Partly lost in the doom and gloom of the shutting
of its Australian manufacturing operation has been Mitsubishi’s success as an
importer. The Lancer, for example, has been selling very well. So is this
mid-size sedan the benchmark in the category, a role held for a long time by the
(recently replaced or about to be replaced) Mazda 6 and the Honda Accord
Well, yes and no.
There’s plenty of good news about the Lancer. All
models come with electronic stability control and lots of airbags – the tested
VRX having no les than seven airbags (the 7this a driver’s knee bag).
Pricing is also very sharp, with the top of the range VRX stickered at
AUD$31,490 minus the two options fitted to the test car – a sunroof and Rockford
Fosgate sound system.
The platform on which the Lancer is built is also
new, being shared with the Outlander (though on the road you’d never guess). The
engine – yet another new component – is a variable valve timed 2 litre,
developing 113kW (at 6000 rpm) and 198Nm at a high 4250 rpm. However, the high
revs at which maximum torque is developed (implying a weak low rpm power curve)
are very well masked by the Continuously Variable Transmission fitted to the test
This trans, as its name suggests, constantly
varies in ratio – there are not distinct gear steps. Left in Drive, the revs
slur their way upwards and downwards as the situation demands. Unlike some CVT
cars, there are very few situations where you find the engine screaming away at
the redline as speed only slowly increases. Instead, you might not even notice
(until you’re looking for it) how the tacho needle tends to hover at certain
revs as the speed changes, rather than rising and falling conventionally. The
main benefit of the CVT is that there’s a ratio for all occasions, and at 100
km/h the engine is turning at a very leisurely 2000 rpm. In turn this reduces
engine noise and improves fuel economy.
However, if after that spiel you still want to
change gears, you can. Up/down paddles (incidentally, made from magnesium)
extend from the steering column and you can manually select from six ratios,
using either the paddles or the gearshift. Apart from a slight driveline jerk
accompanying on/off throttle movements, we found the gearbox a delight - whether
used manually or left to do its own thing.
Fuel consumption is listed at 8.5 litres/100
(noticeably more than the lighter, lower trim manual trans models) and in test
driving we achieved an average of about 9 litres/100km. However – and perhaps
because of the CVT – the fuel economy performance is an interesting one. When
drive gently in either city or rural road conditions, economy disproportionately
improves – it’s easy to get Eights in the city and very low Sevens in the
country. But drive even a little harder and these jump to Tens and Nines,
The VRX comes with larger brakes front and rear,
stiffer suspension and revised anti-roll bars. Like all Lancers for a long time,
the rear suspension is a ‘proper’ independent system. The ride is clearly sporty
(you wouldn’t confuse the VRX for a cushy Mon and Pop model) but the car handles
with precision and poise. Step over the adhesion limits and the stability
control is well calibrated and effective. Grip levels from the 215/45 Yokohamas
worn on 18 inch rims is high. However - and it’s a noticeable downer - tyre
noise is excessive.
The A-pillars are very thick – this is one car
where the driver constantly needs to move their heads to cover blind-spots – and
the large spoiler blocks rear vision. However, on the plus side most people we
talked to liked the styling of the VRX body kit.
Step inside and the Lancer is not quite the
medium-outside, big-inside car we were expecting.
For two adults and two under 14 year olds it’s
fine, but if the rear passengers are lanky teenagers or full size adults, the
front seats will need to be positioned forwards – biting well into front
legroom. The rear seating positions are also a trifle knees-up (that sharing of
the platform with the Outlander, perhaps?) and getting in and out the back can
be a tight squeeze – the high sill panels and tight seat/door clearance making
it easy to get your feet tangled. Finally, rear head room can be tight.
The boot, despite initially looking large, cannot
swallow two full-sized suitcases and is long and shallow with a limited opening.
The boot carpet is also scrappy and easily slides around. Digging further,
you’ll find a space-saver steel spare wheel and, under that (on the other side of
the boot floor) a huge muffler that appears positioned just to steal boot space!
The rear seat 60/40 split folds but the floor remains stepped and the access
buttons for the seat releases are awkwardly placed. There are good sized door
pockets front and rear but no vents are provided for rear passengers.
Build quality (or is it design quality?) of the
test car was variable. The doors operated with metallic clangs that had to be
heard to be believed and the boot was hard to shut. Some panel margins were also
variable, although the paint was good.
The equipment level is very good for the money,
with effective auto wipers and auto headlights, Bluetooth and auto key operation
(you can leave the ‘key’ in your pocket most of the time). The optional Rockford
Fosgate sound system – complete with boot-mounted subwoofer – pumps hard but can
be adjusted for any musical taste.
We can certainly see why the Lancer is proving to
be a sales success – good driving dynamics, equipment and fuel consumption. But
if you’re a potential buyer, make sure you also assess the way the doors shut,
the limited rear utility (passengers and boot space) and the tyre noise.
A good car – but not an excellent one.
The Lancer VRX was made available for this test by