PORT JERVIS, N.Y. -- Right, then quickly left, then right again around a wide bend the blacktop route winds through folds of New York's Kittatinny Mountains, as a sporty new five-door hatchback from Japan's Mitsubishi -- hunkering low against the road and hugging hard through each tight curve -- cuts a crisp and controlled line at a rather fast clip.
Actually, we're flying along the twisty course.
Posed on a stiff platform which counterbalances the pumped-up turbo muscle with sure-stick all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction and forceful brakes, the slick new Lancer Ralliart Sportback scoots through the snaky section in a flat stance with sticky summer tires clawing the tarmac.
Steering it, hard and swift and aggressive, amounts to such excitement that at Port Jervis, perched on the Delaware River overlooking Pennsylvania's shore, one driver pulls into a parking lot for time-out just to catch a breath.
Even when parked on the lot, the Lancer Ralliart Sportback looks like its racing at an illegal speed.
On a rippled body the style seems aggressive, with wheels pinned at corners of the package to balance the stance. Body parts extend only briefly over front and back edges in the manner of racers as the prow and windshield tip rearward to suggest swift movement.
Inspiration for that angular chin, wide-mouth trapezoidal grille gape and angry-eye headlamps stem from the menacing muzzle of a shark.
But it also resembles an 'Evo' -- nickname of Mitsubishi's World Rally Championship (WRC) race cars under the badge of Evolution. To be precise, the full name of the Evo is Lancer Evolution, as its platform begins with Lancer.
Lancer Sportback, completely fresh rearward of the C-pillar, has a sloping hatchback door with integrated roof wing. The door extends downward to the rear bumper to make loading cumbersome objects -- such as boogie boards or bicycles -- so easy.
Tucked below the aluminum ducted hood of the Lancer Ralliart Sportback is Mitsubishi's 4B11 engine block, the same one used by the Evo
This is a high-performance 2.0-liter turbo-charged and inter-cooled in-line-four with MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing and lift Electronic Control) equipment which maximizes the power boost across the rev band.
The plant tunes to 237 hp at 6000 rpm with strong torque of 253 lb-ft at 2500 rpm.
It's teamed with Mitsubishi's six-speed TC-SST (Twin-Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission), which is an automated manual shifter with a console-mounted shifter stick as well as magnesium shifter paddles at your fingertips on the steering wheel's crossbar.
You can drive it like an automatic, without a thought devoted to shifting gears, or you can switch to hands-on for shifting chores to maximize driver control.
Lancer GTS Sportback is the entry edition equipped with a four-cylinder engine tied to a five-speed manual gearbox or optional six-speed continuously variable transaxle (CVT).
The single-cam 2.4-liter in-line-four nets 168 hp at 6000 rpm with 167 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.
The front-wheel-drive (FWD) platform which underpins Lancer Sportback features a long 103.7-inch wheelbase and a wide 60-inch wheel track, which enhance stability for the vehicle when it's set in motion.
Ralliart has an independent front suspension system biased toward a low longitudinal roll center for predictable stability with an anti-roll bar that's 22 mm thick.
The independent multi-link rear suspension holds back wheels in line while also damping vertical movement prompted by pavement bumps.
Further, the car exhibits awesome stick-to-the-road ability because of the all-time AWD device with a front helical limited slip differential and mechanical rear limited-slip, plus Mitsubishi's ACD (Active Center Differential) which employs an electronically controlled hydraulic multi-plate clutch to split engine torque between front and rear wheels.
A punch switch allows the driver to manually manage the torque split for performance handling.
Select Tarmac and you'll get more torque applied to the rear wheels for quick accelerations on dry pavement; use the Snow mode to move more torque to front wheels and get a better grip in slippery stuff, or punch up Gravel for even torque distribution front to rear when running on shifty surfaces.
Other electronic hardware for safety aboard the Ralliart ranges from Active Stability Control (ASC) with Traction Control (TCL) to a sport anti-lock brake system (S-ABS) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD).
The cabin of Lancer Ralliart Sportback is an expansive space in a layout which shows two buckets up front, a back bench split 60/40 with room for three, and the rear cargo section.
Lancer's dash is clean and uncluttered with the instrument panel tucked below a double-bubble cowl and binnacles housing the analog tachometer and speedometer.
Passengers are surrounded by air bags, including multi-stage frontal air bags and side air bags for front seats along with curtain-style air bags tucked in the ceiling for all outboard seats. There's even an inflatable air bag ahead of the driver's knees.
Front seatbelts employ load-limited and pretensioning apparatus, while backseat restraints include upper and lower anchors to mount a child's safety seat.
Standards include air conditioning, power door locks, power to operate all windows, cruise control and a keyless remote entry device, auto-off headlamps with daytime running lights, a Bluetooth hands-free telephone interface, and 18-inch alloy wheels capped by 215/45R18 Yokohamas.
The optional Recaro Sport Package installs bolstered Recaro buckets up front, and a 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate premium audio kit with nine speakers and a CD changer in the dash for six discs, Sirius satellite radio service and HID (high intensity discharge) headlamps.
A Navigation Package, also optional, brings a 30-GB hard disk linked to a navigation system with carpool-lane guidance and updated NAVTEQ mapping.
Mitsubishi establishes a manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) of $19,200 for the Lancer GTS Sportback. Numbers for the Lancer Ralliart Sportback begin at $27,600