The Ralliart car is, in essence, an Evo-lite, with its detuned 2.0-litre 16-valve MIVEC engine generating 236bhp (as opposed to the Evo's 290bhp) at 6,000rpm and 252lb-ft of torque at 3,000rpm. As such, it isn't quite the same hardcore machine, but it is relatively quick and responsive, turning in a 0-62mph time of 7.1 seconds and a top speed of 136mph. The engine is mated to the same Sport Shift Transmission (SST) in the Evo X, a dual-clutch gearbox with two settings – Normal and Sport – as opposed to the Evo's three. The 'box can either be used as a conventional auto or as a sequential manual, using the shift selector or the steering column-mounted paddleshifts. The shifts are quick and smooth in the Normal mode, but have a tendency to jerkiness in Sport, especially at low speed. That said, it is a well-built and effective transmission.
If you're expecting the Lancer Ralliart to drive like an Evolution X, you're going to be disappointed. But not hugely. The Ralliart rides and handles very well, thanks to a combination of a compliant suspension and Mitsubishi's full-time all-wheel-drive system. The car feels stable and well balanced at all times; indeed, on the twisting, hairpin-filled mountain roads on which we tested it, the Ralliart was never short of grip and did a good job of sticking to the road. There was a degree of understeer, but this was only apparent when the car was pushed to its limits and, in general, the steering was accurate and precise. It's worth mentioning at this point that the car we tested was a pre-production car and that some minor changes will have been made before its introduction into the UK at the start of 2009.
Mitsubishi has a reputation of building some of the most reliable cars in the business, but its Lancer Evolution models have always been an unknown quantity due to the relatively few numbers sold. Both the engine and automated manual gearbox are all-new, but both should benefit from durability tests carried out on previous Evos both on and off the track. Reliability will depend on how hard it’s driven and whether the car has been modified. As the Evo X engine has been detuned for the Sportback Ralliart, it’s likely that owners will have the car chipped to restore the power, although the warranty and service agreement will be invalidated by doing this. Perceived quality levels have taken a huge step forward over the old model, but the Lancer still lags behind premium rivals. The horrible plastic interior door panels tell you there's still plenty of work to do on quality.
The Lancer has a five-star rating for adult occupancy in Euro NCAP tests: the scores under the new testing regime are 81% for adult occupant protection, 80% for child, 34% for pedestrian and 71% for safety assist. The Sportback Ralliart has a full package of active and passive safety measures, including permanent four-wheel drive, ABS, stability control, seven airbags (front, side, curtain and driver's knee bag), Isofix, seatbelt pre-tensioners and a special energy-absorbing trim on doors and the side of the roof. There's also an Emergency Stop Signal System, which has been designed to reduce the risk of rear-end collisions by automatically blinking the hazard warning lights rapidly to alert cars travelling behind that the car is braking suddenly. Like the previous-generation Evo, the computer-controlled four-wheel-drive set-up has three modes: Tarmac, Gravel and Snow and they adapt the all-wheel-drive system to suit the conditions.
A comfortable driving position isn't straightforward in any Lancer, as Mitsubishi bafflingly doesn’t fit reach-adjustable steering wheels. For a car in the segment and at this price, this is very poor. However, the sports seats are comfortable and hug the body without being too constricting, even for the larger-boned driver. There's plenty of room at the back for adults, thanks to the Lancer's generous C-segment dimensions and there's also plenty of bootspace – 344 litres (about the same as a VW Golf) with the rear seats up, rising to a maximum of 1,394 litres, which is more than most cars in its class. The Sportback Ralliart is full equipped with the likes of a highly effective air conditioning system, steering wheel-mounted controls, automatic light control and rain-sensitive wipers, Bluetooth, sat nav with 7-inch LCD monitor, and a 650W Rockford Fosgate premium audio system with hard disk drive and iPod connection.
The Sportback Ralliart won't be as expensive to run as the full Evo X, but it won't be cheap, either. The official combined fuel consumption figure on the combined cycle is 28.2mpg, but out there in the real world a figure in the low twenties is probably more realistic. CO2 emissions of 238g/km mean that that they're only just below the base FQ-300 Evo and put the car in the top Band G for road tax, costing owners £400 a year for the privilege. The residual values for the Lancer range from 41% to 43%, with the Evo X returning around 46%. As the Sportback Ralliart falls between these two models, we expect the residuals to do the same, so expect to get around 43-45% of its value back after 3 years and 36,000 miles.