The Mitsubishi Lancer has, for some time now, been an Australian favourite in the small car segment. A combination of affordability, reliability and daily drivability were a winning formula for years.
The current model is seven years old now, though, and the goalposts have well and truly been shifted over that period.
Once upon a time, the Lancer and Impreza were two go-to cars in the segment, sales of the ‘lesser’ variants spurred on by the brands’ performance halos – EVO and WRX. But the small car segment has become more viciously competitive than ever and the ageing Lancer has suffered because of it.
This year we learnt of the death of the EVO performance model just to make matters worse.
The segment leaders in terms of sales – by some clear margin it must be said – are the Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla, not always in that order. That leaves Lancer fighting for the scraps with the aforementioned Impreza, Hyundai’s Elantra, Honda’s Civic and Kia’s Cerato.
To give you some idea of where the market currently sits, the year to date sales figures at the time of writing this review are: Toyota Corolla 40,189, Mazda 3 39,510, Mitsubishi Lancer 8874. That goes to show just how far the once mighty can fall, but it also means you might be able to nab yourself a bargain in a Mitsubishi showroom if you’re a smart shopper.
The Lancer range was recently refreshed for 2015 with lower prices and more features and you can read our breakdown here.
This segment is definitely one that attracts buyers looking for the newest model on the scene, with the latest tech inclusions and as many features as possible for as little outlay as possible. If you’re not so desperate to have the shiniest new thing in your driveway though, the Mitsubishi Lancer still warrants some closer consideration.
Aside from the metallic/pearlescent paint option, which costs $495, our test Lancer is stock standard. It’s an XLS 2.4 grade with the CVT. Starting price for this model is $26,490 with a manual transmission. Add the CVT we have here and as tested, you’ll be paying $28,490.
With exterior styling balanced against price and features, this model might very well be the sweet spot in the current lineup. Let’s get the boring, but necessary details out of the way first.
As you’d expect with Mitsubishi, you get a five-star ANCAP safety rating and the peace of mind that comes with a five-year/130,000km warranty. Buyers also get roadside assistance included for the first 12 months. There’s a reason Lancer has been popular with buyers for so long, and reliability is one of the key factors to note.
Plenty are getting round with serious mileage on them, giving the impression that the model can certainly take a fair bit of day-to-day abuse. There’s the usual raft of standard safety equipment you’d expect, but worthy of note is the fact reverse parking sensors and a rear view camera are standard on this model.
Under the bonnet of the XLS, there’s a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. Its performance is a little dulled by the CVT that transmits the power, but nevertheless it generates 125kW at 6000rpm and 226Nm at 4100rpm. That doesn’t translate into a rapid small sedan by any means, but the combination will deal effortlessly with the daily grind.
If you enjoy a spirited drive, you’ll steer well clear of a CVT for starters and the Lancer is more about daily driving comfort than outright performance. So, how does the Lancer perform doing just that – running around town?
Pretty well really. There’s nothing too exciting about anything the Lancer does, but then this segment isn’t overly exciting anyway if we’re being honest. Especially if you take out the various sports or performance models that the manufacturers offer and concentrate on the entry level or middle of the range model grades.
One factor I particularly appreciated given I spent large chunks of my week behind the wheel in the CBD was how easy the Lancer is to park. It’s a perfect size for parallel parking when you need to and it’s easy to manoeuvre around tight, underground car parks.
The Lancer cabin is comfortable and insulated, with barely any road, wind or tyre noise creeping in to disrupt your commute. The driving position offers enough adjustability for drivers of all heights, and visibility especially is worthy of note. No matter how you set the seat, there’s a broad view of the road ahead.
Rearward visibility is also excellent, especially handy for negotiating tighter city streets. My front seat passengers commented on how comfortable the Lancer’s ride was, as did the passengers who sat in the second row. There’s more than enough room back there for two adults, with even a third squeezing into the middle seat comfortably enough for short trips.I loved the heated front seats, standard for this model grade.
The boot is large enough for most jobs too. It easily swallows two large suitcases and 377-litres overall capacity is more than enough for average family duties. 60:40 split fold seats extend the boot area for transporting longer items. Crucially, there’s an array of interior storage for cups, bottles, wallets and phones as well, with each door getting reasonably sized pockets.
The cabin is where the Lancer’s age is most visible. There’s plenty of unforgiving black plastic, the trim feels generally dark and the interface with the infotainment system is a step behind (a generation behind effectively) the current segment leaders.
The Lancer XLS has everything you need, with Bluetooth, satellite navigation and USB inputs, but the execution just feels a little out of date now.
As I mentioned previously, some of the engine’s performance is dulled a little by the CVT, in an outright sense. That said, the transmission is smoother and less intrusive than I expected. If you’re more interested in negotiating the daily grind as easily as possible than getting into it on twisty country roads, the CVT will do what you need without fuss. It also assists with the ADR fuel figure of 8.5L/100km.
Over the duration of my 250km test, the on board computer showed 9.4L/100km. The 2.4-litre engine is smooth and quiet at any speed, and runs up to 110km/h on the freeway effortlessly. The acceleration zone between 80 and 110km/h is impressive enough too without being mind blowing. Urban ride and bump absorption are two areas where the Lancer excels. It rarely ever feels too stiffly sprung and manages to soak up the worst you can throw at it with composure.
Given our test model is shod with 18-inch rims and relatively low profile 45 series tyres, that bump absorption is worth noting. Still, it does err on the side of firm rather than soft, but I’d prefer the firmer suspension and more confidence-inspiring road holding.
Despite the raft of impressive competitors in this segment, I reckon the Lancer still represents good value for money – especially if you can score yourself a better than RRP deal. As a vehicle’s age stretches, that’s the most potent weapon in its armoury too – value for money.
The Mitsubishi Lancer is overdue for an upgrade - and it looks like this model will be plugging away until 2017 - but it’s still worthy of your consideration if you value a keen deal.
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