The CJ Mitsubishi Lancer was launched in 2007 to replace the aging but successful CH Lancer. Since then, the CJ Lancer has undergone a minor styling update, along with the introduction of a hatchback variant in 2008. That hatchback is called the Lancer 'Sportback'.
Despite entering its eighth year of production, the Lancer exterior shape has stood the test of time. The angular lines and swooping design has helped Mitsubishi keep sales ticking along, capturing 4.3% of the Australian sub $40,000 small car market in 2014 — more than the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Kia Cerato.
Now the only variant available in the Lancer Sportback range, the Lancer Sportback GSR is priced from $21,990 for the five-speed manual and $23,990 for the variant fitted with the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).
In terms of exterior features, the Sportback GSR comes with a Ralliart-inspired front grille, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear sports spoiler, sports tuned suspension and privacy glass.
Inside the cabin, lashings of silver break up the otherwise dark-coloured seats, dashboard and trimmings. Interior features include a six-speaker sound system with CD player, USB inputs, iPod control, Bluetooth audio streaming, climate controlled air conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry/start and a 6.1-inch colour touchscreen.
When the Lancer was launched in 2007, poor interior surface feel was one of its main weaknesses. While Mitsubishi has improved the quality of the surfaces inside the cabin, there is still a low-rent feel to the doors and centre console surrounds.
Fit and finish is excellent though and always has been in the Lancer. Likewise with the driving position and visibility out the front and rear. The climate controls and stereo are also easy to reach and adjust from the driver’s seat.
Front and rear head and leg room is very good. Entering and exiting the rear seats is made easy thanks to a low floor line and doors that open to a wide aperture. There is 330-litres of cargo capacity on offer in the boot, which is on par with the competitors in this segment.
The rear seats come in a 60:40 split-folding configuration and also include a centre armrest with cup holders. The seats fold using a one-touch lever system located in the boot, making loading and unloading larger cargo an easy process.
In terms of technology, the Sportback GSR feels a generation behind the rest. Configuring Bluetooth telephone pairing is far harder than it needs to be and the voice control feature rarely understands commands. The central colour screen that controls audio and vehicle settings can sometimes be hard to use on the move.
Under the bonnet is Mitsubishi’s dated 2.4-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine. In comparison to its peers, the 2.4-litre engine produces similar amounts of power and torque at 125kW and 226Nm, but uses considerably more fuel, partly due to its 1,400kg kerb weight.
The Lancer’s combined average fuel consumption is 8.8L/100km for the five-speed manual and 8.9L/100km for the CVT, which is 25% higher than the Ford Focus, 34% more than the Mazda 3 and 26% higher than the Toyota Corolla. These vehicles manage to get by with smaller naturally aspirated engines due to less operating weight and taking advantage of lighter materials in the production process.
Thankfully, the Lancer makes up for its efficiency and ergonomic shortfalls by offering a reasonable driving experience. Mated to either a five-speed manual or CVT, the CVT is the pick of the bunch, but comes at a $2000 price premium.
The 2.4-litre engine feels punchy and responsive throughout the rev band, which is thanks to the method its CVT extracts torque. Unlike a traditional automatic gearbox, the CVT uses infinite gear ratios to deliver power and can exploit peak power and torque bands more easily. The only downside is that at the tail end of the rev range, the naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine can be quite noisy.
Static paddle shifters are attached to the steering column and allow the driver to instantly adjust gearing to feel like a traditional automatic gearbox. The CVT does a great job of using the engine’s power reserves, so manual driving is never really necessary.
Handling and steering feel is reasonable, but not quite at the levels of contemporaries such as the Volkswagen Golf, Mazda 3 or Ford Focus. The Lancer GSR is heavier than all of its competitors with the exception of the Holden Cruze, so it naturally feels less agile and nimble when put through its paces.
The Mitsubishi Lancer GSR Sportback offers a cost effective option for punters after a hatchback with a large engine. Unfortunately, the competition is now so far ahead of Mitsubishi’s Lancer offering that the 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine no longer makes sense.
For the same money, you can purchase a Volkswagen Golf, Hyundai i30, Ford Focus or Mazda 3, among others. Until Mitsubishi updates the Lancer Sportback, there are better value options on the market.
To see more images, click on the photos tab