2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution / Ralliart Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
November 21, 2010

The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Ralliart have are sharp-edged, athletic performers but come up short in refinement—which might not make them the best pick as everyday drivers.

The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart is an affordable sedan fitted with impressive performance upgrades, while the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is a sophisticated, no-holds-barred flagship that offers track-honed features and the capability to outperform some sports cars costing several times as much.

The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Ralliart look more like well-done tuner cars than sophisticated performance machines—and like an economy car on steroids through and through. Take a look a little closer at these cars' details and silhouettes and it's enough to turn off older, more sophisticated shoppers; it's easy to see that they're heavily based on the Mitsubishi Lancer, a basic compact sedan, but dressed up with a go-fast look. The Lancer Ralliart, in particular, shares much with the sportiest version of the Lancer, the GTS, but it gets the Evolution's lightweight aluminum hood with integral ductwork to keep the turbo cool, along with an aggressively styled front bumper and dual exhaust. New last year was a five-door Sportback version of the Ralliart.

The interior of the 2011 Mitsubishi Lance Ralliart and Evo isn't very impressive from a styling standpoint. There are no glaring design deficiencies, and the instrument panel is businesslike and straightforward; but it's easy to see the interior as a slightly dressed-up economy-car cabin. Upholstery, accents, trims, and the steering wheel have been upgraded, however.

Review continues below

The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution might look like an economy car on steroids through and through—and leave older, more sophisticated buyers reeling—there's a lot to love in the driving experience. The Evolution has a 291-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, while the Ralliart picks up a lower-boost, 237-hp version of the same engine. Between the two, we actually like the Ralliart's engine a bit better; it's tuned for stronger low- and mid-rev response. The Evo's engine tends to have a longer turbo lag and delivers its power in a sudden mad rush. In either case, shifts are made either through a five-speed manual, which is good but a bit notchy, or a six-speed automated manual transmission, termed Twin Clutch-SST. The automated gearbox includes Normal and Sport driving modes and though it's a little hesitant in gentle driving, it pulls off snappy shifts like a track pro when you tap into all the power.

Both the Ralliart and Evo come with a sophisticated set of mechanical and electronic systems designed to transmit power smoothly to the pavement, even when the driver isn't using finesse or the conditions aren't ideal. Highlights include Super All-Wheel Control, an Active Center Differential, a helical gear front differential, and Active Yaw Control. Altogether these systems give the 2011 Lancer Evolution and Ralliart tremendous agility, tractability, and poise to rival much more expensive machines from Germany.

Ultimately, ride and handling is where the more discerning drivers will find the difference between the Evolution and Ralliart. The Evo has very little in common with its lesser brethren; it has an exclusive, enhanced body structure, with many of the steel body panels replaced with lightweight aluminum. The Ralliart is a compromise of sorts, offering some but not all of the powertrain components from the Evo, in a body structure that's essentially the same as that of the sporty Lancer GTS. The chassis underpinning the Ralliart doesn't feel quite as precise and unyielding as that of the Evolution, but that's fine for everyday driving—especially if you find yourself on bumpy roads. The steering is sharp and has a very quick ratio, along with good feedback, and stout brakes deliver all the braking force the tires can handle. The suspension can be harsh, though, rebounding abruptly and temporarily flustering the Ralliart's otherwise good composure on bumpy corners, especially when getting back on the power. The Evolution MR brings an especially high-performance package that ranks above the base GSR and adds track-ready Bilstein shocks and Eibach springs.

The Ralliart and the Evolution get a dressed-up interior versus the Lancer, with a few added trims and surfaces, but it's downright disappointing. With a proliferation of hollow, hard plastics—and some of the same pieces and panels from the $15,000 Lancer—it's a letdown in a $28,000 Ralliart, let alone in a $44,000 loaded Evolution. Seats are the exception in the Evolution; the heavily bolstered, grippy Recaros are superb, and we recommend the option package that includes these seats in the Ralliart. Functionally, the Evolution and Ralliart are reasonably comfortable, versatile daily drivers, thanks to decent backseat space, a big trunk, and 60/40-split backseats that fold forward in any of the models. The Sportback is especially useful as the hatch allows just a little extra cargo flexibility. However, on any of these models, road noise is an issue.

