Mitsubishi calls the Lancer Sportback Ralliart the ‘missing link’. Which doesn't sound too promising. The missing link is a usually a put-down used to describe someone perhaps not as developed as they could be. What the Japanese maker actually means is that the Sportback – which uses the Ralliart badge in Europe for the first time – bridges the gap between boggo Lancers and its tarmac-melting Evo models.
How does it manage that?
The Ralliart version uses a detuned version of the Evo X’s die-cast aluminium two-litre turbo engine, underpinned by the basic running gear from the Evo IX. So, you get 240bhp as opposed to the nutty 300bhp and upwards of the Evo models. And instead of the Evo’s Active Yaw Control the Sportback has All-Wheel Control, which uses the active centre differential to split torque equally between limited slip diffs at the front and rear axles. The suspension has also been upgraded with thicker front anti-roll bars, higher spring rates and uprated dampers, while the brake discs grow from 381mm to 406mm.
Any visual tweaks?
Unlike the Evo, whose heritage dictates a three-box saloon format, the Ralliart version will only be available as a hatchback. Which means owners will unfortunately be stuck with the five-door model’s slightly awkward shape. At least there’s no mistaking the intent of those big-bore twin exhausts, vented bonnet and graphite alloys – it’s certainly looks sharper than the standard Sportback, but these visual enhancements can’t mask a shape that’s neither as handsome nor as balanced as the saloon
As soon as you open the door it’s fairly clear where your money has gone – on the powerplant and drivetrain. The only visibly hints this is a sportier model are the leather and chrome trimmed steering wheel and the highlighted stitching on the big-bolster seats. But it is better equipped, with hard disk music storage system and satnav fitted included in the price. The twin-clutch SST transmission is also standard. Although manual changes using the paddle shifts were swift on our pre-production model they were unacceptably jerky at low speeds, something Mitsubishi insists will be sorted by the time the car goes on sale.
So what’s it like on the road?
The hatch is almost two cars in one. Almost. Flick the transmission’s switch to Sport – speeding up changes and ruling out shifts below 2500rpm – and the Mitsubishi feels aggressive and alert, goading you to push harder and faster. It’s a still a very quick point-to-point car. And the chassis is more than capable of keeping up too – the front bites hard into corners and the rear displays an Evo-like adjustability on the throttle. A pity then, that apart from a faint turbo whistle, the Ralliart’s soundtrack is flatly uninspiring. Flick the switch back to Normal and the Ralliart is content to potter along on the daily commute and school run.
The Sportback is not particularly cheap. The standard GTS costs around £21,500, with GSR – which adds among others heated leather seats and a higher quality stereo – weighing in at £24,000. Hmm. The swallow-hard pricing falls in line with Mitsubishi’s aim of targeting owners of premium German metal. And getting into a BMW or an Audi with similar performance to the Ralliart requires even deeper pockets. In pound-for-pound performance terms at least, this model arguably makes more sense than the balls-out Evo. If you can get your head around that styling, that is.