| First Drive | Barcelona, Spain | Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart |
Evo looks and Evo hardware in a hatchback package, the Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart has all the ingredients to be a giant killer.
In the Metal
Based on Mitsubishi's new Sportback (hatchback) Lancer the company calls the range-topping Ralliart the bridge between more mundane machinery and the loopy Evo X
. Bizarrely, the hatchback is longer than the saloon version
, everything to the rear of the back doors being new metalwork. The transformation from saloon to hatchback isn't entirely successful, the Sportback losing the Lancer saloon's neat lines at the rear. More impressive in profile, Mitsubishi follows the current zeitgeist and makes claims of a coupe-like roofline. That is pushing it a bit, but what is apparent is just how big the Sportback is, the Ralliart having dimensions that are longer than a Mercedes C-Class
It would be wider too if it featured the same flared arches of its Evo X relatives, but the Ralliart doesn't get the full Evo makeover. The vented bonnet is the same, as is the deep front grille and aggressive lights, the Ralliart obviously sharing DNA with its Evo relative. The interior is much the same too, featuring deeply bolstered sports seats, lots of space and a clean looking fascia that's let down in areas by too shiny or too hard plastics.
What you get for your Money
You get lots for your money, not least the halo effect of driving a car that is closely related to Mitsubishi's Evolution X. Underneath its vented bonnet is a detuned version of the Evo X's 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. In the Ralliart it develops 236bhp and is mated as standard to Mitsubishi's SST, twin-clutch, two-pedal, paddle-shift transmission. In the Evo the SST transmission is limited to the 300bhp model, so it is highly probable that Ralliart drivers will be seeking ways to boost the 2.0-litre turbo's power to match the Evo. That SST transmission is part of a comprehensive standard equipment list, the GS coming with everything you could possibly want; GSR spec adds a hard drive satellite navigation system, premium audio and heated leather seats.
Prices have yet to be confirmed, but expect around £21,500 for the GS and £24,000 for the GSR. That's more than most hot hatch competition, but the Ralliart is more powerful than all but one or two rivals, and comes with four-wheel drive. Alongside rivals like the Astra VXR
the Ralliart's seven-second 0-62mph time isn't that rapid, but the Mitsubishi utilises its impressive traction to deploy its 236bhp as effectively as possible.
Ever since it was announced, the idea of a junior Evo has been enormously appealing. Certainly the Ralliart Sportback has all the right ingredients: a four-wheel drive system, the SST paddle-shift transmission and a 2.0-litre turbocharged powerplant - albeit detuned. Inside, you'd be hard pushed to spot any differences either. On the road though it lacks the Evo's bombastic performance, the turbocharged engine not offering the neck-snapping acceleration that the driving environment and Evo looks suggest. Sixty-two in seven seconds is rapid, but the SST transmission dulls the initial acceleration, it shifting quickly and smoothly when either left in fully automatic or when shifting manually via the large steering column-mounted paddles.
Traction is fantastic, though the Ralliart runs out of grip at the front quicker than its Evo relative. There's understeer aplenty when you reach the limits of adhesion and it's difficult to adjust the attitude via the throttle as you can on the Evo - the Ralliart lacking the Evo's trick Active Yaw Control. Similarly, the SST only offers two modes for the six-speed paddle-shift - Normal and Sport. In Sport the shifts are faster; in Sport Auto the Ralliart always maintains over 2,500rpm on the rev counter to ensure the engine is spinning fast enough to have the turbo spooling. The Ralliart is actually deceptively fast, the SST robbing it of its sensation of speed, the traction on offer from the four-wheel drive system meaning there's no protest from the tyres when you give the Ralliart everything. There's decent weighting and some feel at the (non reach adjustable) steering wheel, and the ride is very compliant and body control good.
The Ralliart Sportback loses the regular car's dual-height boot floor thanks to the addition of four-wheel drive. Even so the boot space is plentiful; though opt for a GSR with its premium audio and a big portion of the boot is lost to a sub-woofer.
Mitsubishi claims the Ralliart won't ever be offered with a regular manual transmission, but if it is serious in taking on hot hatch rivals - the majority of which are manual - Mitsubishi needs to offer that option too. It would not only increase the fun behind the wheel, but also reduce the cost - the SST gearbox not an inexpensive piece of technology. The Ralliart comes to the UK in January, meaning we get it much earlier than the rest of Europe.
Son of Evo, or a watered down, lesser version? Actually the Ralliart is a bit of both. It has the ability to thrill, but the grins won't be as large as they would with its big brother. The performance on paper is strong, but the chassis is too prone to understeer, and the SST transmission robs it of its sensation of speed - a manual would add interaction and make the price even more appealing. Undeniably fast, hugely capable, very well specified and surprisingly practical, the Ralliart is a strong contender against hot hatch rivals and Subaru's Impreza WRX
, but it's a poor relation to its Evo relatives. But then again, they do set a very high bar and it's a big chunk cheaper.