- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Several recent products from Mitsubishi have been criticized by auto writers and buyers alike for being somewhat under-powered. The folks at Mitsubishi took the criticism seriously and responded — not only with more power, but with several new model variants that offer more flexibility and are a lot more fun to drive.

Mitsubishi’s participation in high-performance vehicles is as familiar to rally enthusiasts as the red-and-orange-striped Ralliart logo. New for 2004 are Ralliart versions of the 2004 Lancer and Sportback, both with a long list of visual and performance modifications.

The exterior appearances of both vehicles have been beefed up with side air dams and unique fog lamps, and the Lancer Ralliart features a rear spoiler.

Inside, driver and passenger are held in place with front sport bucket seats sourced from the Japanese-market Evolution GT-A.

The Lancer Sportback adds five-door utility to the expanding line of high-energy compacts. Based on the Lancer sedan and beefed up to haul the whole family, the Sportback offers an alternative to the affordable compact sport wagon.

With the rear seat folded, both Lancer and Sportback trim lines can swallow 60.7 cubic feet of cargo, easily offering all the space necessary for weekend errands and shopping. It competes head-on with the Mazda Prot’g’ 5, Ford Focus and Toyota Matrix. For the performance enthusiast, the Ralliart label means more than appearance.

Lancer and Sportback Ralliart come equipped with a 2.4-liter, SOHC, 16-valve inline four-cylinder MIVEC engine. It puts out 162 horsepower and 162 foot-pounds of torque.

Part of the additional power is from a freer-flowing exhaust system, which features a larger-diameter exhaust pipe and a large-volume catalytic converter and muffler.

Ralliart models benefit from improved suspension, quicker steering and larger four-wheel disc brakes. The Lancer’s five-speed manual transmission takes full advantage of the engine’s capabilities and is a blast to drive, thanks to a sport shifter assembly — borrowed from the Lancer Evolution — which provides shorter throws for improved shift action.

Unfortunately, the Sportback comes only with a four-speed automatic. For such a sporty vehicle, this is truly sad.

And now the Outlander suddenly becomes quicker, thanks to an upgrade to the new 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine found in both Ralliart models.

It uses what Mitsubishi calls MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing and lift Electronic Control) technology to electronically change valve timing to improve low-end torque and high-end efficiency.

The upgraded engine is mated to a four-speed “Sportronic” transmission that can operate in traditional fully automatic mode, or the driver may choose to actuate clutchless shifts for more spirited driving.

The INVEC-II programming of the electronically controlled automatic transmission “learns” a driver’s throttle inputs and adapts to them by modifying its shift pattern.

Drivers who give aggressive throttle inputs are rewarded with faster, higher-rpm shifts, while more laid-back drivers will find smoother, lower-rpm shifts.

A four-position shift lever with a sports-mode gate allows drivers to experience sporty, positive-feeling manually actuated shifts with a simple push or pull of the shift lever.

But there’s more to the new Outlander than just the engine. It is noticeably improved.

Noise factor, whether it be from wind, road, or just interior resonation, has been much reduced since the first introduced product. Fit and finish inside and outside seem better.

Overall, equipped with either two- or four-wheel drive, this is a nice, practical little crossover SUV.

But the real action is with the Lancer and Sportback models. These are great cars for the youth market. They’re economical and fun to drive and should appeal to kids and old fogies alike.

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