MITSUBISHI has shuffled the pack in its Lancer small car range and ramped up the value in an attempt to stabilise sales that have drifted over the past two years in the face of increasingly stiff competition from younger, more hotly priced rivals in Australia.
With an all-new model at least 18 months away, Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd (MMAL) has dropped two Lancer variants – VR and Aspire – and added one new mid-range model, called LX, equipped and priced to land in the small-car sweet spot around $24,000.
As well, the company has chopped $1700 out of the price of the entry-level Lancer ES, bringing the price below $20,000 for the first time in years, to $19,990 (plus on-road costs) in its five-speed manual guise.
This makes it cheaper than any of its logical competitors, with only entry-model small cars such as the Kia Cerato, Nissan Tiida, Proton Persona and Suzuki SX4 – all of which are smaller than Lancer – in the sub-$20k small-car club.
MMAL product manager James Tol said Mitsubishi wanted to stabilise Lancer sales at around 1300 units a month, after slipping from a high of about 1900 a month in 2010.
Once Mitsubishi’s top-selling model, the Lancer now trails the Triton ute, which is selling well at 1500 units a month.
“There is no sugar-coating it, we have lost a bit of volume in Lancer,” Mr Tol said.
The current third-generation Lancer arrived on the Australian market 2007, quickly becoming Australia’s third best-selling small car behind the Corolla and Mazda3 but currently, it is ranked sixth.
Mr Tol said at least one major factor in the Lancer slide had been the arrival in 2010 of the ASX small SUV which had cannibalised sales of the Lancer hatch.
He said the ‘Sportback’ design of the Lancer hatch was close in concept to the ASX, which itself was more like a five-door hatch than a pure SUV.
However, the other reason for the Lancer sales decline had been pricing, which has not kept pace with the market.
“We have really right-priced these cars now,” Mr Tol said. “The price was too high.”
Mr Tol said the Lancer sedan was still punching above its weight in the small car segment, holding down a 13 per cent share.
The new LX will slot in between the base ES and sporty VRX, the price of which has also been sliced by $1000, to $29,990.
The turbocharged Lancer Ralliart remains at $44,490, as a stepping stone to the range-topping Evolution sports models.
The refreshed Lancer retains the previous styling and powertrains, with changes mainly confined to equipment.
The base ES, powered by the 113kW/198Nm four-cylinder petrol engine attached to either a five-speed manual gearbox or optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), continues to be offered in both five-door hatch (Sportback) or sedan body styles.
Enhancements include Bluetooth with voice activation and streaming audio, a leather wrapped steering wheel with audio and phone controls and a new audio system for easier operation and optimum sound.
As well, the CVT variant gets hill-start assist for easier uphill starts.
The new LX model, also powered by the 2.0-litre engine and with sedan/hatch and manual/CVT choices, comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, leather-trimmed heated seats with power adjustment on the driver’s side, climate control air-conditioning, keyless start, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors and a more upmarket audio system with an LCD screen that also displays the reversing image.
Piano black trim lifts the interior ambience, while, the LX gets more chrome exterior trim.
The VRX gets the bigger 2.4-litre engine, with 125kW of power and 226Nm of torque, along with the five-speed manual or CVT (a $2250 option).
As before, the Ralliart variants are powered by the 2.0-litre turbo engine, punching out 177kW and 343Nm, mated exclusively with the dual-clutch automatic transmission and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
The Lancer Ralliart is said to be good for completing the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.2 seconds.
A new colour – Sapphire – has been added to the palette that also includes White, Cool Silver, Warm Silver, Black, Red and Titanium.