With Australian fuel prices at record highs, you’ve got to wonder about the ‘necessity’ that a local family car must weigh around 1800kg and have an engine displacing around four litres. What about a more compact vehicle – something like a space-efficient Lancer wagon?
Well, that’s what we’re here to find out.
So, first, does the Lancer wagon possess enough interior space to be taken seriously as a primary family car? The answer to that is a resounding ‘yes’. There isn’t the sprawling space found in Aussie big sixes (mainly in terms of cabin width) but there is more than enough space in all directions. You never feel restricted. Back seat space is also excellent for two full-size persons and is comparable to ‘proper’ family cars of not so long ago - you’ll be interested to learn that the Lancer is a similar size to the Holden VL Commodore ‘family car’...
The wagon is a smart choice when it comes to cargo space; again, the Lancer scores very well. With the back seats in their normal position, the Lancer has an adequately sized cargo floor area and a cargo volume of 344 litres (measured beneath the cargo blind). However, roll the cargo blind out of the way and there’s a healthy 591 litres of volume (measured to the roof) and this can be fully utilised using Mitsubishi’s optional cargo barrier. In comparison, the Mitsubishi 380 has a boot volume of 437 litres. The seats-down maximum cargo capacity in the Lancer is 1079 litres – but you’ll have to leave the kids at home...
The Lancer wagon’s interior space is a pleasant surprise but the grunt from its four-cylinder engine comes as a shock. With all Lancers now using a 2.4-litre SOHC MIVEC engine, the mid-size Mitsi delivers tremendous punch – almost too much! Give it a boot-full with steering lock applied and there’s torque steer and wheelspin to an extent that’s rare in today’s cars. At all revs, the MIVEC engine offers great torque although it becomes noisy when revving hard. Max output is 115kW at 5750 rpm and there’s 220Nm of torque at 3500 rpm.
Our test Lancer was equipped with an optional four-speed auto with Sports Mode sequential shift. The trans calibration is spot-on (no need for annoying down-changes with so much torque on tap) and the sequential shift function works well. Unfortunately, when not in Sports Mode, there’s a faint red glow from the LED gear position display - but there’s no information to display... On more than one occasion we thought the red glow was a warning light. Held in Drive, the 1340kg Lancer wagon can wheelspin its way to 100 km/h the low 9 second range. It feels quick when driven in isolation but keep in mind the truly awesome performance of contemporary Aussie sixes...
Now for the big question - how much do you save at the pumps compared to a traditional family car? Well, interestingly, not as much as you might expect. While the V6 powered Mitsubishi 380 has an ADR 81/01 figure of 10.8 litres per 100km, the Lancer wagon is only marginally better at 9.5 litres per 100km. However, on test we averaged just over 10 litres per 100km of normal unleaded. Fuel tank capacity is marginal at 50 litres.
The Lancer wagon feels quite refined in normal driving - engine noise and vibration are kept at bay, there are no squeaks from the tailgate or anywhere in the cabin and the suspension is very compliant. However, push it a bit harder and the overly soft suspension shows its shortcomings – the Lancer’s pillowy dampers take a while to settle before you can commit to a corner. The standard Yokohama 195/55 15 tyres (worn on steel wheels) also succumb to understeer without much effort. The power-assisted steering is light and very slow around the straight-ahead position but, compared to a full-size family car, you’ll appreciate its 10 metre turning circle. No complaints about the relatively large four wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD.
Interestingly, despite its grunty engine and sizeable brakes, the Lancer wagon is quite limited in towing capacity; you won’t be hooking on a medium-large caravan like you might with a conventional Aussie family car. The Lancer’s optional tow bar package gives a 1000kg capacity (with trailer brakes) which is 600kg less than a Mitsubishi 380.
On test was the bread-and-butter Lancer ES which has all the mod-cons you’d expect. There’s twin airbags, a surprisingly capable CD/tuner, remote central locking, white face gauges, standard power windows and cruise control. Each of the five seating positions has a three-point lap/sash retractable belt, an adjustable head restraint (the rear restraints blocking some rearward visibility) and three conveniently located child restraint anchorages. Cost cutting is most evident in the flat and unsupportive seats, plastic rimmed steering wheel, the plain (but easy to use) HVAC controls and the oppressive all-black trim.
The dark grey paint of our test car gave a sombre tone but the Lancer wagon (with its Volvo 850 wagon style high-rise taillights) is quite handsomely proportioned and styled. Build quality of the Japanese built Lancer is well up to standard and you get Mitsubishi’s standard 5 year/130,000km warranty.
Now let’s talk dollars.
The Lancer wagon ES (with auto transmission) will set you back AUD$25,990, which is AUD$4000 cheaper than a base Series 2 Mitsubishi 380 auto (available in sedan only). We’d like to see a bigger margin given the 380 has some important extras not found in the Lancer - side airbags, traction control, a semi-electric driver’s seat, trip computer and climate control. However, we must point out that the Lancer’s Sports Mode auto trans adds a substantial AUD$2500 to the AUD$23,490 base price of the five-speed manual wagon. If you don’t mind changing gears yourself, we’d certainly pocket the money saved and enjoy improved performance and fuel economy.
In terms of running costs, it again appears there isn’t a huge margin between the Lancer and its 380 stablemate. You’ll save around 14 percent in fuel consumption (comparing ADR 81/01 figures) and a few dollars on registration. Service intervals are identical as is insurance (we were quoted an annual premium of AUD$600 for comprehensive cover).
Well, aside from lacking some towing potential and sprawling space, the Lancer wagon has everything necessary to be used as a family car. That’s a certainty. However, given its modest financial advantage compared to its larger sibling, soggy dynamics and equipment short-fall, we don’t think it’s a convincing alternative. We can see why big Aussie sixes are so popular...
The Lancer wagon was provided for this test by Mitsubishi Australia. www.mitsubishi-motors.com.au