Having had a station wagon as our family runabout, I have often let my mind boggle at how one might revert to fitting the copious amount of items needed for the standard family trip into a sedan, that is until I stepped into Mitsubishi’s ES base model of the latest Lancer.
At first glance, the Lancer looks much more compact than your average sedan and the thought of putting it into the ‘family sedan’ category seemed far-fetched. However, after putting it through all the domestic tests, the ES is in my opinion has to be one of the best small sedans for family purposes on offer.
There is no better place to start than with the boot, which far exceeded my expectations. The 400-litre capacity easily holds the pram and all the bags and toys needed for a weekend away or the week’s load of groceries.
No need for removing pram wheels or practising Tetris while trying to fit everything in. As an added bonus, there is a boot release button on the key which always comes in handy when you are trying to juggle a baby, a runaway toddler and a load of shopping.
Two child seats fit easily across the back and still leave room for a passenger and I’d even go as far as saying there is a good chance three slim-line childseats could be anchored across the back. The child seat anchors are located behind the headrests and are easy to find and use. There were no complaints from back seat passengers on leg room.
In the front, I found the surroundings to be equally as comfortable and driver-friendly. Despite being the base model, the ES still has that trademark ‘racey’ feel the Lancer has come to provide.
Automatic model shown for illustrative purposes
The seats are set deep with the window ledge coming up to about my short-statured shoulder height, so no leaning the elbow on the door sill for me! That said, I liked it, it gave the car a ‘fun’ feel that isn’t often seen in a vehicle that is also so family suited. The contoured dash follows the double arced line of the large speedometer and tachometer before smoothing out to a chrome finish along the passenger side.
While some might find it a little plastic, I really liked the dash and interior; it was basic but stylish and to me didn’t scream bottom-of-the-line.
My only qualm with the instrument panel was that I am one for having a large fuel gauge so I’m always reminded of how much is left in the tank. The fuel gauge in the ES is part of the central LCD display which, with the use of the right side ‘INFO’ button, also displays distance to empty, average and instantaneous fuel consumption and external temperature.
The driver and front passenger seats are quite comfortable and the drivers seat is height adjustable.
There is no central console bin in the ES, but despite that I didn’t find any front storage issues with ample spots to stash the mobile, change, the spare dummy and some Matchbox cars. There are two central drinks holders which are a sufficient size to hold any beverage.
However I have a gripe with the positioning – the hand brake is located closest to the passenger with the drink holders closest to the driver, a legacy of left-hand-drive design we guess! I much prefer the hand brake closest to my seat and in the five-speed manual that I tested, I was constantly elbowing the bottles in the drink holders when changing gears.
Front and rear power windows come as standard as does cruise control, all of which are easy to operate. The passenger seatbelt alert signal is very effective, the annoying alarm does wonders in ensuring everyone is buckled in, even if only for the sake of muting the ding ding dinging.
The audio system is reasonably good although I did notice a bit of bass vibration in the drivers’ door speaker. The CD player is MP3 compatible and straight forward to use. Steering wheel mounted volume controls are not fitted as standard and with the volume knob towards the passenger side, it is a bit of a stretch if you are used to the fingertip convenience.
With eight clicks from minimum to maximum on the air-conditioning control, there is plenty of room to ensure the car is at a comfortable temperature.
So I can hear you all wondering, yeah, that is great, it can fit a pram and you elbowed your drink, but does it go? The answer is a resounding yes! I was most impressed by the punchy engine under the bonnet of the ES. It may only have four cylinders, but the 2.0-litre engine pumping out 113kW has plenty of grunt for me.
The five-speed manual was great to drive and I can see it being a hit with the husband as well. I usually have more focus for the finer things in a car and leave the under-the-bonnet caper to the other half, but I couldn’t help but take notice of the fun injected by this little number.
I even found myself itching to get it on the open road and I could have literally driven it all day and not tired of it. To me there was no noticeable lag with 198Nm of torque and the responsiveness of the ES really bought a splash of excitement to everyday driving.
The gearbox didn’t disagree with me once, even in one or two peak hour commutes where I am usually wishing I had an automatic. Somehow, driving a manual in the stop-start conditions didn’t bother me one bit. Add to that I didn’t stall it once goes to show this car is kind to the average female driver. Oh, and one more thing on the gearbox, I love the shaft cover, it has a luxurious soft leathery feel.
On the downside, road noise in the Lancer was quite pronounced and I found myself cranking the stereo right up to try and drown out the road noise. It seemed to amplify every vibration through the floor right into the car. I guess it would be one of those things that after you got accustomed to it wouldn’t be as noticeable.
When I first took delivery of the ES and the large yellow sticker on the windscreen screamed 7.7 litres/100km fuel economy, I was dubious as most would be with manufacturers’ claims often not measuring up in real life situations.
But it seems my dubious thoughts were misplaced as the Lancer worked its way down from 8.0L/100km in peak hour to 7.2L/100km on a long country drive and even dipped into the sixes towards the end of the week as I became more familiar with driving the car. That fuel economy combined with a 59-litre tank means it is a decent drive to the country and back before there is any dire need of a service station.
There is a peace of mind behind the wheel of the ES with Electronic Stability Control standard as well as front airbags, and ABS and Brake Assist make the brakes highly responsive, even in the wet.
In the visibility stakes, I found there was a blind spot out the right hand side but that may well be different for someone of a different height. Despite that, it was well overcome by the side mirrors which are cleverly designed with a deeper end closest to the car.
To me the Lancer has a classy but humble look. The sharp lines make for a very neat looking car with an air of distinction and modern persona. Even the colour names are classy, while some might say the Lancer I test drove was beige in colour, it was in fact ‘champagne’! The ES feels ‘light’ to drive while not compromising road stability, it is easily manageable for the female driver.
Starting at $21,490 for the five-speed manual, the Lancer ES presents a very affordable option for a family vehicle. It makes getting from A to B or from the school drop off to work a pleasure and handles the everyday mundane trips just as well as a weekend getaway.
For around a $5000 step up into the next price bracket, the Lancer VR adds side and curtain SRS airbags, six-CD changer, 16-inch alloy wheels, steering wheel audio controls, chrome exhaust tip, automatic air-conditioning, fog lamps and the rain sensing wipers and dusk sensing headlights among other features. The 2.4-litre engine starts a long list of additional features in the sportier VRX which has a starting mark of $30,290.
For family living and affordability, the ES is certainly a winner for my money.
CarAdvice Overall Rating: How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go: