Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Magna - Ralliart sedan
Performance, safety, refinement, fuel efficiency
Room for improvement
Rear wing, front bumper clearance, torque steer, audio
24 Jun 2002
IN THEORY, the Ralliart Magna concept is a no-brainer.
Take the well-built, refined and value-for-money Magna, eek even more grunt out of its silky smooth quad cam V6, tweak the chassis to better cope with the extra stress, fit a wild Lancer Evo-mimicking bodykit and then leverage Mitsubishi's association with world rallying expert Ralliart by using its name - and market the result as the intelligent six-cylinder buyer's alternative to the great Aussie sports sedan.
On paper, it is so obvious a move that one might wonder why it took Mitsubishi so long to bring it to market.
Mitsubishi says the boom in the specialist high performance segment during 2001 was the catalyst to produce the Magna it had always wanted. There is no doubt the increased sales potential of a car like the Ralliart Magna made its complex production process (and the costs associated with it) less of a gamble.
But getting any vehicle, even one with a chassis as refined and well balanced as the Magna's, to cope with 180kW of power passing through its front wheels is not easy and takes time. By its own admission, Mitsubishi went to great lengths finessing Ralliart Magna's Koni dampers, VR-X springs and newly fitted anti-roll bars in an effort to make them gel.
The results are impressive. The suspension tune is an almost ideal compromise between ride and handling, resulting in around the same acceptable level of bodyroll as the similarly sprung VR-X, while the exotic Koni dampers iron out low speed and small bump harshness as well as offer good high-speed body control.
The fitting of an expensive limited-slip front differential on manual models only, as well as a discreet but effective traction control system for automatic versions, is further evidence of Mitsubishi's handiwork.
The LSD is a local development of the unit found in the Mitsubishi FTO coupe, as well as one that has spent the past five years beneath the front-end of Mitsubishi product development manager Rob Chadwick's GT-Production category Magna Sports, so there should be no problem with durability.
But the fact is that with 180kW of peak power available at 5500rpm and a solid 333Nm of torque on tap at 4000rpm, overwhelming the grip afforded even by the Ralliart Magna's 225/50-section, 17-inch Pirelli P6000 tyres is all too easy.
The result of this is tyre-smoking, plough-understeer whenever attempting to exit a corner with any semblance of briskness - which is, after all, a large part of what a sports sedan is all about.
So the Ralliart Magna can be a frustrating drive for enthusiasts brought up on a staple diet of rear-drivers. For others, or those that learn to live with Ralliart Magna's tendency to wrench its steering wheel out of its driver's hands, this is easily the most rewarding Magna we have driven.
A droning exhaust note is the first hint this is no ordinary Magna and after the first prod of the right pedal, it is clear that performance is the overriding theme here.
Exploring beyond the torque steer-inducting lower two gears, there is an amazing amount of tractability from the smooth, efficient 3.5-litre and such is the stability of this Magna that picking it as a front-wheel drive in all but low-speed cornering situations is difficult.
Mitsubishi says Ralliart Magna, with a claimed 0-100km/h acceleration time of just 6.71 seconds, is quicker than both Falcon XR6 models, the 220kW V8 XR8 and HSV's supercharged V6 XU-6. To boot, it betters all of them, by a fair margin, for fuel economy. The secret here is weight, with Ralliart Magna's paltry 1493kg mass easily undercutting the rest.
Many other Magna hallmarks are here too, such as excellent build quality, refinement, noise suppression, a well sorted five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode and a long standard equipment list.
It includes power windows and mirrors, remote central locking, automatic climate control, trip computer and 14-speaker audio with seven-CD stacker and trick 17-inch Enkei alloys. There is no leather trim or power seats but the specific sports buckets match well enough the exclusive red instrument faces and a Momo leather wheel to produce a sporty, individual interior.
Backed up by the Data Dot security system, the standard safety package includes twin front airbags (but no side bags), ABS with EBD, seatbelt pretensioners and traction control for auto models.
However, the usual Magna bugbears remain. There's no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, the rear seatback does not split-fold, rear seating is slightly cramped, the boot is the smallest in its class and the turning circle is poor.
Specific to Ralliart Magna, the clever Eclipse sound system is too fiddly for its own good, the massive bi-plane rear wing obscures rear vision significantly and the in-ya-face Evo-style bodykit scrapes its front bumper chin even getting out of the garage, forsaking much of Magna's inherent practicality.
Ralliart Magna is not cheap either, asking around the same money as the Commodore SS and Falcon XR8 bent eights.
But Ralliart Magna still offers plenty of metal for the money. Deceptively quick and quietly competent, Ralliart Magna disappoints only when exuberant cornering is on the menu. As a daily driver, the low front bumper and crook rear wing are unnecessary distractions from an otherwise coherent package that will reward most drivers, most of the time.
For many, the inherent safety and stability promoted by the front-drive chassis beyond backblock speeds may even outweigh its recalcitrant low-speed behaviour.
For others, when the going gets tough Ralliart Magna does a better job of revealing the shortcomings of its front-drive underpinnings than showcasing the potential of this world-class large Australian sedan.
And what starts as a recipe for homegrown high performance ends up being an object lesson in just how good Magna will soon be with four-wheel drive.
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