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2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart Road Test

Well-equipped station wagon offers added oomph

By Kevin “Crash” Corrigan

2006 Mitsubishi Lancer SportbackWhen the Lancer Sportback left the Canadian marketplace after the 2004 model year, Mitsubishi dealers voiced their concerns. The Home Office listened and has brought the vehicle back again for 2006, which will be the final year in its present guise. Although these smaller-sized wagons have never been very popular in the U.S., we Canadians seem to like the useful little workhorses, which is why the 2006 Sportback is sold in Canada and not in the U.S. Mitsubishi is allocating 780 units to us for the 2006 model year and is quite confident of moving them all with ease.

The 2006 Sportback is available in two trim levels -- both well-equipped -- the LS and the Ralliart. I recently had the opportunity to try out the Sportback Ralliart edition at a ride and drive event.

When first looking at the 2006 Sportback, one thing is obviously clear; that is, it is hard to make a station wagon look like anything more than what it is, a station wagon. Many manufacturers have tried to alter this thinking, with slanted rear sections that only succeed in turning a wagon into a smaller hatchback. We all know that the basic shape of a wagon is not the most sporting of designs, but it does the job for which it was intended; it offers considerable cargo capacity without having to move into a minivan. Mitsubishi's approach to this has been to “dress up”, or rather “sport up” its trusty Lancer load carrier and I think they have done a reasonable job of it.

2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback RalliartThe vehicle has a pleasant ground effects package, a blacked out grille and some stylish 16-in. alloy wheels to complete the look. I have to say though, that coming from a rallying background myself. I found the “Ralliart” nameplate somewhat disturbing on the Sportback. On the company's world-renowned, rally-based Lancer Evolution (which we hope to see on the market here in 2009), it would be perfectly suited, but not on a four-cylinder station wagon.

That said, the Sportback is no slouch, as I was to find out. The event was organized by Mitsubishi for local journalists to experience both the Sportback and its Eclipse Spyder GTP model. The route was well planned and took in about 200 km of the most twisty and winding roads that Ontario has to offer. I thought that keeping up with the others in the Spyders was going to be a challenge but the Sportback handled it with relative ease.

2006 Mitsubishi Lancer SportbackIts 2.4L MIVEC L4 engine produces 162 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque, and when coupled to a four-speed automatic transmission, it performs quite nicely. The Sportback has also received a little suspension tweaking under the Ralliart banner and the vehicle handled the challenging roads surprisingly well. Now I don't suppose that many buyers will purchase a Sportback with the intention of going racing with it, but it does couple reasonable performance with some useful cargo space.

The interior of the Sportback has been well designed; it has a quality feel and carries on the overall sporty theme. The seats are well bolstered and comfortable; they also have some nice red accent panels that can also be seen on the door panels. The four-spoke steering wheel and shift lever are leather bound, adding to the sporting nature of the vehicle. The dash layout has been well thought out with white instrumentation dials, complemented by bright red needles.

The Sportback comes well-equipped with power windows, locks, remote keyless entry, A/C, cruise, tilt steering, heated power mirrors and more.

All in all, the Lancer Sportback Ralliart edition is what it is -- a well-built Japanese station wagon with a little added oomph. It is not going to set the automotive world on its head but it will appeal to those buyers who want a reliable load carrier, yet still desire a little fun from their vehicle.

Kevin 'Crash' Corrigan is an automotive writer based in Caledon, Ont.

My rating 7/10

Vehicle price as tested $ 24,998. The base price for a Sportback LS is $21,598.

Warranty period is 5 years/100,000 km.

Fuel consumption - Automatic (City/Highway): 10.4/7.3 L/100 km.

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