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car review

There are some obvious options if you're looking for a high-performance, rally-like ride that won't break the bank – the Subaru WRX, Honda Civic Si or the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. But there's one vehicle that's often overlooked, Mitsubishi's Lancer Ralliart sport sedan.

It's basically a cheaper version of Mitsubishi's racy Evolution, but the Lancer Ralliart costs about 10 grand less –$31,798 versus $41,998. And you can probably get a better deal as showrooms move out old models to make room for 2012 vehicles. There aren't many changes for 2012; they include new 18-inch alloy wheels, a brake override system and new soft-pad trim on the interior doors.

The base Lancer Ralliart sedan is also well-equipped with a long list of standard features including heated front seats, air conditioning, 18-inch alloy wheels, stability control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with steering-column-mounted paddle shifters, power door locks and windows, and airbags all-around including a driver's knee airbag.

The Ralliart is a souped-up version of the Lancer sedan. But its performance is almost Evo-like. Under the hood is a 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine that puts out 237 hp and 253 lb-ft of torque. It's basically the same engine as the Evo, which has 291 hp.

It also has the same full-time driver-adjustable all-wheel-drive system with active centre differential. The AWD is excellent; it's stable and secure – a nice safety feature on rain-slicked and soon-to-be snow-covered roads.

The ride is sporty; the handling and responsiveness is great. Acceleration is impressive – it hits 0 to 100 in 5.7 seconds. There's a bit of turbo lag off the line, but once it gets going it's a speed demon. Mated to the engine is a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission with normal and sport modes. Unfortunately, there's no conventional manual transmission.

At times, the ride is a bit harsh and choppy. You feel every bump and degradation in the road so it can be jarring. Fuel economy isn't anything to brag about either. I averaged 12.9 litres/100 km combined highway and city driving – higher than the official Energuide numbers, which rate it as 10.1 combined driving, 11.9 city and 7.9 highway. Premium fuel is also recommended.

The Lancer Ralliart draws its inspiration from the Evo, but it isn't as bold and in-your-face as the Evo. There's no gigantic wing on the back or bright calipers peaking out from the rims. It's more conservative and low key in design.

There are some nice stylistic elements such as a sporty rear spoiler that's more subdued than the gigantic spoiler found on the Evo, a functional aluminum ducted hood that delivers cooling air to the turbocharger as well as a sporty dual outlet muffler.

The overall style is aggressive and masculine. It's probably one of the nicest, sportiest vehicles in the Mitsubishi line-up.

The interior is a bit lacklustre – it actually resembles more of the base model Lancer. But the dashboard is logically laid out with simple and straightforward dials and controls. The large HVAC dials are easy to find and adjust, even at night time.

The Ralliart sedan seats five. The front Recaro sports racing seats are supportive and have thick, heavy side bolsters to keep you firmly in place when whipping around corners. There's good head and legroom in the front seats, too. The rear seats are a little tight for three adults and aren't as supportive as the front seats. They do, however, easily fold down if you need to carry extra cargo.

But if you want serious cargo-carrying space, I'd suggest moving into the Lancer Ralliart Sportback wagon – you'll have a lot more room and better head- and legroom for passengers in the rear seats. Plus, at $31,998, it's only $200 more than the sedan version.

The standard audio system is a 140-watt CD player with six speakers and speed-compensated volume, which adjusts the volume automatically as you accelerate onto the highway. I prefer the optional 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate premium sound system with nine speakers including a 10-inch trunk-mounted subwoofer and six-CD player – you can really belt out the tunes with this system.

Mitsubishi also offers some peace of mind with its warranty. The basic warranty is three years or 60,000 kilometres, the powertrain is five years or 100,000 kilometres, and the roadside assistance is fantastic – it's free for five years and an unlimited number of kilometres. It'll leave you feeling safe and secure for years to come.

The Lancer Ralliart might be off your radar. But if you're looking for a cheaper version of the Mitsubishi Evo, it'll do the trick. It's is a nice, sporty alternative that'll save you cash and is nearly as fun to drive as the Evo.

Tech specs

2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart sedan

Type: Four-door, five-passenger sedan

Base Price: $31,798

Engine: 2.0 litre, DOHC, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 237 hp/253 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.9 city/7.9 highway; premium

Alternatives: Subaru WRX, Mitsubishi Evo, Honda Civic Si, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, VW Jetta

Correction: The engine specs were incorrectly identified in an earlier version of this story.