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First drive: Old Lancer new look

Mini Magna: The Lancer family has inheritted the global Mitsubishi style already employed on Magna in Australia.

Mitsubishi is aiming for a sales boost courtesy of a new-look Lancer

21 Aug 2003

WHAT’S the biggest change from CG to CHLancer? You’re looking at it.

With its mini-Magnagoggle-eyed face, Mitsubishi’s popular small-mediumsedan has been inducted into the company’sdistinctive world styling policy.

But apart from that there is precious little else toreport about this update.

Certainly not how muchthe models in the range cost. As they don’t go onsale until September, Mitsubishi Motors Australiadid not issue pricing at last week’s media launch.

But executives did hint that the dollar demandwould stay very close to the current level. Which isjust as well really, because as far as we can establishthere’s virtually no mechanical change from oldLancer to new Lancer.

Not that old Lancer is that old in Aussie termsanyway. CG was only launched here in July, 2002,replacing the CE that had been around since 1996.

But CG actually broke cover as long ago as 2000in Japan, so what we are getting with CH is the mid-lifeupdate – after 12 months.

Confused?Yeah well, it only gets worse, because the old CEcoupe and wagon were not replaced last year andcontinue on sale here until the end of 2003 at least.

All this is a result of the general turmoilMitsubishi went through in Japan in the late ’90sand early ’00s, slashing and burning productdevelopment to stem a tide of red ink.

That meantmodels groaning on into old age when they shouldhave been replaced, and new models that reallywere not that new.

The ship is righting itself now with the support ofDaimlerChrysler, but it will still take a year or twofor the product flow to really build up again.

So what CH Lancer really amounts to is oldMitsubishi dressed up by world styling boss OlivierBoulay to look like new Mitsubishi.

At the front there’s the distinctive twin-nostrilgrille with the centre-mounted triple diamond logoin the centre. At either side are those triangulatedheadlights and below is a new bumper design.

At the rear there’s a new decklid which nowincorporates the number plate garnish (movedup from the bumper) and there is a new bumper.

Badging has also been changed and the antenna isnow a bee-sting version centrally mounted at therear of the roof.

Inside there’s a change of trim but that’s aboutwhere it starts and finishes, the dash and centreconsole design remaining "as you were".

Mechanically, the model range continues withthe 92kW/173Nm 4G54 SOHC 2.0-litre four-cylinderengine mated to either a five-speed manualor four-speed automatic gearbox.

The only changeof note has been to the suspension, where springand damper changes have sought a better ride andhandling balance.

The four model range continues unchanged – ES,LS, VR-X and the auto-only Exceed.

MMAL is bullishly forecasting a 31 per centincrease in sales for CH over CG, which it sayswould bring it up to around 1000 a month.

It says a lot for the popularity of the old coupe– and the wagon to a much lesser extent – that averagesales for Lancer this year have been 1546 permonth to the end of July.

The company expects most of the sales growthto come courtesy of VR-X, which is unarguablya much more distinctive car to look at than itspredecessor.


It should come as no shock that CH Lancer feels very similar to CG Lancer.

In other words it's a reasonably solid, unquestionably spacious small car.

But it is not a class benchmark. Not when Toyota Corolla and Holden Astra are around, and certainly not when the Astra's replacement, the Mazda3, the new Ford Focus and the next Renault Megane will also be with us in 2004.

While Mitsubishi was spruiking the better feel of the VR-X during the launch, we missed out on that experience and settled for the ES version during the quite demanding drive program through the hills to Melbourne's north-east.

It was very difficult to detect any change from CG under those conditions. Its ride is okay except for the banging and crashing through larger holes, and it is a solid if uninspiring car to steer.

Understeer is the name of the handling game, which is at it should be for a commuter-oriented small front-wheel drive car. Steering is light to the touch as well, which is great for the 'burbs.

The engine, despite being a full 2.0-litre, doesn't feel a match for some of the better 1.8s that are doing the rounds. It stays relatively quiet and smooth until you get close to the 6000rpm redline but doesn't feel like it's in a hurry to get anywhere.

The best part of the package is undoubtedly the INVECS II automatic transmission we sampled. It may drain some urge, but it does it in a dignified way.

Inside, the look is as familiar as the outside is different. There's a certain flimsiness to the touch and a lack of inspiration when the tinny doors close. The general ambience is flat, just like the seats.

It lifts when you get out of course. The new look does drop years off the Lancer and the VR-X particularly benefits.

But underneath the cover the book remains the same old read, and if you're looking for substance there are certainly better choices out there.

Beast to rise

MITSUBISHI is expected to return the hot-testLancer to Australia with the launchof the Evo VIII forecast for 2004.

The rally-inspired 4WD beast is expectedto be previewed at the Sydney motorshow in October, with 100 examples setto come here under Australia’s limitedimport regulations.

Meanwhile, work continues at MitsubishiAustralia on a spiritual successor tothe Lancer GSR, to take on the SubaruImpreza WRX.

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