By Steven Cole Smith, ORLANDO SENTINEL AUTOMOTIVE EDITOR
5:23 PM EST, January 8, 2010
Mitsubishi has done a good job of giving customers good reasons to choose the Lancer over the competition. First, Mitsubishi imported a high-performance version of the Lancer called the Evolution, and it's become a favorite with the Fast and the Furious crowd.
And for 2010, we get a new body style: The Lancer Sportback, a distinctive hatchback that adds some personality to the regular Lancer's styling. Note to Mitsubishi fans: This is not the Lancer Sportback that Mitsubishi sold six years ago -- that was a station wagon, this is a four-door hatchback, and it looks more like a product of Europe than Japan.
Offered in GTS or higher-performance Ralliart trim, the Lancer Sportback looks like a regular Lancer from the front doors forward, but toward the rear, the roofline slopes down to the taillights, rather than straight down to make room for a trunk. There's a rear spoiler at the top of the window that looks suitably racy. This is one of those cars that looks better in person than in pictures — two people mistook it for an Audi, which is a compliment.
The Sportback is the middle model of the Lancer, which has quite a price spread: The base Lancer starts at $14,790, the Sportback starts at $19,190, and the powerful Evolution starts at $33,590.
The GTS Sportback has a 2.4-liter, 168-horsepower four-cylinder engine, with either a five-speed manual transmission, or a continuously variable transmission, which drives like an automatic. The upscale Ralliart has a smaller 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, but with turbocharging, horsepower is a potent 237. Our test car was a Ralliart, and that German-built transmission is superb.
In fact, the whole Ralliart is a delightful car, but by the time we add in the Ralliart package, plus options ($150 for a pretty copper paint job, and $2,750 for the Recaro Sport Package, featuring Recaro-brand seats, a 710-watt Rockford-Fosgate stereo and xenon headlights, the list price is $30,490, or $31,210 with shipping.
Ouch. But keep in mind that the Ralliart is awfully close to the top-of-the-line Evolution, lacking just 24 horsepower, and not much else.
Inside, the Ralliart is pretty basic. The front Recaro seats are wonderful, but they are tall and wide and leave rear seat passengers with little forward visibility. Rear seat comfort is good for two, tight for three. The hatchback design leaves a lot of room for luggage, and lots more if you flip down the rear seats.
While the Sportback Ralliart's ride may be too firm for some customers — they'd be happier with the GTS, I suspect — I found it a small price to pay for the enhanced handling. This is a slick, very sporty little car that feels just as prepared to take on an off-road rally race course on the weekends as it does your weekday commute.
2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback
Base price: $19,190
Price as tested: $31,210
EPA rating: 17 miles per gallon city driving, 25 mpg highway
Details: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive hatchback with a turbocharged 2.0-liter, 237-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a six-speed shift able automatic transmission.
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