America’s love for sedans is, like a lot of American quirks, not universally embraced beyond our borders. More practical five-door hatchbacks are the rage in Europe and Asia, and as such, Mitsubishi had to build one to be competitive overseas with its Lancer compact sedan. The only question is whether that hatch should come to the U.S.
Well, whether it should or shouldn’t be coming, it is. Sales of the 2010 Lancer Sportback wagon commence around September 1. The 168-hp GTS starts at $19,910 with a five-speed manual and $20,910 with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The 237-hp all-wheel-drive Ralliart with a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual starts at $28,310, just a couple hundred dollars higher than the sedan.
Sleek and Spacious
Where the Lancer has a trunk, the Lancer Sportback has a steeply raked hatchback that looks swept and sporty. Compared with the similarly situated Subaru Impreza WRX five-door, the Sportback sits on almost the same wheelbase but is nearly seven inches longer than the WRX, giving it heavier front and rear overhangs in side profile. There’s less cargo room behind the seats in the Sportback, 14 cubic feet versus 19 in the WRX, but more space if you fold the seats: 47 cubic feet against the Subaru’s 44.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door wagon
PRICE AS TESTED: $28,310 (base price: $28,310)
ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, port fuel injection
Displacement: 122 cu in, 1998cc
Power (SAE net): 237 bhp @ 6000 rpm
Torque (SAE net): 253 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual
Wheelbase: 103.7 in Length: 180.4 in Width: 69.4 in Height: 59.7 in Curb weight (C/D est): 3600 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 5.8 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 14.5 sec
Top speed (governor limited): 144 mph
EPA city/highway driving: 17/25 mpg
The Sportback’s rear seats are comfortable and spacious, and they conveniently fold flat via release handles in the trunk area. It’s no Buick Estate Wagon back there, but the loading hole is large, and there’s room for bulky items with the seats folded. For additional volume, the GTS has a removable cargo floor hiding a bin, but a taller muffler rearranges the floor layout to prevent it in the Ralliart.
Not an Evolution
As in the Ralliart sedan, the Sportback Ralliart runs a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder based on the shared world engine also used by Chrysler and Hyundai. At 237 hp, it’s notably down on power compared with the 265-hp WRX and feels it, partly because of the Sportback’s higher curb weight. The only transmission in the Sportback Ralliart is Mitsubishi’s TC-SST dual-clutch six-speed. We’re told that the software in our preproduction car is outdated and that Mitsubishi has smoothed over some of the harder edges of the upshifts with improved shift logic.
Running a mountain twisty, the Sportback proved it’s a good balance of ride comfort and handling, even better than the WRX, which skews to rather soft and roll prone. Corners are attacked with a tangibly stronger connection through the wheel and more confidence in the grip, and there’s no discernible added flex from the giant hole cut for the hatchback.
Still the Precision Instrument
In short, the Lancer Sportback is bigger and about 200 pounds heavier than the comparable WRX but is a sharper stick for jabbing at your favorite roads. Around town, it doesn’t oppress with an overly rigid ride, so we’d say Mitsubishi has found the better suspension compromise for sport-minded drivers. All it needs to find is more horsepower. Wagons, ahoy!