Hot hatches and performance compacts have been on the come up the last few years. It’s sort of surprising considering that most buyers don’t seem to care about driving anything fun. There’s a new GTI/Golf R, and Hyundai will sell you a car with 275 horsepower and one of the best sounding stock exhausts ever in either a three-door hatch, a four-door compact, or a compact crossover. Even Toyota got in on the game, giving us the 300 horsepower GR Corolla, something we didn’t think the U.S. would ever get. Mitsubishi, a company so far gone from anything fun that it threw a storied JDM nameplate on a crossover, used to give us great performance with its Lancer Evolution. And at one point, if you couldn’t get an Evo, they offered an Evo lite in the form of the Lancer Ralliart.
Welcome to Forgotten Cars where we go into a brief history and background of some models you may not remember. Join us for an automotive trip down memory lane.
Yes, Mitsubishi used to make cool stuff. From Galant VR-4s to the 3000GT, the company had some performance credentials, mainly from its experience in WRC (World Rally Championship). Enter Ralliart, Mitsubishi’s performance and racing arm founded in 1984. Ralliart fielded Lancers and Lancer Evolutions from 1993 until 2007. That racing know-how gave the world the Lancer Evolution and to a lesser extent, the Lancer Ralliart.
The Lancer Ralliart was based on the ninth generation Lancer that made its debut in 2007. It rode on the GS platform which was jointly developed by Mitsubishi and Chrysler. In addition to the Lancer, Mitsubishi used the platform for the Outlander and still uses it today on the unfortunate Eclipse Cross. (Over at Daimler Chrysler, anything that you can think of that was terrible at the time rode on this platform, from the Dodge Caliber to the Jeep Compass.)
The Lancer Ralliart debuted in 2009, which was an unfortunate time for a car company to debut a sporty product. The world economy was on the brink of collapse due to the Great Recession, and automakers were killing models left and right to save money. But Mitsubishi pressed on with the Lancer Ralliart. While it was available in a sedan, you didn’t want that one. The one you wanted was the Ralliart Sportback.
What made the Ralliart so special? It really was an Evo lite. Choosing the Ralliart got you a detuned version of the 4B11 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 used in the Evo. In the Ralliart, it made 237 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of torque; an AWD drive system that was a simplified version of the setup used in the Evolution X. Even the transmission was lifted from the Evo. While more basic Corolla- and Civic-fighting Lancers got the option of a five-speed manual or a terrible CVT (that Mitsubishi had the nerve of giving paddle shifters to on GTS trims), the Lancer Ralliart received the same TC-SST six-speed dual-clutch transmission as the Evo X. The only difference between the two cars was that the Ralliart received two transmission modes (normal, sport) to the Evo’s three (normal, sport, s-sport).
All those Evo-sourced goodies are cool, but how did it perform? Not bad, actually. While it wasn’t light (it was nearly 3,600 pounds in Sportback Ralliart trim), it was actually faster than a WRX. Depending on what you read, 60 mph came in either 5.4 or 5.7 seconds. And the engine had a sweet spot, as our own Andrew Stoy wrote back in ‘08:
The 235hp MIVEC 2.0 is all base Lancer below about 2,800 RPM, after which torque shows up; it’s not intrusive, nor is it the dreaded “on/off” turbo switch, but the car subtly changes character. Mitsu lit says that 253 ft-lb is available from 2,500-4,750 RPM — and that’s pretty much the only place it’s available. Fortunately, the Twin-Clutch SST will happily let you play in that sweet spot all day long.
None of this broke the bank, either. Pricing for the Lancer Ralliart ranged from just $28,000 to just over $31,000 for a loaded Sportback Ralliart. Unfortunately, the Lancer Ralliart didn’t last long. Mitsubishi and Ralliart weren’t immune from the recession. Mitsubishi announced that Ralliart was ending operations in early 2010 and the Lancer Sportback was killed in 2014. Somehow the Lancer made it until 2017. And not many were made. Production numbers are hard to come by, but I found just two for sale in the whole country. While Mitsubishi is a shadow of what it once was in the performance department, at least we can look back on models like the Lancer Ralliart to see that once upon a time, the company actually tried.