Twin Cheeks: Mitsubishi’s Sporting Lancers, Ralliart and VRX.

Ralliart profileMitsubishi owns a nameplate that has forty years of history attached; from road cars to world rallying the Lancer has strode the stage, selling six million vehicles along the way. A Wheel Thing has had the pleasure of the company of the CJ Lancer Ralliart sedan with twin clutch auto and VRX Sportback manual.

The Driven Heart
The Ralliart has a two litre turbocharged powerplant while the VRX has the standard Ralliart engine2.4L petrol. The Ralliart uses what is, essentially, the same engine as found in the VRX profilestonking Evo X, detuned for a slightly less manic audience. Available at 6000 rpm is 177 kilowatts with a not inconsiderable 343 Newton metres of torque at a table flat 2750 to 4500 rpm and put to good use via Mitsubishi’s TC SST (twin clutch sports shift transmission) and all wheel drive with Snow/Tarmac/Gravel traction options and Sports mode. The VRX supplied throws out 125kW at the same revs as the Ralliart whilst torque is 226Nm at a highish 4100 rpm, with grunt put down via a five speed manual (a CVT is an option).

 

On The Road
Having tested the Evo X earlier in 2013, one thing that stood out was how hard edged its ride was. The Ralliart softens that slightly whilst retaining much of the Evo’s character. The ride is firm, but not wooden block hard, with just enough compliance to be counted as comfortable. It’s not harsh on anything artificially bumpy like speedbumps in car parks….except for the small concrete block style devices found at the base of Sydney’s Old Bathurt Road, in the lower Blue Mountains. These jar and rattle the vehicle badly with the suspension unable to cope or isolate the car from their impact. On the freeway it’s pancake flat with only road joins intruding into the ride but there is a notable amount of road noise making its way into the cabin. The 215/45/18 tyres provide a decent measure grip yet will lose adhesion surprisingly quickly when pushed, especially into tightening radius turns, forcing the AWD system to have a slight meltdown, with the car scrabbling sideways. The combination of the mountainous torque and the bang shift from the SST provide a seamless wave of acceleration when the computer senses a certain amount of throttle input. The gears are there to be used and used they are; there’s nary a blip in the revs as the colour LED display ahead of the driver shows the numbers from 1 to 6 changing rapidly whilst the speedo climbs from zero with indecent haste. When given a footful it’s even more necksnapping, with a claimed 100 kilometre from zero time of 6.3 seconds, whilst the driver gets shoved back into the suede lined seats. It’s not all roses though, with the twin clutch design showing indecisiveness, hesitancy in low throttle situation, holding gears where it shouldn’t and requiring manual intervention via the Ralliart dashVRX dashshift lever or paddle shifts on the steering column plus would take a second or two to engage from park. The transmission has a Sports mode; not entirely useable in the real world, with the gears being held longer and downshifts a touch more violent, whilst the drive system allows toggling between three preset modes, adjusting the steering and gearing to suit a chosen road surface with the ACD (Active Centre Differential) splitting torque as required between the front and rear drive sets.
The VRX is softer again, with a mix of luxury and sport for the suspension whilst rolling the same sized wheel/tyre package. There’s a VRX seatstouch more rebound, a touch more give in the ride compared to the Ralliart plus there’s a whole lot more road noise, to the point where a normal conversation can not be had on coarse chip road surfaces. There’s more push understeer in the same situations as the Ralliart, understandable being a nose driven car. The clutch is light, perhaps too light as there’s no real feel in the pedal travel and it’s too easy to rev the engine whilst searching for the pickup point. Similarly there’s little weight to the manual shift, being easy to throw through from gear to gear with minimal effort although the gating is reasonably defined. Naturally there’s a commensurate lack of urge in acceleration, with the lower torque and ponies.

