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Because of its reputation with the tuner crowd and, probably, its appearance in various racing games, the 2012 Lancer Evolution is likely by far the most easily recognized Mitsubishi in the U.S. The Lancer Evo, and the nearly look-alike (at least to the laymen) Lancer Ralliart, are performance legends to a certain set.
While these two models look much the same, they appeal to quite different target customers. The 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart is an affordable Lancer sedan, fitted with some well-configured sport upgrades, while the 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution gets more sophisticated bones, track-honed components, and serious performance hardware that makes it capable of outperforming much more expensive sports cars.
Essentially, both the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Ralliart look like tuner cars--like an economy car on steroids--much more than they look like exotic sports machines. An up-close look will probably elicit shrugs from those who don't get their performance potential; the Ralliart especially is heavily based on the pedestrian Lancer sedan, and especially in the Ralliart, there are interior details that find their way from the base model on up. The Ralliart can be had as a sedan or Sportback (hatchback), but the Evo is only a sedan.While the looks aren't all that special, there's a lot to love in the driving experience for either of these models. The Evolution packs a 291-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, while the Ralliart get a lower-boost, 237-hp version. If we had to drive only in traffic, we'd choose the Ralliart's engine, as it's more flexible and tuned for stronger low- and mid-rev response. The Evo's engine is peaky, with more turbo lag, and it delivers its power in a frenzy at the top of the rev band. Shifts are made either through a sturdy five-speed manual, which is good but a bit notchy, or a six-speed automated manual transmission, termed Twin Clutch-SST, which pulls off snappy shifts like a track pro when you tap into all the power. To get all the power to the road smoothly, these models include Super All-Wheel Control, an Active Center Differential, a helical gear front differential, and Active Yaw Control.
Both the 2012 Mitsubishi Evolution and Ralliart handle crisply, like performance cars, but the price chasm between the two is at its clearest here. More discerning drivers will find the Evo to be more nimble (and precise) because of its 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 GT. But the Ralliart does get some serious upgrades, including the Evolution's lightweight aluminum hood with integral ductwork to keep the turbo cool, along with an aggressively styled front bumper and dual exhaust.
These models have quick-ratio steering that transmits some info from the road surface--a good thing in a performance car. 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, giving it tremendous tractability and poise.Interior appointments are, to be blunt and honest, very disappointing in the Ralliart and Evolution. 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. Road noise is almost always an issue, too, but purely from a functionality standpoint there's decent backseat space, a big trunk, and 60/40-split rear seatbacks that fold forward for more cargo space. For 2012, Mitsubishi has added a few more soft-touch surfaces inside, as well as gloss-black instrument-panel trim.
There's no lack of features in the 2012 Lancer Ralliart and Evolution. 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 Evo GSR is somewhat more basic, with a five-speed manual, while 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. Options include a FUSE connectivity system with voice command; remote engine start; and a navigation system with music storage.