2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback
Mitsubishi’s all-new Lancer Sportback could be the car to take the Japanese car-maker to a sales position in front of local manufacturer Ford’s Falcon large sedans.
– by David Twomey
That’s the contention of Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited (MMAL) product planning manager, Chris Maxted, who says adding the hatchback version – Sportback in MMAL lingo – to the Lancer range should push the small car into a number three or four sales position in Australia.
Having spent several hours driving the VRX version of the Sportback, with the upgraded 2.4-litre engine, around some challenging roads between Orange and the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, CarAdvice can say this is an excellent car and one we believe will have strong market appeal.
It’s also been priced at exactly the same figures as the sedan models, offering buyers a choice, but not a price hike!
Leaving aside the new engine in the VRX the Sportback is, up to a point, a case of “nothing’s changed” as the car is identical to the already strong selling sedan version up to the back doors.
From there it drops two millimetres in headroom and adds an attractively styled sloping back that MMAL says will ultimately double the sales of Lancer in Australia.
MMAL president and CEO Robert McEniry says the Lancer Sportback completes the wide-ranging and award winning Lancer range in Australia.
According to Mr McEniry Mitsubishi has experienced solid success with sales of the Lancer sedan, last month 1404 left showrooms, and with a versatile hatch style body, he told CarAdvice that the Sportback would pen up additional sales opportunities.
He says that the European designed Lancer Sportback will appeal to all small-car consumers who seek stunning style, pert performance, five star safety and the versatility of a hatch-style body.
He said that in the current economic environment Australians were turning to the small car to meet their driving needs and the success of the Lancer sedan was testament to that fact.
Mitsubishi has not had a hatch style small car for 13 years and sales figures show that sales of hatchbacks have been growing at a greater rate than the strongly increasing small car sales over the past 12 months.
MMAL believes it has been playing in that market with one hand tied behind its back by not having the Sportback to offer buyers.
The Sportback range will mirror the Lancer sedan range, being offered in entry-level ES, mid-range VR and sporty VRX.
The Lancer Ralliart sedan and Sportback will also join the range and expect a CarAdvice First Steer on those within a few hours.
Three engines are available in the Lancer Sportback line-up, with the ES and VR receiving the 2.0-litre, DOHC, MIVEC four-cylinder engine that delivers 113kW at 6000rpm and 198Nm at 4250rpm.
The VRX Sportback is powered by the new 2.4-litre engine, also just released in the premium Lancer Aspire sedan, which generates 125kW at 6000rpm and 225Nm at 4100rpm.
ES, VR and VRX Lancer Sportbacks offer a standard five-speed manual transmission or optional Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with Sport Mode and INVECS III software, which means it gets the same fixed paddle-shift as the Evolution X and Ralliart.
Because the Sportback is essentially the Lancer sedan with a dfferent back all the safety equipment in the sedan, including ATSC is standard across the range, as is ABS, EBD and Brake Assist.
A total of seven airbags are available, with the entry level ES Sportback offering side and curtain airbags as an affordable option.
It also means the ANCAP five-star safety rating for the seven airbag euipped Lancer sedan is carried over to the Sportback.
ES and VR models get 16-inch wheels, alloy on the VR, and 206/60 R16 tyres, while the VRX adds a special sport-tuned suspension package and 18-inch alloy wheels with 215/45 R18 tyres. The VRX also has 16inch ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes.
Mr Maxted said it was a key to the Australian small car hatch segment buyer that the vehicle be flexible and meet the demands of an active lifestyle and to this end the Lancer Sportback left nothing to chance.
In addition to numerous bins, door and seat pockets, consoles and stowage boxes, the Lancer Sportback offers a large rear cargo area, with the added benefit that the cargo floor height is adjustable to increase the available space behind the rear seats to 344 litres.
Rear seats are also able to be released by a handy lever located near the tailgate and the 60/40 split seats have an auto fold function.
In line with the sedan there is the usual array of audio equipment, which offers iPod and MP3 compatibility, Bluetooth phone connectivity and cruise control with steering wheel mounted controls for both this and the audio system.
The VRX model we drove also featured the optional Rockford Fosgate audio system and some vehicles were also fitted with the Mitsubishi Multi-Communication System, offering satellite navigation and a range of computerised controls for various functions within the car.
From the rear the Sportback offers a clean and neat view, with restyled rear lights and on the VR and VRX models a high-mounted spoiler.
Driving the Lancer Sportback VRX is very much like driving the Lancer sedan, the same responsive steering, the same taut handling and the same excellent build quality.
The downside would still have to be the hard plastic finish to the dashboard and the interior trimming, although on the VRX model Mitsubishi has now tried to soften this with a little more chrome trimming and providing extra touches such as the lidded cup-holders in the centre console, small things but they do improve the ambience inside the cabin.
The big change is the engine, the 2.0-litre was a good solid performer that needed to be revved hard to really get the best from it, the new 2.4-litre engine is just a whole lot better experience.
It does the job with out having to work as hard, as you would expect with extra power and torque on hand, and it also works much better with the CVT that our test cars came equipped with.
Pushing through some twisty roads it had a poise and punch that was lacking in the previous VRX, while still having nicely weighted steering, although a little dead on centre, and reassuring handling that kept the car on line no matter what the, within sensibilities, corner speed.
Overall the Sportback, certainly in VRX form as that’s all we’ve driven do far, is an excellent addition to the Lancer range and one that is certain to appeal strongly to Australian car buyers looking for a versatile and sporty drive.