2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart
Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Laurance Yap

There are two ways to view the Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart: as the ultimate and most painful tease for the Lancer Evolution, a car we can’t get in Canada, or as just a really nice little car with a dose of extra attitude.

It’s not like Mitsubishi’s the only one that only gives us a taste of the hot stuff they sell in other parts of the world. Ford’s dearly-departed Focus SVT (which has been succeeded by the milder Focus ST) gave us 170 hp when the European Focus RS topped 200. Honda’s 160 hp Civic SiR – sadly unavailable in Canada for 2005 — is a tamer version of the Civic Type-R sold in Japan and Europe. Even the Subaru WRX STi isn’t as extreme as the 2.0-litre high-pressure turbo versions available in the rest of the world.

Judged on that basis, the $22,188 Lancer Ralliart, with its 162 hp, 2.4-litre MIVEC engine, Evo-like body kit, big wheels, and spruced-up interior is about par for the course for the warm-but-not-hot sport compact pack. Indeed, it goes further than a lot of other faster versions of some of its competitors by not only having a more powerful engine and upgraded cosmetics, but is a much better handler thanks to a sport-tuned suspension with stiffer springs and dampers, as well as a larger front anti-roll bar. Its 16-inch alloys are shod with surprisingly serious Goodyear rubber, and the five-speed shifter is the same one as used in American-market Evos, with well-defined gates, a stubby knob, and an almost toggle-switch-like action.

Lancers have always been fun cars to drive – the Evo heritage sees to that – and the Ralliart is no exception. Its steering is sharp, direct and accurate; the brakes are powerful with a nice firm pedal; and it corners with surprising stability, staying flat and composed even when you’re pushing pretty hard. Though the Ralliart’s engine is similar to the one used in other Mitsubishis like the Lancer Sportback and the base Galant, it has been mated to a throaty exhaust that gives it some extra edge. Throttle response seems keener here, too, than in other applications of the same engine, though that may well have to do with the psychological effect of the extra noise. Standard safety gear includes four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution, making for safe stopping in slippery conditions.

2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart
Click image to enlarge

While I’m not much a fan of body kits, the Lancer’s is one of the better ones out there; it has the effect of diminishing the size of the car’s huge nose, while adding a bit of sportiness thanks to well-integrated sill extensions and a relatively subtle rear spoiler (it’s subtle relative to the Evo, at least, though it does intrude a bit on the rear view). Inside, the interior has been dressed up with carbon-fibre and aluminum accents, seats with more aggressive side bolsters and “hollow” headrests, and a more powerful 140-watt stereo system; my tester, fitted with the Sun & Sound package, upgraded to a 315-watt Infinity system along with a power moonroof. A six-disc CD changer gives you a total of seven slots.

Like all Lancers, the Ralliart’s interior packaging is exceptional for a compact car. While the tall interior, with its upright seats and huge glass may look kind of awkward from the outside, it provides one of the roomiest, airiest-feeling cabins in the class. The seats remain comfortable for long distances, the dashboard controls are easy to use, and the rear seats fold to create a large pass-through to carry large objects. The trunk itself isn’t all that big, thanks to the Lancer’s characteristic low rear deck, but it has a commendably low liftover and is well-shaped.

2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart
Click image to enlarge

On the whole, the cabin’s quality is pretty good, with plastics on the dash and doors being as good as any of the Lancer’s major competitors, but there are some discordant cheap notes. The airbag cover on the steering wheel, for instance, is hard and shiny, while only the switch for the driver’s window on the door panel is lit (what happened to the three other window switches and the door locks?). Worst of all is a set of gauges – they’re supposed to look sporty – whose black-on-white markings are difficult to read in daylight, not bright enough at night, and completely illegible at dusk. Indeed, the red backlighting for all of the controls is a bit dim.

2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart
Click image to enlarge

I’d find it easier to quibble about those bits were the Lancer Ralliart not such a deal. It’s less than $23,000 – and around $25,000 loaded up with all the goodies you could want – when a Focus ST starts at over $24,000 and can quickly get more expensive. The Ralliart’s biggest threat is the Mazda3 Sport Hatchback, which is priced for just a little more money, but offers similar equipment and a more rounded driving experience with a smoother ride and even more impressive cornering ability. And because the Mazda’s a newer car – the Lancer was introduced for the 2003 model year in Canada – it feels newer, too, with bigger, easier stereo controls, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, and seats that go up and down with a dentist’s-chair lever instead of a stiff knob.

It’s too bad that Mitsubishi has cancelled the Sportback version of the Ralliart, whose versatile wagon body gave the car a unique calling card in the compact class. Still, the four-door version of the Lancer Ralliart is a fun package, priced right.

Technical Data: 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart

Base price $22,188
Options $2,610 (Sun & Sound package: power sunroof, six-CD changer and side air bags, $2,610)
Freight $925
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $25,823
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact sedan
Layout Front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.4-litre inline 4, SOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 162 @ 5750 rpm
Torque 162 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Tires 205/50R16 all-season performance
Wheelbase 2600 mm (102.4 in.)
Length 4585 mm (180.5 in.)
Width 1695 mm (66.8 in.)
Height 1365 mm (53.7 in.)
Cargo capacity 320 litres (11.3 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 10.1 L/100 km (28 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.4 L/100 km (38 mpg
Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 10 yrs/160,000 km

Connect with Autos.ca