The Sportback version of the Mitsubishi’s Lancer Ralliart model is meant to accomplish at least two things. First, and most obvious, the additional cargo and interior space is a not-so-subtle attempt at stealing away potential Subaru WRX buyers. A second, and equally important factor in bringing the Sportback to fruition is Mitsubishi’s continued efforts to attract a broader base of customers. This includes appealing to those who may not want or need balls-to-the-wall Evo performance, but are still interested in sporty motoring and style. However, while the Lancer Sportback Ralliart is largely successful in those areas, they do not completely hide its faults.
That being said, its negatives are not so prevalent that they totally explain why so few Mitsubishi’s seem to find their way off of dealership lots. That could be viewed as an additional incentive to buy for those that can appreciate the fact that they will not likely see a million other copies of their car on the road.
Talk of the Ralliart being a baby-Evo is not entirely marketing-speak aimed at tricking those with the will, but not the funds to pony up the cash for a true EVO. By any measure the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine of the Ralliart that makes 237 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque is more than adequate, if still short of the 265 horsepowered WRX.
Still, the Ralliart is a definite upgrade to the “normal” GTS Sportback version which makes a tame, by comparison, 168 horses. Also indicative of its rally-racing aspirations is the six-speed Twin Clutch-Sportronic Shift Transmission (TC-SST) and magnesium paddle shifters that it adopts from big brother Evo. Despite its added hatch area, the Sportback keeps its weight in check with only an extra 124 lbs above the sedan version and highlights Mitsubishi’s efforts in keeping the performance aspects of the sedan and Sportback aligned. While it may lag behind the WRX, it nevertheless demonstrates typical (and exceptional) Mitsubishi all-wheel drive capabilities and acceleration from 0 to 60 in a solid 5.5 seconds.
With those stats, anyone looking for the Sportback to fail to live up to the performance expectations of other Mitsubishi sedans, will have to keep searching. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, Active Stability Control (ASC), Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), and seven airbags come standard.
It would be a stretch to say that fuel economy is disappointing enough to be a major detractor from the Sportback, but it is certainly unremarkable with city and highway estimates of 17 and 25 mpg.
If you like the standard Lancer look, you will most likely be satisfied with how the Sportback Ralliart’s exterior matches up. Not all cars can have a hatch grafted on to their posterior and pull it off, but that is not the case with this car which happily maintains its aggressive angular, shark-like snoot up front. Like the majority of Mitsubishi models, the Sportback’s exterior design is distinctive enough for those individuals who covet a degree of automotive individuality where they can find it.
The day that Mitsubishi resolves interior issues will be the day that we stop wondering whether that alone justifies their poor sales, particularly in North America. Until then, we are left beating the same drum over quality materials and finishes inside not matching up with what is under the hood or under the paint. It is particularly perplexing given that technology and available options are clearly a high priority for the Japanese automaker. For the 2010 Sportback that includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and parking brake, sport seats, auto-off halogen headlamps, power windows, side view mirrors and door locks, a standard 140-watt CD/MP3 audio system with 6 speakers and DSP control or optional Rockford Fosgate audio system, color LCD multi-informational display, Bluetooth hands-free phone system with voice command recognition, automatic climate control with Micron air filtration, cargo cover for the hatch area, plug-in Thule roof rack sockets for a variety of outdoor equipment applications, fog lights and keyless entry and start.
The interior is cloaked in dark, hard plastic, that unlike the rest of the car portrays anything but advanced and by most estimates is downright cheap. The Ralliart’s standard cloth sport seats are comfortable, but a significant downgrade from the Evo’s Recaro appointments. Rear seats are merely comfortable, and with the same trimming details as up front. Where the interior excels is the hatch area, which provides a cavernous receptacle that pushes the cabin space up to 52.7 cubic feet with the seats folded flat.
If the interior were sorted out better, the roughly $28-grand Sportback Ralliart would certainly illicit our full support. But while it it is both an inspired and utilitarian ride, we maintain our reservations about whether it is truly ready to compete against Subaru’s cheaper WRX despite our preference for its external styling. The WRX is clearly its equal in performance, has superior finishes and is only marginally smaller inside making it still the AWD hatchback winner.