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Road Test: Mitsubishi Lancer VR

Review by Feann Torr - 19/December/2007

Mitsubishi Lancer ReviewIf cars were professions, Mitsubishi's new Lancer would be a top-flite snowboarder.

It's cool, trendy, has remarkable balance, is highly competitive, yet not without a sense of fun and humour.

If you read our initial road test, you'd know that the Mitsubishi Lancer is one of the leading lights in the hotly contested small car market. As I mentioned in the launch article, it's competent on every level, and lacking in very few.

In a nutshell, it's the best Lancer yet.

Its got a stylish new look, airbags galore, stability control, more room and more power, but better fuel efficiency as well.

It's dressed to kill and priced to impress, and if wasn't for such tough competition from cars like the Hyundai i30 and Toyota Corolla, it'd be a shoe-in for 2007's most popular small car.

We wanted to have a closer look at what is expected to be one of the more popular Mitsubishi Lancer models, the mid-level VR variant priced between $25k-$28k, to see how the car performs in a wider range of conditions and a greater variety of roads. Let's take a look:

Make: Mitsubishi
Model: Lancer VR
Price: $27,590
Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)
Engine: 2.0-litre, Inline 4-cylinder, petrol
Seats: 5
Safety: 7 airbags (driver/front passenger (x2), driver's knee airbag (x1), front side airbags (x2), and front-rear curtain airbags (x2)), ABS, ESP
Car Supplier: Mitsubishi Australia


Mitsubishi Lancer Review

The Mitsubishi Lancer is one of the best drives
in the small car market, and plenty smooth too

Engine: Mitsubishi 2.0-litre Inline 4-cylinder Petrol

The transversely front mounted 1998cc 4-cylinder engine is of all-alloy construction and has 4-valves per cylinder actuated by dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) with variable valve timing.

The 2.0-litre engine has a 10.0:1 compression ratio and a 59 litre fuel tank capacity.

Fuel consumption: 8.2L/100km
CO2 Emissions: 196g/km

Max Power: 113kW @ 6000rpm
Max Torque: 198Nm @ 4250rpm
0-100km/h: 10.5 seconds

Mitsubishi Lancer Review

The design of the Mitsubishi Lancer is
unlike most 'Euro' styled small cars, opting
instead for angular, Japanese influences

Mitsubishi Lancer Review

Mitsubishi's Lancer is a joy to drive, but is
also one of the safest small cars on the market

Mitsubishi Lancer Review

The steering wheel mounted cruise
controls are well placed and intuitive

Mitsubishi Lancer Review

The cabin design is simple but elegant,
and there's virtually no clutter either

When we first tested Mitsubishi's Lancer over one-and-a-half days in Canberra, it was blatantly clear that the Japanese car maker had created a winner.

Spending a week with the car only serves to reinforce this.

The Lancer is one of the best drives this side of a premium car, with a smooth power delivery through the fuel efficient CVT (continuously variable gearbox).

I'll be up front about it - the CVT is probably one of my least favourite gearboxes for sporty driving, yet it excels in almost every other driving scenario which ultimately makes it a very good choice (on average, the majority of drivers accrue very few 'sporty' driving hours behind the wheel). 

Freeway driving is a doddle thanks to the low revving engine and intuitive steering-wheel mounted cruise controls, while driving through town is far smoother and more economical than either a manual or conventional automatic gearbox because you keep the revs so low while still sending drive to the front wheels. 

Because it has the tightest turning circle in its class - yes, better than even the Toyota Corolla - the 4.57 metre long Mitsubishi Lancer is very easy to squeeze into tight gaps and though the high boot can obstruct rearward vision, I never found parking to be problematic.

The suspension is also fairly compliant, so you won't feel the contours of every lump and bump in the road which will please drivers looking for a comfy ride that isn't all out sports. See the VRX model Lancer for that.

The Lancer also has lots of room for a small car, with a large 400 litre boot (which drops to 315 litres if you pay $200 for the full sized spare wheel) which expands even further when folding the 60/40 split rear seats. We managed to squeeze a mountain bike into the boot with the seats folded, but we did have to take off the front wheel.

I really like what Mitsubishi has done with the Lancer's cabin as well. Instead of trying to go all out with every bell and whistle on offer, Mitsubishi has kept it simple but in the process has created a rather elegant - dare I say premium? - cockpit.

I reckon the centre console and expansive dashboard have a subtle similarity to the design that BMW employs. It's an intuitive setup where all the controls, dials and buttons have been simplified and placed in one area. It works well and simultaneously provides a pleasant, modern looking interior.

There's a large silver strip stretching the width of the dashboard that continues along the front door trim as the only real garnish, and again, less is more in this respect. 

I also really liked the trip computer, which has a range of different settings to inform you of everything from the time, the outside temperature, the amount of fuel you're using, whether a door has been left open and so forth.

Interestingly, the 2.0-litre Lancer engine seemed to be quite a bit louder than most standard 4-cylinder small cars we've tested, especially when you floor the accelerator pedal and the motor winds up.

Some people will like this, but others may find the monotonous engine drone akin to nails on blackboards.

As well as the foolproof engine and gearbox combination, the car is very easy to steer. It's not so large that it becomes troublesome to park, but feels about the size of a Honda Accord Euro both to sit in and drive, which is good when it comes to loading the car up or when you have passengers along for the ride. 

I spent some time in the rear seats to see how far the modern small car has come in five years, and this truly doesn't feel 'small'. There's enough room for two adults in the rear, three if one of them is petite. 

