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
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
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
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
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
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