Car reviews - Mitsubishi - Lancer - sedan range
Standard stability control, high levels of equipment, smooth engine, improved handling
Room for improvement
Flat seats in ES and VR models, louder than expected tyre noise, CVT feels sluggish
20 Sep 2007
MITSUBISHI's redesigned Lancer sedan gains the upper hand in the small car class before you even turn the key.
By including electronic stability control across the range with a starting price of $20,990, Mitsubishi has taken the high ground when it comes to safety.
It’s a bold move, and one that should be commended, especially when ESC is not even available as an option for the all-new Toyota Corolla range.
Whether or not stability control is high enough on the priority lists of small car buyers remains to be seen.
The evidence so far suggests that they don’t care enough about safety to cough up extra cash, but ESC is becoming better known and awareness campaigns such as the one run by the TAC in Victoria seem to be changing attitudes.
Most fleet operators have previously been opposed to safety features that add cost, but that’s also changing as vehicle safety is increasingly seen as a part of occupational health and safety obligations.
A feature that is more likely to appeal to small car customers is the cruise control that is standard on all Lancers.
It is amazing to think that Mitsubishi can include this demerit point and money-saving feature for a $20,990 car, when the $36,490 Ford Focus XR5 goes without it.
The styling of the Lancer is likely to lure quite a few buyers into showrooms.
It looks good is base form, although at this week’s launch near Canberra the base cars were fitted with alloy-rims from the dealer accessory catalogue.
The VRX, which looks like slightly toned-down version of the Evo, will appeal to a lot of younger drivers who traditionally buy Lancers and then weigh them down with a full outfit of plastic skirts and spoilers.
With that brutal nose, the slit headlights and overt bodykit, the VRX comes pre-made as a boy-racer – just add a big exhaust.
So the Lancer ticks all the boxes for safety, equipment and appearance, but what about the drive experience?
Well, it’s actually pretty good.
A Ford Focus still handles better and feels faster, but this Lancer drives pretty well and is a big improvement over the last car.
When you drove the base model of the previous Lancer, it really a bland experience and there was a whiff of cheapness that just wouldn’t go away.
Its steering was rubbery, the suspension was too soft and the car just felt rather second rate.
The new car feels quite well tied down.
Its steering doesn’t set new standards, but is well weighted and gives a reasonable amount of feedback.
The suspension is well tuned and the car was well composed on some rough country roads on the launch.
Its body control is quite good, there is very little bodyroll and the car feels much more solid than the last.
I was expecting to notice a big difference between the way the sport-tuned VRX and the two lesser models handled, but it was not obvious.
There was perhaps a slightly sharper feel to the steering, thanks to the lower-profile tyres, but the ride comfort was not affected much and the VRX didn’t seem to handle all that much better.
That isn’t a big problem because the base car already handles well enough, although you would expect the cars to have a more obvious character differences.
None of them felt particularly harsh when it came to ride comfort.
They feel firmer than previous Lancer models, but not harsh, even on rougher roads.
Tyre noise, especially on the coarse-chip tarmac used in the country, was quire noticeable. It can cause quite a roar and wind-noise around the A-pillar was also present.
The new 2.0-litre engine is a good thing, with quite a lot of torque on tap. It’s smooth and rather quiet.
You can rev it right out, but there really isn’t all that much grunt up the top of the rev range.
The five-speed manual is a decent gearbox and is the best option for getting the most out of the engine.
The Lancer’s CVT automatic is better than many on the market.
The slurring sound of the adjusting gear ratios can be off-putting when you are really pushing the car along, but it is not all that loud when you are driving normally.
It does feel quite slow to get going with this transmission in some conditions and the performance figures show the automatic is one second slower 0-100km/h.
The pre-set gear ratio in manual mode for the auto doesn’t seem to help much.
Owners may enjoy showing the metal gearshift paddles of the VRX automatic to their friends, but it’s unlikely they will use them much after the initial novelty has worn off.
Fuel economy from the test drive came in at around 8.0L/100km, which is pretty good when you consider we were revving the engine out a fair amount to get a feel for it.
The cabin room of the Lancer is excellent and is best described as cavernous.
Rear passengers enjoy plenty of headroom and legroom. As with almost all cars these days the middle seat of the second row is very uncomfortable, thanks to a fold-down armrest that retracts into the back cushion.
The seats in the two base models are reasonably flat and unsupportive, but the VRX seats gain larger side bolsters which are much better.
The split/folding rear seat opens up a large storage area and the boot is big as well.
Interior quality has never been a highpoint for Lancers.
The new one is better, although it is probably not the best around.
It has a fairly simple, logical layout and looks fine.
The plastics are all hard, and some sections have a slightly budget look, but the general appearance is of a good quality car.
The only real noticeable difference between the two lower models and the VRX is a metal-look dashboard and door strip that is replaced by a carbon-fibre look section.
Mitsubishi says the VRX also gets a different seat trim, but you could have fooled us.
Both are black with a white specked pattern and few people will be able to pick the difference.
Apart from the bold bodykit and wheels, there is not a heap that distinguishes the VRX from the mid-spec VR model, unless you use a Bluetooth phone or like the gimmick of the keyless entry and start.
The VRX also gets the automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers, but I don’t have a huge issue with turning on the headlights myself or flicking on the windscreen wipers when it starts to rain.
One option that drivers who like their music should examine is the premium Rockford Fosgate sound system, which sounds brilliant.
Given that the Lancer sound system head-unit is integrated, choosing the factory option is the only way to dramatically improve sound without having to cut into the dashboard to fit a different head-unit.
Sound systems can be awfully expensive too, so spending $750 is not all that much.
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