Finding Three Diamonds (And More)

2013 All Mitsubishi Cookout and Car Show
All photos by Randy Stern

Guess what I did this past weekend? I took part in a car meet!

Now that was off my chest, let me explain the reason for doing so. The point of participation is to be a part of a carmmunity, right? It is the one rite of passage that puts you at one with your fellow enthusiasts. It gives you the opportunity to learn about the brand, its vehicles and where you stack up amongst them. Or, get ideas on how to get the most out of your vehicle.

Aside from a MN C&C a couple of years back, I always played the spectator. With my camera around my neck, I was ready to take photos and talk to the owners. It also gave me an idea on the type of vehicles I would be comfortable around, especially balancing curiosity with knowledge. An air of familiarity helps in being with a particular brand, genre or era.

Hence why I chose to participate in the All Mitsubishi Cookout and Car Show in Rogers, Minnesota. Put on by Minnesota 3/S club, it is an open invitation for all Mitsubishi owners – and other Mitsubishi- or Diamond Star-built vehicles – to join in the fun in the suburb northwest of the Twin Cities. Around 200 participants are expected to show up to show off their three-diamond best.

The idea of attending came a year ago, when I was attempting to show up after my visit to the Wheels of Italy show in Minneapolis. An unfortunate incident prevented my arrival at Rogers Middle School to check out the Cookout.

Several months later, I came up with an idea. Why just attend it, take photos, talk to folks and such? Why not participate? Um, but I do not have a Mitsubishi to roll up in the spot…

One of the Cookout's sponsors – White Bear Mitsubishi in White Bear Lake, Minnesota – collaborated on this idea. Instead of driving up and parking in spectator's parking in the vehicle I am reviewing that week – why not roll up in a Mitsubishi?

Discussions between the dealer and V&R came up with a solution to this. Instead of a more desirable model – such as the Lancer Evolution MR – we decided upon a 2014 Lancer Ralliart.

2014 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart

V&R has not covered the Lancer at all. After all, it is Mitsubishi's remaining sedan in the lineup. The i-MiEV is below it, but it is seen as an electric vehicle for the city. The other two vehicles in the lineup are fine – the Outlander and the Outlander Sport crossovers. In a month or so, they will be joined by the new subcompact Mirage.

The Lancer sits in the compact car segment, challenged by the usual suspects. However, the Lancer brings a few more dimensions to the segment that only a chosen few dare to tread. Some compacts have a single sporty model. A few offer a couple of options, leading towards their big dog of the pack. The Lancer have a few more than most.

Lancers start with a 2.0litre four-cylinder engine in their ES and SE. Jump to the GT, and your engine grows to 2.4litres. Above the GT are the main attractions to the Lancer lineup: The Ralliart and the Evo. Both offer 2.0litre turbocharged four-cylinder engines and all-wheel drive. While the Evo goes all out with 291 ponies, the Ralliart offers a tamer experience with just 237 horsepower.

The Ralliart may look like a toned down Evo, but it has got some punch. This Lancer is a powerful, ambitious machine. You feel more than 237 turbocharged horses from under the hood. That will depend on how you work the throttle. Take it lightly, and it will engage you in a game of “how fast can you go.” You just have to work it – about half throttle – to let the Ralliart demonstrate its quickness. Believe me, this thing is quick…and fast!

The twin clutch SST gearbox standard on the Ralliart tries to reign it all in, but that is if you leave it alone. This transmission needs to be worked with. For example, if you are driving in a parking lot trying to leave or in traffic, the gearbox will remind you to shift. Fine, you work the paddles to get to a more amenable gear. Simply flip it into second and the gearbox will stop bucking. Of course, once you get going, the gearbox will relax and let the engine do its thing.

I could go on about how great the handling is, the superb steering rack and the fact I averaged 22.5MPG while driving the Ralliart. There is the business of the Cookout to tend to.

The naysayers out there are calling for Mitsubishi Motors of America's exit from the industry. I call shenanigans. MMA is introducing new and revised vehicles over the next few years, is willing to invest in its production facility in Normal, Illinois and retains a loyal following of enthusiasts who still care about their products to keep them on the road.

2013 All Mitsubishi Cookout and Car Show

The Cookout proved two things. One, enthusiasts will brave scorching heat and humid air to bring everything from a 1987 Passenger Van to their Evos and Ralliarts to an exurb a ways northwest of Minneapolis. Two, these Mitsubishi owners are deep enthusiasts for not only their particular vehicle – but for all of Mitsubishi’s offerings. It is not just about being an Evo fan than just admiring its predecessors – the Starion/Conquest included.

In my case, the point is to not just show up in the Lancer Ralliart. It is to find the connection between bearing witness to the start of MMA’s work in 1982 when they first sold the Tredia, Cordia and Starion back in Southern California and build that bridge between the various points on Mitsubishi’s 30-year journey in this country so far.

We often forget how Mitsubishi first came here. The relationship between Mitsubishi and Chrysler yielded some breakthrough vehicles even before the first MMA dealership opened up. There were no pre-1983 Dodge Colts, Plymouth Arrows or Sapporos that made it to Rogers. Yet, there were more Starions and Conquests (mostly the Chrysler-badged version was represented amongst this group) than anyone thought were around. I even was amazed how many 3000GTs and Dodge Stealths were around – I knew there were a few, but there had to be a dozen or more of those beasts.

The astonishment was more of memory than missing the enthusiast target. To assume that the typical Mitsubishi enthusiast has a Lancer Evo or Ralliart is just scratching the surface of the brand. The majority of cars that showed up to the meet were the Eclipse.

2013 All Mitsubishi Cookout and Car Show

The Diamond Star collaboration solidified Mitsubishi's presence in America through the 1990s. It yielded plenty of these coupes that kept enthusiasts engaged during its four-generation run. Not only did we enjoy the Eclipse, we also enjoyed its Chrysler-badged brethren – the Plymouth Laser and Eagle Talon. Though the Eclipse never enjoyed the global success or reputation such as the Lancer Evo, it brought a high degree of pride to the brands and its owners/enthusiasts for the sports car built in that small east central Illinois city.

It brings me back to the Lancer Ralliart. To understand why it is relevant to its most loyal owners and enthusiasts are loved by the brand. Mitsubishi wants to do what they can to satisfy these people. This is why they are introducing new models and are deepening their commitment to the Normal, Illinois plant. This is also why they are involved with engagement programs, such as Mitsubishi Owner Day and through their social media efforts.

Perhaps this is why the naysayers may not win this time. The Lancer Ralliart is just a small piece of the puzzle, but a rather significant one. Mitsubishis always had a special place for me since my drive of a Cordia back in 1983. Granted, the Lancer Ralliart is a giant leap ahead of that small hatchback coupe. It is however one for the soul.

One would still discount the Ralliart for not being as sexy as the Evo. For those of us who may not necessarily need the punch of supercar performance in a sport compact, the Ralliart is truly a sports sedan even an occasional enthusiast would enjoy daily.

Even in the heat and thick air of this past weekend, there was cause for celebration. The Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart was a great companion to witness the past and the present coming together in celebration of the three-diamond brand.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by White Bear Mitsubishi, White Bear Lake, MN

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