Research shows that $25,000 is a critical price point for new-car buyers, a middle ground where expectations transition from basic transportation to some kind of added value, be it luxury, performance, cargo hauling, overall versatility or combinations of all the above. The all-new 2009 Lancer Ralliart lands in this price point with performance aspirations powered by the iconic Lancer Evolution.
Mitsubishi went old-school style and built a budget hot rod by dropping key performance parts into an otherwise pedestrian package. In this case the turbo four cylinder from the Evo, its top-flight tranny and all-wheel drive system land in a GTS-trim Lancer. The idea was to broaden the appeal of the line by adding a two-faced player that excels at all the basic A-to-B stuff, but has the tools to invigorate when the road opens up.
The Lancer Ralliart fills the void between the high-performance Evolution X and the commuter-minded GTS. The Ralliart moniker has been used before to signify special editions, but this 2009 version is by far the most serious. It’s the first rendition to sport turbo power and all-wheel drive.
The Ralliart has only one factory option, the $2,750 Recaro Sport Package, which adds Xenon HID headlights, a 650-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo system, Sirius Satellite Radio with six-month subscription, and Recaro front sport seats found on the Lancer Evolution GSR. A new 40 GB HDD navigation system is also available as either a port-installed option or as a dealer accessory.
Like the Evo, the Ralliart rolls on 18-inch wheels, but unfortunately its 215-spec tires create a bit of contact-patch envy compared to the Evo, which flexes 245-spec tires.
Under the Hood
The Ralliart distances itself from the GTS by raiding the Evo’s parts bins. Under the Ralliart’s aluminum hood, lifted right off the Evo, is the Evo’s turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. The block and internals are unaltered. The head is the same but fitted with less aggressive cams. The big difference maker is the turbocharger.
The Ralliart uses a smaller turbo than the unit that pressurizes the Evo. The max boost pressure really tells the tale, with the Ralliart seeing 13.3 psi and the Evo pumping 22.4 psi when the hammer drops. Consequentially, the Evo generates 291 horsepower compared to the Ralliart, which is rated at 237 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of torque. The Ralliart sports a blocky, plateau-like torque curve, with its peak 253 lb-ft online from 2500 to 4750 rpm.
The only gearbox offered in the Ralliart is the top-of-the-line TC-SST auto-manual found in the MR. The transmission is two-faced in that it can be kept in a traditional automatic mode for stop-and-go grinds, or clicked into Sportronic mode for at-will shifting via paddles behind the steering wheel or by the stick. The Ralliart version of the gearbox has normal and sport modes, but not the rev-matching S-Sport mode found in the MR. It is also fitted with higher fifth and sixth gears for better fuel mileage.
The Evo parts bin takes another big hit when it comes to the driveline, but it’s not the Evo X. The Ralliart runs an Evo IX-derived drivetrain featuring Mitsubishi’s Active Center Differential (ACD) front helical LSD and rear mechanical LSD. This setup provides grip that the GTS can’t even dream about.
Unfortunately the raiding party never made it into the Evo’s suspension parts department. Going with a GTS-based suspension provides a more civil and refined ride at the cost of apex-attacking track abilities, which Mitsubishi surmises would be wasted on Ralliart’s target audience. A tuned GTS suspension with accommodations made for the car’s all-wheel-drive system is designed to provide the best of both worlds.
The brakes on the Ralliart are scavenged from the Outlander SUV. Bigger-than-GTS rotors all around join bigger-than-GTS two-piston calipers up front. No Evo-spec Brembo brakes here.
The cabin of the Ralliart is a carbon copy of the rest of the Lancer lineup, which was redesigned in the 2008 model year. The cluster is clean with side-by-side tach and speedo readouts sandwiching an LED data center that provides gear selection, fuel level, fuel mileage and other important info at a glance.
The steering wheel is Evo MR-issue with audio controls, and the shifter is a nice leather-wrapped unit. The stock seats are a great combination of support and comfort and may keep many from opting for the Recaros. Like the suspension, the interior has a few tricks up its sleeve that broaden appeal, namely 60/40 split-folding rear seats with a pass-through and more trunk space. The Evo has bracing behind the seats and a trunk-mounted battery, both of which limit its versatility.
On the Road
The Ralliart press intro had Evo and GTS versions on hand for back-to-back evaluation on a timed autocross. We started by driving an Evo and we were severely overdriving the car but it never faltered. Going from an Evo into the Ralliart requires a serious re-boot, because drivers simply can’t get away with the same antics. Where the Evo’s Zen-like suspension rotates the car in one singular motion (followed by instantaneous recovery), the Ralliart divides the rotation into three or four distinct actions and struggles to recover. The Ralliart just doesn’t have the cat-like reflexes of the Evo.
But temper your movements and make the most of those three or four distinct actions and the new Ralliart is engaging and responsive. Our appreciation for the Ralliart jumped further when we asked the GTS to pull off the same dance moves. The GTS struggled, and when things got out of hand it was a domino effect that made catching up with the car impossible.
The Ralliart did come off a bit heavy when transferring weight, which made us wonder how much a set of aftermarket coilover shocks would wake things up. The car could have been quicker at initial turn-in as well. Its stamped steel GTS suspension can only be tuned so far, and it may be compromised by having to deal with an AWD powertrain for which it was never designed.
On the street, the turbo mill pulled hard and was quite snappy when kept in its power band. Its flat-topped torque curve provided plenty of gusto off the line and allowed confident passing at speed. Ride-wise, the Ralliart was the best of the bunch. The Evo, while not the kidney puncher we expected, lets you feel the road — all of it. The GTS was too soft and uncommunicative. The Ralliart had cross-country ride quality and good steering feedback.
Right for You?
If time attacks at the track and $32K stickers are not in your future, but you want a four-door with an attitude, the Lancer Ralliart splits the difference very well. A calm commuter one moment, the Ralliart can shape shift into a high-boost thrill machine with very little urging. Best of all, it is equally adept at both tasks — and at $26K it goes easy on the wallet.
Evan Griffey served as an editor of Turbo & High Tech Performance, a pioneering publication about sport-compact tuning. Today Griffey freelances for Import Tuner, Sport Compact Car, Car Audio and Siphon.