Both the 2011 Ralliart and Evo come surprisingly better-equipped than their racy, tuner-car look and feel might suggest. Fog lamps, a hands-free entry system, a trip computer, automatic climate control, Bluetooth, leather trim, and aluminum pedals are all standard on the Ralliart. The Evolution MR upgrades to the twin-clutch gearbox, a slightly more compliant suspension, better wheels, and HID headlamps, plus other extras like the FAST hands-free entry system. At the top of the lineup is the Lancer Evolution MR Touring, which also gets new heated leather sport seats, a power sunroof, and other appearance boosts. Remote engine start and a nav system with music storage are among the options on all Ralliart and Evo models, along with a new FUSE voice-command system for interfacing with smartphones, iPods, and the like.

7

2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution / Ralliart

Styling

The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution looks aggressive and sporty, but up close and inside it fails to deliver any upmarket details.

The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Ralliart look more like well-done tuner cars than sophisticated performance machines—and like an economy car on steroids through and through. Take a look a little closer at these cars' details and silhouettes and it's enough to turn off older, more sophisticated shoppers; it's easy to see that they're heavily based on the Mitsubishi Lancer, a basic compact sedan, but dressed up with a go-fast look.

The Lancer Ralliart, in particular, shares much with the sportiest version of the Lancer, the GTS, but it gets the Evolution's lightweight aluminum hood with integral ductwork to keep the turbo cool, along with an aggressively styled front bumper and dual exhaust. On the outside, the look doesn't break out in any new directions, but its shark-like front-end styling makes it easy to spot and differentiate from a distance. There really isn't that much of a difference in appearance between the two models on the outside—with more aggressive wheels, a slightly different front fascia, and an added rear spoiler for the Evolution—even if the Evo has further structural differences and an aluminum roof.

New last year was a five-door Sportback version of the Ralliart; it's a rather conventional, swept-back hatchback in appearance, but it works just as well with the aggressive front end and it's just a matter of personal taste as to which one's better.

The interior of the 2011 Mitsubishi Lance Ralliart and Evo isn't very impressive from a styling standpoint. There are no glaring design deficiencies, and the instrument panel is businesslike and straightforward; but it's easy to see the interior as a slightly dressed-up economy-car cabin. Upholstery, accents, trims, and the steering wheel have been upgraded, however.

9

2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution / Ralliart

Performance

The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is a serious, focused performance car and feels more sophisticated than it looks; the Lancer Ralliart delivers all-weather sports-car thrills on a tighter budget.

There's a lot to love in the Evolution or Ralliart driving experience. The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution has a 291-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, while the Ralliart picks up a lower-boost, 237-hp version of the same engine. Between the two, we actually like the Ralliart's engine a bit better; it's tuned for stronger low- and mid-rev response. The Evo's engine tends to have a longer turbo lag and delivers its power in a sudden mad rush. In either case, shifts are made either through a five-speed manual, which is good but a bit notchy, or a six-speed automated manual transmission, termed Twin Clutch-SST. The automated gearbox includes Normal and Sport driving modes and though it's a little hesitant in gentle driving, it pulls off snappy shifts like a track pro when you tap into all the power.

Both the Ralliart and Evo come with a sophisticated set of mechanical and electronic systems designed to transmit power smoothly to the pavement, even when the driver isn't using finesse or the conditions aren't ideal. Highlights include Super All-Wheel Control, an Active Center Differential, a helical gear front differential, and Active Yaw Control. Altogether these systems give the 2011 Lancer Evolution and Ralliart tremendous agility, tractability, and poise to rival much more expensive machines from Germany.

Ride and handling is ultimately where the more discerning drivers will find the difference between the Evolution and Ralliart. The Evo has very little in common with its lesser brethren; it has an exclusive, enhanced body structure, with many of the steel body panels replaced with lightweight aluminum. The Ralliart is a compromise of sorts, offering some but not all of the powertrain components from the Evo, in a body structure that's essentially the same as that of the sporty Lancer GTS. The chassis underpinning the Ralliart doesn't feel quite as precise and unyielding as that of the Evolution, but that's fine for everyday driving—especially if you find yourself on bumpy roads. The steering is sharp and has a very quick ratio, along with good feedback, and stout brakes deliver all the braking force the tires can handle. The suspension can be harsh, though, rebounding abruptly and temporarily flustering the Ralliart's otherwise good composure on bumpy corners, especially when getting back on the power. The Evolution MR brings an especially high-performance package that ranks above the base GSR and adds track-ready Bilstein shocks and Eibach springs.

