Style and substance in the one package
Style and substance in the one package
The larger, wider wheels fill out the arches more effectively, and the side skirts, rear roof spoiler and front lip additions lend a sports feel without looking too riced up. Based on looks alone, the VRX has it all over the ES. However you get much more than just asthetics for your extra $8000.
Under the bonnet lies a larger, 2.4-litre four cylinder MIVEC engine, capable of producing 125kW and 226Nm, substantially more than the lower specced 2.0-litre with its 113kW and 198Nm outputs. You can really feel the difference, too, despite the Continuously Variable Transmission (and its usual sluggish behaviour) which sends the power to the front wheels.
Normally, I’m not a fan of CVTs, as their obsession with keeping revs as low as possible means they need a fair prod to realise you’d like some power underfoot. This one actually works quite well and responds with a reasonable degree of enthusiasm, giving you brisk acceleration if needed, or just a leisurely pace, depending on your right pedal’s position. Off the line it takes a moment to wind up, but for overtaking and passing manoeuvres it keeps the engine right in its sweet spot.
The result is a 0-100km/h time of just over nine seconds, which you expect with the 'lacky band transmission, but once rolling it feels a lot quicker. There are paddle shifters, too, which do their best to imbue an air of race-inspired driving, but it's a tenuous link, and let's be honest - who is going to use them?
Fuel economy is nothing to write home about, given the ADR test figure was 8.9-litres/100km and we ended up with 10.3-litres/100km. It is a large four cylinder, after all. The engine itself can be a little thrashy at the top end, but low to middling revs are fairly quiet, being drowned out more than anything by road noise from the 18-inch tyres. On coarse-chip surfaces the constant thrumming can be a little wearing, so it’s a good thing that Mitsubishi has equipped the VRX with a thumping Rockford Fosgate stereo.
With a 10-inch subwoofer and a combined 710 watts, it's bowel-shakingly powerful, as well as being fairly clear, too. For a standard stereo, you can’t complain with its performance. Optioned on our test car was Mitsubishi’s Multi Communications System (MMCS) which uses a touch-screen to control the sat-nav, stereo, telephone and other settings. Although the graphics are of a medium resolution, the system is very quick and easy to navigate.
Buttons on the lower half of the steering wheel also allow for quick phone answering as well as voice commands, such as pairing your phone, dialling numbers and accessing your phone book. The Bluetooth voice-activated system is also very quick, with spoken numbers able to be rattled off at a rate of knots and being understood and actioned just as quick.
Then there's the excellent climate control, unique trim to the VRX, plenty of space and fantastic seats. It all adds up to a very decent interior. The only area which is a let down is the size of the Sportback boot. At first glance it looks a lot bigger than the on-paper figures suggest, but when you consider the angle of the rear glass, the 344-litres makes a bit more sense. And yes, there could be less joins on the dashboard, and some of the plastics are a bit cheap, but on the whole, with the amount of kit included, the VRX Lancer impresses. It also impresses with its drive.
The steering is superb, with quick response and plenty of feel. The handling is also very good with a neutral stance not only on turn it, but also mid corner. There's the expected firm ride, courtesy of stiffer suspension than the lower specced models and a strut brace features under the bonnet; a pointer to its handling prowess.
Braking is effective, and since I last tested a VRX, it seems some work has been done on the ABS, which now holds off later and hauls up sooner. Add to that the stability control, the seven airbags and excellent crash-test results and you can see why ANCAP awarded the Lancer with five stars - it means you're buying a very safe package.
It's also a more engaging drive than its more expensive sibling the Lancer Ralliart. Part of it is the fact that you know it's not a turbocharged all-wheel-drive WRX competitor, so the involvement, grip and handling balance comes as a pleasant surprise. The other part is the fact that it's over ten thousand dollars cheaper, yet is also available in a manual version.
Mitsubishi's Diamond Advantage warranty is also not to be sneezed at. Five years bumper to bumper and ten years on the drivetrain, all with five years of roadside assistance and the first four years of servicing capped. As far as value goes, you can't argue with it.
Asking over 30 grand for a small car is always going to be a challenge. However it depends on what you want out of your car. If you want fuel economy, a comfortable ride and a light and breezy interior then may I suggest you look elsewhere. If it's driving involvement, an excellent sound system, impeccable safety rating and good looks, then the Lancer VRX Sportback may be exactly what you're after.
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