When it comes to high-performance pocket rockets, the Subaru Impreza WRX STI and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution are two of the best cars on the road. The problem is that both of these cars are well outside the price range of most of the people who desire them. Thankfully, each is offered in a detuned version with performance that is still surprising and a price tag that is much less painful. In Subaru's corner, the Impreza WRX has been available as either a sedan or a hatchback, while the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart has only been offered as a sedan. To better compete with the Impreza WRX, as well as the growing number of hot hatches now available, Mitsubishi not only added the Lancer Sportback five-door hatchback to its 2010 lineup, but it also added the sport-tuned Ralliart model. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that Mitsubishi will produce a Lancer Sportback Evolution version.
With a base price of $19,190, the all-new Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback is probably one of the most attractive hatchbacks on the market (in terms of both pricing and styling), but for improved performance, the Sportback Ralliart model turns this economy hatchback into a sporty hot hatch. Along with the extra power, the Sportback Ralliart adds a heftier starting MSRP of $27,590, and after options and destination charge, the total price tipped the small-car scales at $31,210 which is only slightly higher than comparably equipped competitors such as the Subaru Impreza WRX, Chevrolet HHR SS, Mazda MAZDASPEED3 and the Volkswagen GTI. On paper, the all-new Lancer Sportback Ralliart is at a disadvantage to these cars, but after Mitsubishi dropped off its new hot hatch, I was curious to see if the advanced drivetrain and aggressive styling could make up for the middle-of-the-pack horsepower.
2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart Exterior
From the rear doors forward, the all-new Lancer Sportback is identical to its sedan counterpart, but the obvious difference is the hatchback rear end. With such an angry-looking front end design, Mitsubishi couldn't just throw on a cute little liftgate and call it a day, so the Sportback gets a steeply raked C-pillar and an aggressive rear end treatment that echoes the styling of the sedan. The end result is surprisingly stylish considering how awkward the 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander crossover looks with its new Lancer-inspired front end. In terms of its dimensions, the Lancer Sportback is .4 inches longer and sits .1 inch lower compared to the sedan
Decked out in Ralliart form, the Lancer Sportback gets an even more aggressive look from new front and rear fascias, dual exhaust outlets and an Evolution-style vented aluminum hood. As if the front end of this car wasn't flashy enough, Mitsubishi made sure this particular Lancer Sportback Ralliart would not be overlooked by giving it a bright orange exterior color called Rotor Glow. Instead of the boy-racer spoilers that are used on certain Lancer models, the Lancer Sportback features a rear spoiler that is less ostentatious but actually helps improve the profile of the car. Like the Lancer sedan, the Lancer Sportback GTS and Ralliart both share the same 10-spoke wheel design, but the Ralliart adds stickier Yokohama summer tires.
2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart Interior
The only difference between the Lancer sedan and the all-new Sportback is the increased cargo capacity since Mitsubishi left the Lancer's cabin in tact. All 2010 Lancer models get a new information display screen mounted in the middle of the instrument cluster, and it uses colors and a layout that are much easier on the eyes. The true benefit of any hatchback is the added cargo volume, and the Lancer Sportback Ralliart packs in 36.6 cubic feet more cargo than its sedan counterpart with rear seats that fold completely flat. Although passenger volume has increased overall by one cubic foot, the dimensions for the rear-seat passengers are fractionally smaller when it comes to headroom and legroom. While the new hatchback area gives the Sportback improved styling and interior space, the thick C-pillars slightly impede rearward visibility.
Of course one of the telling signs this isn't your run-of-the-mill economy hatchback are the Recaro sport bucket front seats that are part of the optional ($2,750) Recaro Sport Package. The front bucket seats have the bolstering of a race car from the shoulders down to the thighs and stand up high enough to protect against injuries in rear-end collisions. While the seats feel ready for the track (and even feature holes for a multi-point racing harness), the hard side bolstering may be a bit too harsh for a daily driver. In addition to the seats, this package also include high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps and a powerful Rockford-Fosgate audio system that features nine speakers, 710 watts of power and a six-disc in-dash CD/MP3 player.
2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart Performance & Handling
Under the vented hood sits a turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter inline-4 which is a detuned version of the Lancer Evolution to produce 237 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of torque. Although cars like the MAZDASPEEED3 and HHR SS produce more horsepower, the Sportback Ralliart features full-time all-wheel drive giving it smoother acceleration with absolutely no torque steer. Speaking of common problems associated with turbocharged cars, the Sportback Ralliart's single-scroll turbo does exhibit some turbo lag, but it's not as invasive as some other competitors. The all-wheel drive system features front and rear limited slip differentials with an active center differential. Even though it is a performance-minded car, the Lancer Sportback Ralliart manages to get decent fuel economy with EPA estimates of 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
Performance and styling included, the best part of the Lancer Sportback Ralliart is by far Mitsubishi's twin-clutch sport shift transmission (TC-SST). The dual-clutch gearbox is probably one of the best on the market, and it delivers lightning-quick shifts either automatically or manually via the Sportronic paddle shifters. This quick-shifting gearbox features impressive acceleration (close to six seconds from 0-60 miles per hour), but the Ralliart is even more fun in tight turns. The sport-tuned suspension helps in corners, but despite weighing 110 pounds more than a comparable Lancer sedan, the Sportback Ralliart has a more even weight distribution at 58/42 (compared to 60/40). In all, the new Lancer Ralliart really gives the Impreza WRX a run for its money - even for those looking for a hatchback.
2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart Safety
The safety ratings for the Lancer Sportback are the same as the Lancer sedan from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The NHTSA rated the 2010 Sportback with frontal-impact protection of five stars for the driver and four stars for the front passenger and side-impact protection of five stars for the front occupant and four stars for the rear occupant. Although the Lancer sedan received four stars for rollover avoidance, the Lancer Sportback has not been rated yet. The IIHS gave the Sportback full Good ratings for front-, side- and rear-impact protection, but unlike the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger (which share the Lancer's underpinnings), no Lancer models were named as a 2010 Top Safety pick. Aside from the all-wheel drive system, the 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback comes standard with seven airbags, active head restraints, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock brake system, tire pressure monitoring system, active stability control and traction control.
Filling a niche market is never easy, but Mitsubishi has introduced a new model to go up against the Impreza WRX and other vehicles in the hot hatch segment. The best part of a hot hatch is the incredible fun-to-drive factor mixing an everyday practicality with track-ready performance, and the all-new 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart definitely fits the bill. Although its performance is somewhat lacking compared to other compact hot hatches, the Sportback Ralliart features some advanced technologies not commonly associated with a sub-$30,000 to make its presence felt among the competition.