Mitsubishi Lancer a racy hatchback

The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart is a sporty hatchback that is in the automaker’s top of the line hatchback series.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 9:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 9:49 p.m.

The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart is a turbocharged, sporty hatchback that's tantalizingly close to a bad boy racer.

The five-seat, five-door Sportback Ralliart looks the part, with a gaping, dark front grille, sinister-looking headlamps, low-profile sport tires and a prominent rear spoiler.

Just a push on the accelerator pedal brings this hot performance hatchback to life as the race-car-derived engine noisily delivers 237 horsepower and 253 foot-pounds of torque. Thank goodness it comes standard with all-wheel drive.

To be sure, there are a minority of people these days looking for a flashy, rather rough-riding, powerful but gasoline-gulping, four-cylinder hatchback. But the 2011 Lancer Sportback Ralliart, with race-car components, is a unique experience and continues to attract many youthful auto enthusiasts.

The Lancer Sportback Ralliart is the top of the line of Mitsubishi's Lancer hatchback series that's called Sportback and was launched in the 2010 model year.

For 2011, the Sportback series has a lower starting retail price because a new, base model — the ES — has been added with a lower-power engine, generating 148 horsepower. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $17,755 for a 2011 ES with this four-cylinder engine and manual transmission. The lowest starting price for a Lancer Sportback with automatic is $18,655 for a 2011 ES with 148-horsepower, four-cylinder engine.

Buyers must step up to a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $20,655 for the higher-powered, 168-horsepower four cylinder. The top, Lancer Sportback Ralliart with turbocharged, 237-horsepower four cylinder starts at $28,855. There is another racer Mitsubishi Lancer with even more power. The 2011 Lancer Evo has a 291-horsepower, turbo four cylinder and starts at $34,755. But it's a sedan, not a hatchback.

Hatchback competitors to the Lancer Sportback include the 2011 Subaru Impreza, which starts at $18,720 for a 170-horsepower, five-door model and goes to $36,720 for a 305-horsepower, five-door model with turbo four cylinder. Another competitor is the 2011 Mazda3 five-door, which starts at $20,840 for a base, 167-horsepower model and goes to $24,495 for a 2011 Mazdaspeed3 hatchback with turbocharged, 263-horsepower four cylinder.

The test Lancer Sportback Ralliart attracted attention with its unabashedly bold appearance. Young people especially noticed this car, which was painted a bright Octane Blue color that almost seemed to glow.

Engine power came on quickly, with little turbo lag. I zoomed forward to merge into city traffic and passed other cars easily on two-lane, country roads.

The accelerator pedal took a bit of learning, because if I didn't meter the pressure at the outset, I found the car quickly getting beyond residential speed limits. In fact, when I kept the car at 25 miles an hour, I felt as if this sporty car was crawling along the pavement. The engine punch of power, or torque, is available very early in the rev band, meaning it's there at slower speeds and is palpable. Indeed, all 253 foot-pounds of torque comes on by 3,000 rpm.

The only transmission is a six-speed, dual-clutch, automated manual Sportronic Shift that worked well to manage driver demands on the gas pedal and the strong power delivery to the wheels.

Don't expect great fuel mileage. The test car had a federal government rating of 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway.

It's difficult to get into a car like this, though, and drive modestly. The test car, with 65 percent city driving, managed only 18.6 miles per gallon and I never loaded it up with a lot of passengers and cargo. Premium gasoline is needed for optimal performance, too.

The thing that stuck with me was how noisy, even rough-sounding, the engine was at times. This combined with the constant road noise from the 18-inch summer tires, including every clunk as the tires went over manhole covers, was fatiguing. But I didn't notice it so much when I cranked up the 710-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system.

Another point: The Sportback models are 15 feet long — longer than the Impreza and Mazda3 five-door models — and they don't look or feel small as they are driven.

I noticed a bit of heft to the test car, too, as it moved precisely through mountain roads and around curves. The Sportback Ralliart model is more than 3,500 pounds, so it's not a lightweight like some other smaller, sporty hatchbacks.

The all-wheel drive system worked well on dry and wet pavement. Note it's called All-Wheel Control and is derived from the system on Mitsubishi's rally race cars.

The power steering moved the test car precisely.

I appreciated the wide cargo area at the back, though tall items can be problematic. And rear seatbacks fold down to provide more room.

But interior plastics on the dashboard did not impress. The hard plastic pieces seemed ho-hum, and the tactile feedback from some knobs and buttons conveyed a cheap feel.

At 5 feet 4, I could have used some additional height adjustment on the driver seat. And two adults, not three, would do best in the back seat, though there are head restraints and safety belts for three.

All safety equipment is standard, including curtain air bags, a driver knee air bag to help the driver remain in proper position during a crash, electronic stability control and traction control.

The navigation system that was in the test car is an optional $2,150, which seems like a high price compared with nav system pricing in other cars.

Drivers also need to watch that they don't park too close to curbs. The stylish, multi-spoke wheels with the low-profile rubber scrape easily.

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