Out on the track, the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution certainly lives up to its predecessors on the track. But it's pricey, and it definitely makes some comfort sacrifices in the name of performance. Mitsubishi has made much of the driving excitement provided in the Evolution to be accessible in the more affordable Lancer Ralliart, so it's worth considering the Ralliart's more flexible engine and much lower price.

6

2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution / Ralliart

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Ralliart have a reasonably spacious, accommodating interior layout, but they lack the refinement, comfort, and pleasing materials expected in vehicles of this price range.

Both the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart and the Evolution get a dressed-up interior versus the Lancer, with a few added trims and surfaces, but the proliferation of hollow, hard plastics makes it disappointing overall. And with some of the same pieces and panels from the $15,000 Lancer, it's a letdown in a $28,000 Ralliart, let alone in a $44,000 loaded Evolution. Seats are the exception in the Evolution; the heavily bolstered, grippy Recaro racing seats are superb, and we recommend the option package that includes these seats in the Ralliart.

Functionally, the Evolution and Ralliart are reasonably comfortable, versatile daily drivers, thanks to decent backseat space, a big trunk, and 60/40-split backseats that fold forward in any of the models. The Sportback is especially useful as the hatch allows just a little extra cargo flexibility.

Unfortunately, interior noise and a harsh ride get in the way of passenger comfort. On either of these models, the stiff chassis tuning and lack of sound deadening can be a recipe for weariness on the road in the 2011 Mitsubishi Ralliart or Evolution. Ride comfort is only slightly better in the Ralliart, with a firm ride that can make Rust Belt potholes feel punishing.

8

2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution / Ralliart

Safety

Despite their racy look and feel, the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Ralliart come with decent safety features and occupant protection.

The racy styling and eager demeanor of the 2011 Evolution and Ralliart might invite risky driving, but they promise good safety overall.

The Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart shares its body structure with the standard Lancer sedan, a vehicle that has performed very well in crash tests; the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has given the Lancer top 'good' ratings in frontal offset, side impact, rear impact, and roof strength, and it was named a Top Safety Pick for 2010. The federal government hasn't yet tested any Lancer, Ralliart, or Evo under its revised 2011-model-year ratings procedures, but it gave the 2010 Lancer a mix of four- and five-star ratings in both frontal and side tests.

All the expected safety gear is included: electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, head-curtain side airbags, front-seat mounted side bags, and a driver knee airbag are standard on both the Ralliart and Evolution. Additionally, the all-wheel-drive system might help allow you to make some types of emergency maneuvers with greater safety.

One other point worth noting is that some drivers report that outward vision—rearward in particular—is impaired by the rather high beltline and made worse by the rear spoiler.

8

2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution / Ralliart

Features

The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart and Evolution get much needed connectivity improvements this year; Ralliart models in particular are a strong value for the money.

Both the 2011 Ralliart and Evo come surprisingly better-equipped than their racy, tuner-car look and feel might suggest. Fog lamps, a hands-free entry system, a trip computer, automatic climate control, Bluetooth, leather trim, and aluminum pedals are all standard on the Ralliart. The Evolution MR upgrades to the twin-clutch gearbox, a slightly more compliant suspension, better wheels, and HID headlamps, plus other extras like the FAST hands-free entry system. At the top of the lineup is the Lancer Evolution MR Touring, which also gets new heated leather sport seats, a power sunroof, and other appearance boosts. Remote engine start and a nav system with music storage are among the options on all Ralliart and Evo models.

New for 2011, the Lancer Ralliart and Evo can be optioned with the new FUSE Hands-Free Link System—allowing users to connect their Bluetooth phones, iPod, or USB drive and access calling functions or music with voice commands. A Gracenote service automatically identifies artists and track names. The available navigation system now also includes real-time traffic data.

6

2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution / Ralliart

Fuel Economy

With fuel economy ratings about on par with those of a typical three-row SUV, the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution simply isn't green.

The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliar and Lancer Evolution don't get impressive EPA ratings. At just 17 mpg city for both models, you can expect them to guzzle premium fuel at the same rate of a large seven-passenger crossover or minivan, and the rather small 14.5-gallon fuel tank will empty in less than 250 miles.

Unfortunately, The Car Connection hasn't seen much better in multiple real-world experiences.

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7.6
Overall
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Styling 7.0
Performance 9.0
Comfort & Quality 6.0
Safety 8.0
Features 8.0
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