In the big world of cars, the interconnected nature of automotive manufacturing on a global scale has made some strange bedfellows over the years. Due to the massive reach of the international conglomerates, we’ve ended up with cars built in Japan with suspensions designed in England, powered by engines built in Spain, with parts from Brazil, Korea and China and to be destined to be sold at your local car lot in McKinney Texas.
The way in which business is interconnected – when one company is down the others are up – there is a strange balance that ebbs and flows like any cyclical business. The fluid nature of the business was abruptly altered when the global financial crisis hit this industry particularly hard. We all know about the big three government bailouts and bankruptcy issues here in the States, but in Europe and Asia, big companies also had to rely on some pretty deft haggling and some even more severe hacking and slashing.
At the end of the day, one of the companies that really has taken a bunch of hits to the teeth has been Mitsubishi. This is a company that builds everything from microprocessors to heavy equipment from flat screen TV’s to ocean-going supertankers. For them the global mire was across almost all its platforms. Disposable income from consumers for luxury items slowed to a trickle and the big infrastructure projects that require the big industrial might of a company like this have also ground to a halt.
Amongst all of this they also had to take a big old molar shaker when Chrysler went bust. For years now Mitsubishi and Chrysler have shared technology, platforms and even manufacturing plants. The old Colt was a re-badge of a Mitsubishi car. The Durango and Dakota were shared truck platforms with the Mitsubishi pickup and SUV line, and Mitsu has become one of the biggest part suppliers to CryCo’s overall operations outside of Magna International.
During this time Mitsubishi had to maintain its own global automotive operations and continue the innovation cycle of new products to keep people coming into their showrooms. Unfortunately, their “Halo” car, the Lancer Evolution (aka the EVO!), ended up paying the price by getting axed (at least here in North America). The Evo is one of those cars that people aspire to, it is a dream of an all-wheel drive, super-handling sports car with shocking turbo-boosted acceleration.
If you are scratching your head right now, not being familiar with what the Evo is, it likely means you’re not male, or over 30. Mitsubishi really did a great job over the years of capturing the Fast and Furious, XGames, and Nintendo generations. Gamers, Geeks and Gearheads know not just the Evo but its primary competitor, the Subaru WRX-Sti, mostly because of their considerable investment in the X-Treme sports market. This market existed long before it became popular in North America. And Mitsubishi has for years dominated international Rally Racing and long distance Enduro races like the Paris-Dakar proving their metal in cars, trucks, heavy trucks all over the world. In the US these racing triumphs were mostly ignored by our NASCAR-centric sports coverage, but as stations like Speed, Fuel.tv, Discovery and even the Travel Channel began showing these races, Mitsubishi developed a devoted following.
This following generation (The G3 Generation) is generally under 30 and powered by energy drinks and high-speed internet connections. The over-the-top capabilities of the EVO also came with a pretty hefty price, well over $40K and unfortunately for Mitsubishi, there were fewer of the 3G generation who could afford to shell out for such a beast. A decision was made someplace along the way to scale the Evo out of North America but knowing how much the brand was reliant on the performance orientation they still had to have something in the quiver to hit the target.
Out of this comes the Ralliart Lancer. While the wick is turned down from the land of the extreme, it’s still a hot enough ticket to punch the pocket and rip up the roads. As the not quite all-the-way-up-variant of the Lancer, it is a great package that will appeal to the same market, just not to the over-the-top crowd. There are tons of aftermarket tuning sources that allow the owner to turn the wick up again and recreate your very own Evo, but at the risk of getting your warranty pulled.
When Mitsubishi dropped off the metallic cobalt blue hot hatch off, the first impression is one of looking at a good looking four seat (Five if you follow the number of belts) with versatile hatchback configuration little flares and flourishes to the Ralliart package that add the appropriate speed racer look. The interior is very neat and trim with everything falling to hand and well appointed full jam option package.
The Lancer handles wonderfully and turns on the long overused dime, squirts through corners and pulls itself down from suborbital with exceptionally well-planted brakes. With the variety of things I have to carry with me in the run of a week, it held up well as I shoved studio gear into the back and it handled it all quite well, indeed.
The biggest problem I had was with the transmission. I will be the first to admit I am an analog guy in a digital world. I automatically default to a proper manual box rather than to the high-tech optional paddle-shifting, dual-clutch, semiautomatic sport boxes. I came up before Grand Turismo at a time that video games were in black and white and you had pong, or pong or later Asteroids. There were no finger-activated, super-realistic racing simulators. I learned how to race in a car, not on a screen, so these semi-auto boxes are just too much technology that’s only truly useful in 10/10ths driving by a driver who has the skills of an Andretti.
I have also spent a significant part of my life either working on cars myself or steering others as a service advisor at a car dealership. I can’t help but see the semi-auto box as a huge warranty risk and possibly the Achilles Heal of a great car. Out of warranty fixing on of these boxes would be most likely cost-prohibitive, and if you are tuning the sport package with some of the off the rack options not necessarily dealer installed the risk of running the semi auto as an expensive thing to brake.
I know a lot of people who ooze over the idea of a paddle shifter in an M3 BMW or an F1 Transmission in a Ferrari, but not me. I would rather rattle a stick around and get the input back via my fingers, toes and seat of the pants. Alas my world of slapping gears and clutches are numbered as some big exotics are no longer offering a manual option at all and others are making manual boxes rare and somewhat exotic themselves.
With the Ralliart Lancer, I would have jumped up and down with enthusiasm if they had sent me the full on manual six-speed but no, I got the more expensive Nintendo transmission. As a matter of considerable annoyance for me, the Ralliart’s wonderful driving, handling and 237 horsepower is not available here with a proper stick and rudder manual, only in the big twin clutch Sportronic. I weep a little knowing this. With the ability to adjust the torque balance from front to rear in the AWD platform and to turn up the shifter sensitivity, there is a lot to like about the car and the box but it falls like techno music on my ears. I don’t like it. I don’t get it, and I guess I am too old to learn to love it.
The thing that really bothers me about it is that you can feel the transmission sitting in a lower gear keeping the revs up in anticipation of spirited driving. The result is great in response to point and shoot driving, but it also keeps the engine spinning, freely drinking down the super unleaded. Yup, the super high-tech transmission costs you in fuel economy. Other than the box I loved the car and coming in with a very thirsty 15-20 combined mpg as I am not one to drive the way the EPA does in its testing the 25 mpg highway really didn’t come to the quick on this one. With a tagged sticker for the fully loaded (including power seats and color GPS) rolling out at $31,755.00, it is a car that is wonderful in its intent but made for people who are accustomed to using their fingertips for everything. As Mitsubishi struggles to re-task themselves across multiple platforms, industries and all around the globe, they have made contradictory statements on if the full EVO will ever return to the US market, or if the Ralliart will be the top of the heap.
Some of the big wigs have stated the Evo is gone and the racing inspiration of innovation for Mitsubishi is dead along with it to be replaced by an investment in hybrid technology. I genuinely hope not.