Test Drive: 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart car test drives mitsubishi
Test Drive: 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart car test drives mitsubishi
2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback

Ottawa, Ontario – It’s uncommon to find a vehicle sold in Canada that offers more than one or two engines and a handful of trim levels. That might be particularly true in the compact segment, where a low price and economical operation are more important than having an out-and-out sporty model in the lineup.

In that sense, then, the Mitsubishi Lancer is an anomaly, a bit of a freak show, even, among small cars. Here’s a car that is offered with four engines, three transmissions, front- and all-wheel drive and two bodystyles. The model lineup ranges from the $17,000 Lancer DE, with its 152-horsepower engine, all the way to the 290-hp, all-wheel drive Lancer Evolution MR, with its $47,000-plus price tag.

Such is the difference between the extremes that almost all that’s shared by the top- and bottom-end cars is the Lancer name. For 2009, Mitsubishi helps bridge that gap with the addition of the Ralliart trim. Think of this as Goldilocks’ just right, compared to the base Lancer which is too bland for those looking for sporty flair in a small car, and the Evolution whose $40,000-plus price can be tough to justify for a small car.

Here’s a car that uses a version of the Evolution’s turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive system, but with fewer of the Evolution’s go-fast bits, and a more palatable price, starting at about $33,000 for the Ralliart sedan.

Test Drive: 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart car test drives mitsubishi
2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart. Click image to enlarge

Also new for 2009 is a hatchback model called the Sportback that can be had in GTS trim, with a 2.4-litre engine and front-wheel drive, or in Ralliart spec. Mitsubishi was kind enough recently to toss me the keys to a Lancer Sportback Ralliart tester.

I say kind enough because, while the Ralliart isn’t deemed worthy to wear the vaunted, rally-ready Evolution name, it shares enough of the Evo’s dirty bits to be classified as something of an “Evo-Light.” My tester was a Sportback Ralliart model, with a starting price of $33,498. To that, Mitsubishi added the sole available option, the $5,000 Premium Package, which includes hard-drive based navigation; a stereo upgrade that includes a 30-gigabyte music server, satellite radio and an audio/video auxiliary input; power sunroof; Recaro seats; Mitsu’s FAST-key system; Bluetooth communications connectivity and automatic headlights and wipers.

The Lancer Ralliart does battle directly with Subaru’s WRX, another model that gained notoriety in North America as a rally car long before it was available for sale here. The addition of the Sportback model means Mitsubishi can compete with the sedan and hatchback versions of its Subaru competitor.

Test Drive: 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart car test drives mitsubishi
2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart. Click image to enlarge

The Ralliart does indeed use the Evolution’s turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive system, minus 54 horsepower, 47 lb-ft of torque and a yaw-control system. Otherwise, it’s all here, from the front and rear limited-slip differentials, active centre diff and the Twin-Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission (TC-SST) that’s standard in the top-line Evolution MR.

Even a year after driving the Evolution MR in summer 2008, the Ralliart’s reduced horsepower is apparent. The engine has the same torquey, turbocharged urge as the Evo’s, but the effect is less dramatic. Unfortunately, like the Evo, that urge is completely absent when the tach needle indicates anything less than 2,000 r.p.m. Shortly after that – torque peaks at 2,500 r.p.m. – it’s like flipping a switch, and the car instantly begins to boogie.