I especially liked the way the upright cushions of the rear bench extended around the sides of the doors, and it's the small details like that this that help make the Lancer a truly great small car.

One of the clearest impressions I came away with after spending a week with the mid-level Mitsubishi Lancer was that you get a lot of car for the money.

It is based on the Outlander's platform after all, which is a sizable SUV.

The Mitsubishi Lancer is also one of the best looking new cars to come out of Japan in quite some time. We've gotten used to all the 'Euro' styled vehicles hitting the streets and it's refreshing to see a Japanese car that has Japanese style.

Lexus has perfected it on its more recent vehicles, and now Mitsubishi is cautiously treading a similar path.

It's about angles and minimalism and it works a treat. I got quite a bit of attention in our test car when driving around the suburbs and especially down near the beach on the Mornington Peninsula.

The overall shape is equal parts sporty and stylish, and at times I thought the shark-like front end had a touch of Maserati to it.

As mentioned in our first drive, the Mitsubishi Lancer has a traditional sedan silhouette with very subtly flared wheel arches and relatively narrow windows. But even with these slim windows the view from the interior is surprisingly good. 

The seating position is partly to thank for this. It's comfortable and provides a good view of the road ahead, and with excellent cruise controls on the steering wheel, setting the car on course during freeway driving takes all of three seconds. The only unspectacular aspect of the cabin was the centre armrest which is too low to be effective.

It's a great car to drive this new Lancer, and though acceleration off the mark with the CVT isn't quite as punchy as a manual gearbox, it's the mid-gear roll-ons and overtaking performance that work best with the infinity box (as I like to call them).

The 0-100km/h sprint times take 10.5 seconds with the CVT, and this feels about right. The manual versions are one second quicker at 9.5 seconds.

On the freeway cruising at 100km/h, the engine ticks over at 2000rpm and drinks about 7.0L/100km at this rate. Not bad for a 2.0-litre engine with a very useful 113kW of power. Mitsubishi claims an average fuel consumption figure of 8.2L/100km.

I also noticed that since our first drive, and with another 3000kms on the clock, the car felt slightly quicker and revved more freely. I reckon with a few more thousand kays on the clock the engine has loosened up and bedded in, and it feels more responsive.

All told, the new Mitsubishi has a very good 4-cylinder engine, one of the best in its class. It's a superior mill when compared to a lot of its rivals such as the Toyota Corolla, and even the accomplished Ford Focus.

In more demanding driving situations, the urban-friendly suspension does a pretty good job of ensuring the wheels have traction. There is a still a level of body roll when the car is accelerating through tighter corners, but overall the chassis feels pretty good when pushed hard.

It's the kind of car that is happy to wind its way through corners at a decent clip, with the grippy Yokohama tyres (205/60 R16) doing a very good job of holding it on course.

While the chassis is pretty well sorted, with reassuring brakes, good suspension and hard working tyres, the CVT didn't really do it for me. I found the way it revs to a certain point and then sits there - while highly economical and quite fast to boot - doesn't involve the driver.

It's not slow, don't get me wrong, but the the involvement isn't there. You just nail the throttle and steer through the corners and before long I was yawning. 

It seems a bit monotonous with the CVT when you really want to get involved and start enjoying the drive. The quasi tiptronic mode goes a little way towards adding more involvement, but you still feel a bit detached from what is one of the best chassis' in the small car market.

I guess if you had lots of pleasure driving in mind you could opt for the 5-speed manual which is a very good alternative (and will save you more than $2,000).

The Mitsubishi Lancer is the first small car in Australia to offer ESP on all models, and it works well but also adds a reassuring buffer when you do decide to break into a gallop. 

We tested it on dirt roads to see what happens when you crank the steering wheel and you can feel the car retarding the power delivery and individually pulsing the brakes of different wheels in order to correct the slide/skid, which is highly reassuring.

Unlike the entry-level ES Lancer, the mid-range VR model gets 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights and a full complement of seven airbags including front/rear curtain and even knee airbags - a small car first. There's also air-conditioning, cruise control, 6-stack CD stereo with MP3 player socket, six speakers and steering wheel audio controls.

There's also some very clever standard features on the Lancer VR, including dusk sensing automatic headlights and rain sensing automatic windscreen wipers. That's quite a bit of kit and leaves room for only one option - a sunroof ($1600).

Overall: 4.5/5

If cars were professions the Toyota Corolla would probably be a security guard at a community library and the Mitsubishi Lancer would be a snowboarder. Still, there's a lot more security guards than professional snowboarders in this world...

The clearest and most pertinent observation I garnered during this road test was the amount of car you get for the money. As well what is arguably the best safety package in the small car market, with seven airbags, a newly designed passenger protection cell and ESP, the Lancer has lots of room. Fair dinkum, this thing is bordering on a mid-sized car.

Right about here I would usually say "But it's not without flaw" yet there's not much wrong with the Lancer. It steers well, it's fairly economical, the controls are well laid out, there's plenty of gadgets, and it's a comfortable car to sit in.

Personally I would have liked to have saved $2,300 by opting for the faster, more involving 5-speed manual, but the CVT is so creamy smooth and economical that it's hard to write it off.

The 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer just gets better the more you drive it and more than lives up to the hype. While the Hyundai i30 is one of the best new small cars going round at the moment, in my mind the Lancer is a more complete car. 

The best small car on the market right now? You better believe it.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Safety Suite
  • Ride & Handling
  • Exterior & Interior Design
  • Standard Equipment
  • No Diesel Option
  • Low Centre Arm Rest
  • No Leather

Comments on the review? The Car? Your Car? Email us.

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