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Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution VIII is a superstar; the sort of luminescent performer whose incandescent brilliance casts a mighty light across the entire Lancer line.
If only the Lancers looked better once people noticed they were there.
The 2004 Lancer Ralliart is the car Mitsubishi hopes that buyers — young buyers — attracted to the EVO’s accumulating legend will want after realistically confronting their own financial limitations and insurance premiums. Forget the EVO’s turbo and all-wheel drive, the Ralliart is a front-driver built around the proven muscle-era formula of a relatively big engine in a relatively small car. And it’s available either as a sedan or a new “Sportback” wagon.
It’s not an EVO, but it’s not just another Lancer either.
21st-century Road Runner
The ’68 Plymouth Road Runner was a plain Belvedere with a big engine, and the Ralliart is an ordinary Lancer packing big cubes. Instead of the 120-horsepower 2.0-liter SOHC motor that powers other Lancers, the Ralliart’s heart is the 162-horsepower, 2.4-liter, SOHC, 16-valve four from the Outlander SUV. Equipped with Mitsu’s MIVEC variable valve-timing system and counter-rotating balance shafts, the Ralliart engine throbs with 162 pound-feet of peak torque at only 4000 rpm and sustains most of that up to the 6500-rpm redline. This isn’t a rev-happy thriller, but an easygoing engine that’s sporting character isn’t obvious until it’s whipped a bit. A five-speed manual stirred by the same shifter used in the EVO or a four-speed automatic transmission are available to extract the most from the engine — or at least as much as can be extracted by a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.
Beyond extra power, Mitsu has packed the Ralliart with larger brakes (10.9-inch discs up front, 10.3-inch discs in the back) with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution, tuned the suspension with higher spring rates and larger anti-sway bars (The shocks are 150 percent firmer up front and 85 percent firmer in back compared to a regular Lancer, while the springs are 20 percent stiffer), added a three-point tower brace across the engine bay, tuned the exhaust note to a nice contralto, put a big wing across the trunk lid, modified the steering so it’s quicker with a more direct feel and upgraded the wheels to 16-inchers inside P205/50R-16 radials. Inside, the front seats have been re-bolstered, the steering wheel is now wrapped in leather, and the dash gets metallic-looking accents and white-face gauges.
For those who want the look of performance without the bothersome substance of it, Mitsubishi will continue to offer the O.Z. Rally edition with the standard 2.0-liter engine and 15-inch five-spoke wheels. The Ralliart, on the other hand, is the mechanical equivalent of a Honda Civic Si or Nissan Sentra SE-R, and that’s not bad company.
And unlike the Civic Si (which is only a hatchback) and Sentra SE-R (which is only a four-door sedan) the Ralliart will also be available as a station wagon — what Mitsubishi calls a Sportback, because the term “station wagon” is apparently the automotive equivalent of leprosy. The Sportback carries the same mechanical equipment as the Ralliart sedan, including the 2.4-liter MIVEC engine but a slightly different exhaust system knocks off two horsepower to bring the total down to 160. The only transmission offered is automatic.
The Sportback’s profile is reminiscent of the old Colt Vista wagon and, while that’s hardly sleek, it is space efficient. Fold the rear seats down and the Sportback looks like it could ingest a K-Mart and even with the seats up the storage capacity is generous.
There’s some EVO in here some place
Throw a Ralliart sedan into a corner and the steering responds enthusiastically while the front end bites in aggression. Understeer at the limit is expected in a front-driver, so it’s no surprise that that’s what the Ralliart delivers. But those limits seem high in this car and the transition into understeer is gentle.
The engine’s thick well of torque (relatively speaking) makes it tough to screw up with the excellent five-speed and an excellent companion with the automatic. And while the five-speed truly is a sweet transmission, so is the automatic that, though it lacks any sort of fancy push-button shifting system, responds extremely well to manual shifting using the conventional floor shifter. The Ralliart is probably just about as quick as Civic Si and maybe just a touch behind the Sentra SE-R. Put that down as a wild-eyed guess of an 8.0-second 0-to-60 time and a 16-flat quarter mile.
At least after an initial drive, the Lancer Ralliart seems to have a better-sorted chassis than either the Civic Si or the Sentra SE-R and an engine that’s competitive with both of them. It’s not an EVO, but every once in a while, a bit of EVO is apparent in the Ralliart.
With a base price starting somewhere just south of $18,000 when it goes on sale in September, Mitsubishi has created a Lancer that’s merits the light the EVO has shined upon it.
2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart
Base Price: $18,000 (est.)
Engine: 2.4-liter in-line four, 162 hp
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 181.3 x 66.8 x N/A in
Wheelbase: 102.4 in
Curb weight: 2838 lb
EPA City/Hwy: N/A
Safety equipment: Front airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution
Major standard equipment: Air conditioning, power windows
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles basic, five years/60,000 miles powertrain