2013 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart: Full of fun -- but fun to live with?
Price: $34,240 ($28,095 for a base Lancer Ralliart).
Marketer's pitch: Knuckles will be whitened (for the even more-expensive Lancer Evolution, but it works here too).
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com says it "delivers plenty of excitement."
Reality: Are white knuckles enough?
First impressions: I've always said renting a car you plan to buy -- or spending time in a close friend or relative's -- is a good idea. I find that my first impressions of the cars I test don't often last during the week I test them.
Which is good for most cars, because my first impression is often "This is horrible," and then softens as we grow accustomed to each other.
The Ralliart, however ...
Love at first drive: The souped-up version of the small Mitsubishi really delivers on the promise of thrills.
The super-tight handling makes the car a joy to maneuver from the first turn, and the turbo boost from the 237-horsepower 2.0-liter engine takes a split second but then quickly pushes you back in your seat. And the twin-clutch SportTronic shift automatic has normal and sport modes, to help release all that power in just the right doses.
On the second day of Ralliarting (Rallying Art?), I took a morning fall tour through the Pennsylvania pastures. I felt like the ubiquitous "Professional driver on a closed course. Do not attempt." zipping along, as the colorful leaves scattered about the vehicle and the horses in the audience watched from behind their fences.
Off-road: The Ralliart also suits bucolic dirt lanes as well. The Ralliart offers something called All-Wheel Control, a full-time four-wheel drive system, and an Active Center Differential with selections for tarmac, gravel and snow. So life is fun, even in the soft lane.
The hard-to-take part: But navigate the Ralliart out of the beautiful scenery and into a typical Pittsburgh traffic jam and its shortcomings are revealed.
The joy of SportTronic transmission (or the various other shiftable Tronics different carmakers offer) is being able to relax in automatic mode when fun time is over. But in Ralliart automatic mode, the shifts are abrupt and the downshifts are striking, coming much too early for my tastes. Though turbo lag abounds when racing from zero to 60, only the slightest of accelerator taps seems to push the vehicle much too quickly in stop-and-go situations. And no other transmission is available with the Ralliart.
I give points to Mitsubishi, though, for telling drivers which gear they're in even in automatic mode.
Roaring turbo: If you like attention from boy racers, though, the downshift exhaust note from the Ralliart will certainly help provide it.
On the curves: The aforementioned supertight handling makes the Ralliart a blast on winding roads. Its steering lands somewhere above the Civic Si's techno city-street precision and the Mini Cooper's supple countryside artistry.
Slowing down: The power of the Lancer Ralliart is easy to rein in as well. The brakes do an excellent job of bringing drivers back down to Earth.
Driver's seat: It's a pretty comfortable ride in the Ralliart. Leather seats come as part of the $3,050 Ralliart Touring Package, which also heats the seats, adds Rockford Fosgate sound system, sunroof, rear camera and more.
Friends and stuff: The rear accommodations are pretty tight, however. Feet, legs and heads all need to come in small sizes (or forgiving ones). But we're not trading in the minivan for this if the kids are still in school, no?
The trunk is pretty tight as well, swallowed up by the all-wheel drive system.
Tunes: I raved over the Rockford Fosgate upgraded sound system in a Mitsubishi Outlander. It offers great sound and a bevy of tone choices, though the interface is a bit html for my tastes.
Night shift: The overhead lights provide excellent coverage, and don't interfere with the driver's view of the road.
Shortcomings: It costs $34,000? Sure, that price includes a $2,000 navigation package, but it doesn't have power seats? Or a telescoping steering wheel? This might be overlooked if I could adjust the wheel to see the cruise control "set" light or the turn signals, but no such luck.
Fuel economy: I got as much as 24 mpg and as little at 20 depending on driving conditions, which is kind of dismal. And feed the Ralliart premium, please.
Where it's built: Kirashiki, Japan
How it's built: J.D. Power puts the predicted reliability of the 2012 Lancer in the bottom of the barrel. The 10-year/100,00-mile powertrain warranty might help ease some worries.
In the end: For the same money, I can get an Acura TSX, a well-loaded Mini Convertible or a variety of other cars that offer better accommodations, more features, and lots of fun. But none will offer the handling and straight-line acceleration of the Lancer Ralliart. It depends how much of a hurry you're in.
Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at email@example.com. First Published February 13, 2013 5:00 AM