– Sporting style
– Comfortable ride
– Value-packed pricing
– Average rear legroom
– Soft suspension tuning
– Not that powerful
The Lancer has probably been Mitsubishi’s best kept secret for the past few years. They’ve been offering a car that competes with the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla, but with pricing that puts it more in line with much smaller competitors. That has allowed the Lancer to quietly gain market share, but still too few know about all that this car offers for so less. This generation of the Lancer will also be quietly replaced soon, but before it is taken out back and shot, we decided to give it one last spin.
We rode with the fanciest version available, second only to the untouchable Evolution version. The car we’re talking about is the Ralliart version, named after Mitsubishi’s tuner division, but essentially a Lancer with a 2.0-litre motor, a body kit, and some small yet fancy OZ Racing 15-inch alloys. It all looks pretty attractive, even with the comically small wheels, and certainly looks more expensive, with its sizeable rear wing, smoked headlights and tuner-style clear tail-lights. In reality, even with all these items, the total price comes to about the same as a basic barebones Honda Civic.
The interior is a combination of plastics and cloth, with the upper door sills and dashboard top comprised of pliable materials, and the door inserts and armrests comprised of patterned fabric. Oddly enough, the door armrests are not padded, even though they look like they are. The steering wheel and other small bits are clad in faux leather, but the moderately-bolstered seats are fully upholstered with uncannily grippy patterned cloth. All seating adjustments are manual, but the rest of the features make up for it, with power windows, electric mirrors, keyless entry, dual airbags and a rather ugly radio cassette player that is paired up with a separate in-dash CD changer mounted lower in the centre console. Stereo sound quality is acceptable, though the changer refused to play our MP3 discs. The a/c uses basic knobs and seemed to struggle for a long while before actually cooling down the car. There are four cup-holders, all rather small, and a central storage compartment doubles as an armrest in the front, with a simpler armrest in the back. Other trim items include some metallic-look plastic along the dashboard, and actual aluminium pedals to complete the sporty image. There is nothing much we can complain about, except maybe that there is no trip computer, and that the keyless remote does not unlock the luggage trunk, so the actual key has to be used when opening from outside. There are gear-shift buttons on the steering wheel where stereo buttons would’ve made more sense. But all this is put together well, and the doors close with a solid thunk, enhancing the feeling of quality.
Headroom is good all over, and legroom is also good in the front. In the back, there is just enough legroom for average-sized people, though basketball players might find their knees touching something or the other. Luggage trunk space is below average for this class, but the split rear seat folds down to expand loading area. Visibility is good out the windows thanks to thin pillars, though the side mirrors could’ve been bigger.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder is far from state-of-the-art, easily eclipsed by 1.8-litre units from Toyota and Honda in every aspect. It churns out only 123 hp, enough to push it from standstill to 100 kph in 12 seconds flat during our tests. Some of its 173 Nm of available torque even allowed the front wheels to let out a small chirp as we launched it. The buzzy engine needs to be pushed to work well, but it is smooth enough. The four-speed automatic shifts smoothly, and the tiptronic manual-shift function is one of the more responsive ones we’ve seen, holding gears like it should and generally easy to use. We estimated average fuel economy to be about 11.2 litres per 100 km, which isn’t too bad given the size of the engine. Range from the 50-litre fuel tank can be stretched to beyond 450 km with conservative driving.
For an economy car, the ride is satisfying, being smooth enough on most surfaces. It does not wallow when driving through sizeable dips on the highway, and it is stable at fairly high cruising speeds, though we doubt the cosmetic rear wing plays a significant part. There is moderate road noise, but wind noise is thankfully very limited. It is also easy to drive in traffic, with somewhat soft steering that still offers a lot of welcome feedback from the road surface. The Ralliart can also be fun to throw around, if driven within its limits. It takes long curves easily, but sharper turns were met with so much body roll and screeching understeer that we calmed down a little to avoid unwanted dents on the car. Grip is limited by the 195/60 tyres wrapping the lightweight 15-inch alloys, but the suspension design allows a fair bit more roll than the perfectly-tuned Ford Focus, but possibly less than the soft Toyota Corolla. The ABS-assisted brakes are decent though, with discs on all four corners, which is rare in this class of cars. Pedal feel is very good, and linear stops are easily achieved.
Even with all its flashy body add-ons, the Lancer Ralliart is still a very simple car that does its job well, while offering a good number of interior features that are rare at this price. Contrary to what it portrays, the Ralliart is no sports car or even a performance car. It is an economy car at heart, with a mildly sporting personality that allows it to have some fun once in a while.