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Is it the Evolution of the Ralliart?

As I approached the new 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart I knew that I'd be asked the same question over and over: Is that an Evo?

As I approached the new 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart I knew that I’d be asked the same question over and over: “Is that an Evo?”

While the Ralliart is the same basic shape as the base Lancer (the Evolution has fender flares and a 15 mm wider track), it directly lifts the aluminum vented hood and sports a slightly toned down version of the Lancer Evolution’s aggressive front end.

Side by side you could quickly tell them apart but separately it would take a second glance.

Opening the door reveals an interior nearly identical to the Evolution MR. Here again are the aluminum flappy paddles for switching the gears of the superb twin-clutch SST transmission, the thick leather-wrapped steering wheel and, surprisingly, a cloth version of the Evo’s aggressive Recaro sport seats.

The seats surprised me because they were one of the things besides the horsepower I had assumed would be softened in the Lancer Ralliart. While great on the track or a twisting country road, these seats punish, over long drives, anyone with large hips or who has eaten a few too many cheeseburgers. Statistically that includes a rather large percentage of the North American population.

Overall, the Ralliart’s interior kept the aspects I liked in the Evolution MR: every surface the driver would interact with, the steering wheel, the shifter and pedals were excellent quality and felt just right in the hand or under foot.

Starting the car resulted in a subdued rumble similar to the Evo; you could tell the car had power but it didn’t announce it to sleeping neighbours every time you left for a late night drive.

Pulling away, I could immediately feel the difference in power delivery between the Ralliart and the Evo.

Where the Evolution had a small but noticeable amount of lag when starting from a stop, the Ralliart, with its smaller single scroll turbo had none.

The trade off between the two turbos means that the Ralliart makes its peak torque 1000 rpm sooner than the Evo, 253 lb.-ft. at 3000 rpm versus 300 lb.-ft. at 4000 rpm, but it also makes 16 per cent less torque overall and 19 per cent less horsepower – 237 horses in the Ralliart compared with 291 in the Evo.

While the Ralliart has less power than the Evo, it is still a quick car – any application of the throttle results in surprisingly fast acceleration at any speed.

Power is put to the road through Mitsubishi’s All-Wheel Control (AWC) system. The centre electronic differential is controlled by the AWC system with an additional mechanical limited-slip differential at the front and rear of the car.

The AWC system found on the Ralliart lacks the yaw control on the more complex Evolution S-AWC. Like the Evolution, the Ralliart’s AWC has Tarmac, Gravel and Snow modes to give the driver some control over how power is distributed front and rear.

The real difference between the Ralliart and the Evo shows through once you toss the Ralliart down some winding escarpment roads.

I’m disappointed that the steering ratio in the Ralliart is the same slow ratio in the base Lancer DE. The Evolution requires a short 2.27 turns of the wheel from full lock left to full lock right, while the Ralliart requires a bus-like 3.16 turns.

This results in large steering inputs to make minor direction changes, not the razor sharp control you’d expect from a car with such uncompromising hip-destroying seats.

The brakes are regrettably lifted from the Lancer GTS, and are only just adequate at slowing the more powerful, heavier Ralliart and are useless on a fast downhill. They would need upgrading for any track day use.

While the Brembos from the Evo would be a bit too costly it would have been nice to see a fixed four-pot caliper like on the Subaru WRX instead of the inferior floating caliper from the more basic Lancer lineup.

With the Ralliart’s smaller track width, Mitsubishi had to use the basic Lancer pressed steel suspension components instead of the cast alloy parts found on the Evo.

The springs and struts are unique to the Ralliart and are very good for the market this car is aimed at – less aggressive than the Evolution, but aggressive enough for an enjoyable country drive.

My biggest complaint is reserved for the easiest part to fix. Why do car companies put all-season tires on a vehicle geared towards driving enthusiasts?

All-season tires are the auto equivalent of a spring jacket, too hot for the summer, too cold for the winter and only just right for a few days of the year.

Despite being “ultra high performance,” the all-season tires let the suspension and AWD down on every turn, scrubbing well before even an inexpensive summer tire would begin to lose grip. Replace these with quality summer or winter tires and the car would come alive.

Despite a few questionable choices in hardware, the Ralliart is a fun car to drive.

Its AWC system gives the driver confidence to attack corners and is only held back by the weak choice of tires and brakes.

Is the Ralliart an Evo in plain clothes?

The answer is unfortunately no, but at $32,998 compared to the Evolution MR’s $47,498 price tag, you are getting about eight-tenths of an Evolution MR for seven-tenths the price.

 

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