- Crisp, communicative steering
- Strong performance for the money (Ralliart)
- Racy look
- Supportive front seats
- Noisy interior
- Chintzy interior look and feel
- Quick-ratio steering feels nervous on the highway
- Twin-Clutch gearbox lurches in relaxed driving
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.
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.