Unlike previous Lancer models which were just a weak supporting act to the Evo rally replicas, the current version looks a decent car in its own right. Andy Enright reports
You can see what Mitsubishi is trying to do with this current generation Lancer model. It's doing what Subaru is attempting, namely making the rest of their line up competitive instead of merely relying on the turbocharged headbangers at the top of the range. Of course, the problem with this strategy is that it means going head to head with some very accomplished cars that have this game down pat. Locking horns with the might of Ford, Vauxhall, Toyota and Renault is a tough gig. They're confident and on home turf. Or, as Michael Caine might have said, "You're a big man but you're out of shape. With me, it's a full time job."
It seems that the current Lancer model has shaped up pretty well. Mitsubishi has kept the keen pricing but has improved interior quality, driveability and styling. You may not be driving an Evo but you're still getting a good car at a cracking price. What's not to like? The hard sell would be to convince you that you're getting a good chunk of the driving manners of the Lancer Evo X at a fraction of the price but in the case of the mainstream models, that might be hard. When you're packing a 1.8-litre VVT petrol engine that cranks out 143bhp, those comparisons aren't going to wash for too long. Even less so in the case of the 107bhp 1.5-litre petrol unit. The 1.8 is a fairly willing motor but 60mph is still 9.6 seconds away (or a yawning 11.2s with the CVT auto box). Significantly, there's also a punchy Volkswagen-sourced 138bhp 2.0-litre DI-D diesel that's just as quick but offers a lot more torque. At the top of the range, Evo comparisons are more appropriate, thanks to the availability of a 237bhp 2.0-litre petrol unit in the Ralliart 5-door Sportback version. For the most part though, you're not getting Evo style go, but the steering feels much the same, the cabin is very similar and the Lancer feels very composed at speed, helped by chassis that is 56 per cent stiffer than its predecessor in torsional rigidity. There's also a clever Active Stability Control system that reduces rotational movement when the vehicle begins to skid. You don't get four-wheel drive, as you do in a stock Impreza, but the front-wheel drive chassis is nimble and traction control is offered.
"Even the entry-level model looks sharp"
A big part of the old Lancer's problem was that it looked so staid. This time round, Mitsubishi isn't making that mistake. Even the entry-level model looks sharp, with the aggressive, squinting front end and the rising waist line giving it a pugnacious stance. The car is built on a longer wheelbase and a wider track than it s predecessor although it's marginally shorter in overall length. The design was influenced by the Mitsubishi Concept X that debuted at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show. A big draw is the improved interior quality. The plastics and design are still probably a notch below the best in this price bracket, but they're no longer leagues off the pace as they were in the old model. The cowled instruments are a nice touch. Space inside is better than in the previous generation car thanks to the wheelbase and track increases but the Sportback version is no cavernous load lugger, the steeply raked rear end impinging on carrying capacity. Score one to the stylists. Pricing is keenest with the five-door Sportback line-up, thanks to the fact that it's the only bodystyle that alklows you to order the entry-level GS2 guise. Otherwise, 4 and 5-door models are identically priced. Equipment levels are very strong, even the entry level GS2 coming with 16-inch alloys, leather trim for the steering wheel and gear knob, curtain airbags, an additional pair of speakers and audio controls on the steering wheel. GS3 nets you 18-inch rims, front fog lights, cruise control, sports suspension, climate controlled air con, and stability and traction control. At the top of the range there's Pan-European HDD satellite navigation with colour touch screen, a 30GB music server, heated leather seats, iPod input, a personalisation set up and an advanced vehicle data system. That's an unbeatable kit list. Fuel economy is competitive right across the board. The 1.8-litre model will average 36.7mpg on the combined cycle and the 2.0-litre DI-D diesel a healthy 44.8mpg. Emissions are also tightly held in check, the two engines emitting 188 and 165g/km respectively. Choose an automatic gearbox on the 1.8-litre and fuel economy and emissions aren't too badly affected. Insurance ratings are similarly reasonable with groupings ranging between 8 and 9. It's worth bearing in mind that you'll probably need to add £350 to the list prices of the Lancer models unless you love Frost White as the other five colours available are all optional metallic and pearlescent finishes. With a stronger image will come beefier residual values, propped up by Mitsubishi's excellent reliability record. Make mine a 1.8-litre VVT Lancer Sportback in GS4 trim with all the bells and whistles. And why not? For around £17,000, which wouldn't even net you a 1.4-litre Golf GT, you're getting a car that looks great, drives sharply, comes with an almost improbable list of standard equipment and won't cost the earth to run. Publicising that fact to British buyers has not traditionally been a Mitsubishi strong point. The company has been rather hamstrung by an amateurish marketing operation that has never portrayed its products in the best possible light. Perhaps that will change with the confidence that comes with having a better product portfolio. Cars like the i, the Colt, the Outlander and now the Lancer are all strong contenders. Mitsubishi is on the up and this Lancer might be the breakthrough product it needs.
Facts At A Glance
CAR: Mitsubishi Lancer range
PRICES: £14,499-£24,149 - on the road
INSURANCE GROUPS: 5-17
CO2 EMISSIONS: 156-243g/km
PERFORMANCE: [1.8 VVT] 0-60mph 9.8s / Max Speed 127mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION: [1.8 VVT] (urban) 27.2mpg / (extra urban) 46.3mpg / (combined) 36.7mpg
STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: ABS, twin front, side and knee airbags, ISOFIX child seat mountings
WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: length/width/height mm 4570/1760/1490 (saloon)
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