CC Capsule: 2002 Mitsubishi Magna Ralliart – On A Wing And A (Bright Yellow) Prayer

(first posted 11/16/2017)       It seemed like Mitsubishi was channeling Pontiac for a while there in the 90s and early 00s. Both had somewhat of a sporty image due to their high-performance offerings. With its third-generation Eclipse, Mitsubishi started to dabble in cladding. The twin-nostril grilles on Mitsubishis also became more pronounced. So did the body kits, as evidenced by this Magna Ralliart.

The story of the 1996 Mitsubishi Magna and Verada is one I will soon tell, but this Ralliart edition is a mere paragraph. In Australia, the Magna was a humble, mainstream family sedan here with no near-luxury aspirations, unlike the related Diamanté in Asia and North America.

Sporty, six-cylinder sedans had long been popular here and Mitsubishi’s Magna Sports and VR-X had done a decent trade—consider them the Pontiac Grand Prix GT and GT-Ps of Mitsubishi’s Aussie lineup. But the V8-powered Ford Falcon XR8 and Holden Commodore SS had a much cooler, sportier image, leaving Mitsubishi in a bind—how could they make the Magna cooler?

Unlike the Pontiac G6 Street Edition that rivals the Ralliart for sheer tastelessness, the Magna Ralliart actually had some meaningful performance improvements. Alas, there was no V8 engine under the hood, nor any turbochargers or all-wheel-drive. Instead, mechanical changes were limited to the addition of a limited slip differential (in manual models only), bigger brakes, a higher compression ratio, a modified camshaft and cylinder heads, among other tweaks to the engine, exhaust and suspension. These modifications bumped horsepower up by 22 horses to 241 hp at 5500 rpm and torque by 12 ft-lbs up to 245 ft-lbs at 4000 rpm. Those who didn’t want to row their own gears could opt for Mitsubishi’s excellent five-speed Tiptronic auto, gaining traction control but losing the LSD and about 0.4 seconds in the 0-60 sprint (at around 7.2).

Alas, the extra power further pushed the Magna to the limits of its front-wheel-drive layout. Torque steer was noticeable, as you would imagine. Once you got past that, though, the Ralliart Magna handled well for a large, front-wheel-drive sedan. Then again, so did a regular Magna Sports or VR-X, and it cost $AUD10k less…

The cheaper sporty Magnas were cheaper and also looked better. The Ralliart’s Lancer Evolution-inspired rear wing was over-the-top. Worse was the front spoiler, which would inevitably run afoul of curbs and driveways. Ford and Holden, even in their wildest HSV and FPV models, tended to avoid such outrageous gimmicks.

The Ralliart’s interior also received some tweaks, some appealing – more contoured seats, a Momo leather-wrapped steering wheel – and some almost as gauche as the exterior, like the red-faced gauges.

Mitsubishi Australia did introduce an all-wheel-drive Magna shortly after the Ralliart’s arrival, but sadly they never utilized the drivetrain to its full potential and the 3.5 V6 actually had to be detuned for the AWD models.

Kudos to Mitsubishi for trying on a limited budget to make a sport sedan out of the Magna, a car becoming increasingly popular with older buyers and fleets. But Mitsubishi was at a huge disadvantage going up against the Holden/Ford sport sedan duopoly, and it didn’t help that the Ralliart landed right as Ford was launching one of the hottest six-cylinder sedans in Aussie history: the 320-horsepower 2002 BA Falcon XR6 Turbo.

This is one of just 500 Ralliart Magnas and one of only 4 units painted in Wasp Yellow. While the Ralliart made the Australian automotive scene even more colorful – literally and figuratively – I’m left wondering who would have spent the extra $10k over the already quite capable and powerful Magna VR-X, especially considering that money could have bought you a Falcon XR6 Turbo or a Commodore SS. I have a lot of respect for these ’96-04 Magnas and their smooth V6s and surprisingly good handling – I almost bought one, several years ago – but the Ralliart was overpriced, even if it wasn’t a bad car.

That wing, though. Even Pontiac spoilers never towered that high…

Related Reading:

Curbside Capsule: 1985-91 Mitsubishi Magna – Mitsubishi’s Taurus

COAL Capsule #13: 1997 Mitsubishi Diamante LS – Rough, But No Diamond