Sheetmetal
Ralliart frontIt’s a measure of respect that needs to be handed to the design teams as, six years Ralliart rearafter its release, the exterior hasn’t dated badly. The angular shape, especially the trapezoidal grille, still has freshness; the downside is the look no longer has cut through, especially against newer or more dynamic looking competitors such as the Mazda3, Holden Cruze or Ford Focus. The sedan is squat and muscular with compact dimensions (4570mmL x 1760W x 1490H) with short VRX noseoverhangs balancingRalliart bonnet the 2635mm wheelbase and 1530mm front and rear track. The Sportback is a touch bigger overall, with length at 4585mm whilst height is a smidge taller at 1505mm. The rear window line is steep, topped out by a well integrated spoiler yet rear vision from the driver’s seat isn’t compromised with the angular look continued into the headlight and taillight clusters. Both cars have chrome highlights on the grille, keyless entry via a touchpad on the colour coded driver and passenger door handles with the Ralliart copping an aluminuim bonnet with air vents and both getting full length skirts. The VRX’s rear bumper had a body coloured insert, which probably would have looked more sporting, if in a stereotypical way, by being matt black, as is available on the Ralliart Sportback. Another typical Mitsi touch is the lack of visual identification; I recall testing the AWD Magna and bemoaning the lack of street cred seen; the Ralliart gets two discreet badges, one at either end…sure, sometimes less is more but a little more punch wouldn’t go astray.

Officespace
Mitsubishi’s ergonomics have always been hard to beat and this shows in the Lancer range, with simple and efficient switchgear, highlighted with chrome accents in both. Placement of the switches is just about where they should be at fingertip length, including the power window switches in the driver’s door rest with a smart touch being full one click up and down for the driver’s window; having said VRX consolethat, finding finger space for the heated seating switches, crammed into the rear of the centre console, was a bit hard to do. The interiors are almost identical and identically bland, with the Ralliart seats sporting plush VRX interiorsuede versus leather in the VRX. There’s just nothing exciting, sporting, in either, even with the faux brushed alloy look to the switch offering Sports mode for the transmission or piano black plastic trim backing up against hard lattice print plastic. Ralliart interiorThe cushioning is comfortable, with the squab in the Ralliart a little soft in the front corners. The dashes are identical, with the dials and LCD screens clear and easily read whilst the 7 inch full colour navitainment system pops out to reveal a CD slot to VRX bootpump the music through the somewhat overbassed Rockford Fosgate audio system. Ideally a subwoofer shouldn’t be able to be located due to the frequencies generated being Ralliart consoleomnidirectional but in this case the bass unit is easily aurally located and isn’t easily balanced into the sound mix. Also, the navigation beeps when you come into a different speed zone yet doesn’t appear Ralliart boot(unless it’s a system setting that needs change) to show anything on the screen.
It’s a keyless start system for both, yet, confusingly, Mitsubishi sticks with actually still needing to turn a small knob where you would normally expect to put a key. Either use a push button start or a key based ignition system otherwise it’s a pointless exercise. In the boot of the Ralliart the trim looked and felt cheap plus didn’t actually seem to be fitted that well either however the VRX looked much better finished.
A small Info button to the driver’s right of the steering column switches through fuel usage, trip metering and average fuel consumption….a sore point with the Ralliart. A smallish 55 litre tank against a hi-po engine sucking on the good juice is not a good mix, with the Ralliart’s claimed 9.6L per 100 kilometres being defied by real world driving practices whilst the VRX finished up with 535ks and probably only a couple of litres left. The Ralliart was handed back with a nearly empty tank and less than 450 kilometres covered….Another quibble is the four settings for the headlights: off, auto, parking and main lights. Off is basically a pointless option and not one favoured, in general, by other brands. However, there’s some good tech with rain sensing wipers, Bluetooth music streaming and voice activated calling, plus the usual swag of driver aid componentry.

The Wrap
It’s a good chance to see how two different models can be so different yet, obviously, so alike in purpose. The Ralliart delights with the pedal being used for the good purpose it was designed for working with a eyeblink quick gear change and sporting ride without rattling teeth; the VRX gives a comfortable mix of sports and luxury. Handling is acceptable enough in the VRX, somewhat less so in the AWD Ralliart, with the chassis overpowering the grip levels. The numbness of the gearbox and clutch in the VRX however cool any blaze of sporting passion. Pricing is also a concern, with the VRX starting at $29990 + ORCs and the Ralliart a cool 10K more there’s dollars given away to the competition. Although the exterior has kept its looks six years is a long time in the automotive world; the question is going to be in which direction a re-skin might take? Regardless both cars are still valid and enjoyable.
For more details go here: http://www.mitsubishi-motors.com.au/vehicles/lancer-ralliart/specifications and here: http://www.mitsubishi-motors.com.au/vehicles/lancer/specifications

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