-Production category Magna Sports, so there should be no problem with durability.

The auto has traction control instead, but it is an unobtrusive system that acts just like an LSD in the power-down department, allowing you to maintain momentum and composure at the same time.

One of the few downsides to the Ralliart Magna is the "look-at-me" bodykit which, while clearly establishing a link with Ralliart's motorsport heritage, does not lend itself to the Magna's shape all that well.

And the deep front lip spoiler will create serious problems for owners on anything but the flattest of driveway entries.

It is so low that Mitsubishi will actually fit the splitter onto the bumper as part of pre-delivery at the dealership because the car cannot make it down the production line with it on, while front spring blocks have to be inserted to get it onto the transport truck when leaving the factory.

All in all, Mitsubishi has an absolute cracker of a car on its hands with the Ralliart Magna. It will certainly out-sprint and out-handle its six-cylinder Commodore and Falcon competitors, but the asking price and boy-racer looks may be the stumbling blocks that prevent it being the success story it clearly deserves to be.

How about a more subtle, Verada-spec package with Ralliart mechanicals? Now that would be something to really capture the attention of the buying public, as well as the teams from Fishermens Bend and the Blue Oval brand.

Watch this space.

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