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The Globe and Mail

Hard-hitting sports sedan not a comfortable ride

Inspired by Mitsubishi's successful World Rally Championship race cars, the Lancer Ralliart was not for the faint of heart or shy retiring wall-flower types.

This was a loud and proud, hard-hitting sport sedan with lots of performance and a visual presence almost impossible to ignore. It was also available, albeit in limited numbers, as a four-door Sportback station wagon.

Either way, power was abundantly delivered via a turbocharged and intercooled two-litre four-cylinder that belted out an impressive 237 horsepower, transmitted to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission, centre-mounted differential, front-located limited slip diff, traction control system and a vehicle stability system. A manual gearbox was not offered this year, which was a drawback for some enthusiasts, but you could shift gears via steering-wheel-mounted paddles.

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In a nutshell, the Lancer Ralliart was a screamer with a well-harnessed full-time all-wheel-drive system, and a motorsport-derived powerplant that met and exceeded the magical 100 horsepower/litre mark, with plenty left over. Stab the rally-inspired aluminum gas pedal, and you were met with a mechanical bellow, almost instant throttle response, and a force of nature that pressed you back into your seat and had you up to and over the speed limit before you could say, "How can I help you, officer?" Drifters loved it.

As befits a race car in street clothing, the front bucket seats were Recaros, with high side bolsters. These offered little in the way of yield, and had stiff lumbar support. Depending upon on your age and driving style, they could be almost intolerably uncomfortable, and entry and exit was also directly affected; getting in and out of the car was a hassle, in other words.

Behind the wheel, you were ensconced in hard-core sports car territory. Instrumentation was straightforward and easily read, the ride was buckboard-rough, and every bump in the road was magnified. This edition of the Lancer Ralliart also had ventilated and oversize four-wheel disc brakes, front and back, and its braking prowess was one of the cars' stronger points. Because virtually every aspect of the car was aimed at performance enthusiasts, those seeking a placid Sunday drive style of motoring were out of luck here.

Lots of standard features however. Xenon headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, meaty 215/45R18 tires, front and side airdams, dual chrome exhaust tips and the spoiler were all standard, as were interior amenities in the form of a climate control system, 60/40 folding rear seat, tilt-telescoping steering, tire-pressure monitoring system, and keyless ignition. You could also get extras such as leather interior, a power sunroof, Sirius satellite radio, rain-sensing windshield wipers, Bluetooth and various other bits and pieces. It's also important to note that the Ralliart required at least 91-octane gasoline, and wouldn't respond well to anything less.

Transport Canada and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have but one safety recall for the '09 Ralliart and it involves a potentially faulty fuel return pipe that could leak and lead to a fire. NHTSA also has three technical service bulletins on file and they concern possibly premature corrosion on the hood release cable that could render engine access difficult, to put it mildly, and loose window glass inside the door panels that could "rattle" when the vehicle is under way. This last defect may also affect other Mitsubishi models as well as the Ralliart.

Consumer Reports isn't a fan of this model of the Lancer, describing it as "quick but unimpressive." Because this was a limited-production model and not sold in huge numbers, the magazine doesn't have any comprehensive reliability data on it. However, it does like its performance, braking and handling, while being less enthusiastic about things like poor rear visibility, non-telescoping steering and a very stiff ride.

Market research firm J.D. Power is somewhat negative about this model as well. While it praises its overall performance and design and instrumentation, it doesn't like things like overall mechanical quality, body and interior quality, and just about everything else. It gets a below-average rating for overall dependability from this organization.

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As far as resale goes, the '09 Ralliart has held up reasonably well. It's dropped in value by about $10,000, give or take, and it should be kept in mind that because this edition of the Lancer was designed and built as a high-performance automobile, previous owners may have run it hard.

Tech specs

2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart sedan

Original Base Price: $32,998; Black Book: $22,825

Engine: Turbocharged/intercooled 2.0-litre four-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 237 hp/253 lb-ft

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Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 12.2 city/7.9 highway; premium gas.

Alternatives: Subaru WRX Impreza, Audi A3 S-Line, BMW 1-Series, Acura TL SH-AWD, Volvo S40 AWD, MazdaSpeed 3

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