Goofy Mitsubishi Ralliart defies convention

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DETROIT — — Where have all the goofy cars gone? The cars that don't even make a drive-by of mainstream appeal before blasting full-throttle for weirdness. The cars that become cult favorites. Eccentric-looking and equipped with unusual features, they baffle most buyers but delight a few.

They're hard to find. Most automakers would rather invest in a carefully researched, boring Corolla wannabe than indulge their wild side.


But not the Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart. From its hatchback to a rally-inspired all-wheel-drive powertrain, the Sportback compact defies convention.

The Sportback Ralliart is an exalted version of Mitsubishi's pleasant Lancer compact. A hatchback accounts for the Sportback part of its name, while a 2-liter, 237-horsepower, turbocharged, 4-cylinder engine, all-wheel drive, a dual-clutch transmission and racy styling tweaks justify the Ralliart badge.


Prices for the Lancer Sportback Ralliart start at $27,590. A well-equipped test model was $30,340. Less-powerful front-wheel-drive versions come with a 2.4-liter, 168-hp 4, and prices starting at $19,190. All prices exclude destination charges.

The Sportback Ralliart competes with compact performance cars such as the Audi A3, Honda Civic Si, Subaru WRX and Volkswagen GTI. It costs more than the less-powerful front-wheel-drive Civic Si and GTI, but compares favorably with the all-wheel-drive A3 and WRX.

The hatchback style increases cargo space to 13.8 cubic feet with the rear seat up — 1.5 cubic feet more than the Lancer sedan — and 47 cubic feet with the seat folded flat. The Sportback has more cargo space than the Civic Si and WRX, but less than the GTI and A3.

Its sloping fastback profile gets a goofy little spoiler as part of the Ralliart appearance package. Other visual cues distinguishing the Ralliart include a bold, rectangular grille, novel bumpers and a bulging aluminum hood with two cooling vents. But its wide C-pillars reduce visibility.

Ralliart's mechanical components deliver on the racy promise of its styling. The 2-liter turbo rumbles with a satisfying growl. It delivers nearly all its 253 pound-feet of torque from 2,500 to 4,700 rpm, a broad power band that produces strong, immediate acceleration.

Engine vibration is a bit more than ideal, though road noise is minimal despite grippy Yokohama summer tires.

The Sportback Ralliart's 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway fuel economy doesn't match that of less-powerful sporty compacts, but compares well with the WRX that is its most direct competitor.

Then there's Mitsubishi's fast and precise dual-clutch, six-speed transmission, which has two modes: sport and normal. Normal provided smooth, fast shifts; sport makes the shifts quicker, but they are a little jarring. The transmission has manual and fully automatic modes.


The full-time AWD can send up to 50 percent of the engine's torque to the front or rear axle for excellent control in hard acceleration and quick turns.

The suspension keeps the car stable and level in enthusiastic maneuvers. The ride is a little bumpy, but that's a small price to pay for Ralliart's excellent handling.

Steering is quick and firm and, like the ride, will be too sporty for some.

A Recaro option package includes a powerful 710-watt Rockford Fosgate sound system, but the Recaro sport seats were a disappointment. They had the brand's signature sporty, scooped-out shape, but lacked basic features such as height adjustment.

Inside, Ralliart is functional, with clear gauges and simple controls, bit it needs more storage. The bin in the center console is too small to be of much use, and the cupholders are too shallow to hold drinks securely.

The instrument cluster includes a message center that flashes "See you" when you shut the engine off, another pleasantly goofy feature in a car that looks and sounds different from every angle.


Mere oddity is not a virtue, of course. If it were, there'd be statues of the Edsel and Aztek. Oddity that creates a unique, fast and fun little car, though, is a public service.