2008 Mitsubishi Lancer VR review

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2008 Mitsubishi Lancer VR review

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Model tested: CJ MY08 VR Sedan 4dr CVT 6sp 2.0i

Priced from: $20,990 to $31,490 ($27,590 as tested)

Options: Metallic Paint $300, Park Assist $500, 18” Alloys $2000.

- by Matt Brogan

Taking first place in our Big Small Car Comparison, Mitsubishi's all new Lancer fared well when stacked against a handful of its competitors. But just how good it was mano a mano remained to be seen – until now.

With a history spanning four decades, Lancer first came to Australia as a Chrysler model in the late 70's, though it wasn't until 1988 when the CA Lancer débuted, that the Lancer success story really took flight.

Popular among fleet buyers for their coveted reliability, earlier examples of the Lancer also proved trendy with younger budget savvy buyers thanks mainly to the winning combination of affordability and zippy performance.

Many examples of Lancer attracted an almost cult following with enthusiasts donning their cars with mock Evo (Evolution) body kits, huge alloy wheels, and vibrant paint jobs in an attempt to disguise their otherwise bland, white-goods appearance.

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Fortunately the new CJ series Lancer has shed the dull and lifeless skin of its past and sports an aggressive, sporty stance thanks mostly to a bold, aircraft-influenced nose. The new figure also expresses clean linear lines with high, raked shoulders and upright flattened rear end, making it appear fast even when stationary.

Sitting on 16-inch alloy wheels, Lancer VR can be further optioned with Phantom 18-inch Alloys (from the up-spec VR-X), further filling the wheel arches and bolstering the tough yet composed profile which is already proving a hit with more fashion conscious buyers.

Cabin lay out is a simple blend of basic plastics which are contemporarily styled to appear modern, fresh, and uncluttered. It’s a little uninspiring when all is said and done, but is nonetheless practical and with a sporty red back-lit instrument cluster sitting front and centre, makes for a welcomed distraction.

Seating is supportive and comfortable – in that order, and does an ample job of holding you quite snugly through all but the most demanding of corners. With room for five adults, all but the rear centre seat demonstrate adequate proportions and tolerable leg room.

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Comfort aside, the interior acoustics of the vehicle are somewhat of a letdown. Engine and road noise are noticeable at all speeds (and on any surface), whilst the exhaust noise borders on annoying. A loud droning resonance is prevalent under even moderate acceleration and with the rear seats down, rapidly becomes irritating.

Fortunately the creature comforts don’t go begging, and with standard cruise control, auto head lights and wipers, front fog lights and six stack CD player (with steering wheel mounted controls), you’re sure to be abreast of technology for at least a little while.

The stereo does a reasonable job though remains a basic unit until VR-X spec where you can option the Rockford Fosgate package with sub-woofer. Given this package's performance in other Mitsubishi models I've driven, I'd be sure to tick that box. Sadly, VR misses out.

Under the bonnet Mitsubishi’s 2.0-litre MIVEC engine is an athletic performer. Easily the pick of small sedan counterparts (from a performance perspective), the free revving DOHC motor provides smooth, confident acceleration whilst similarly offering excellent fuel economy at 8.2 litres per 100km combined, a figure easily managed in all but the heaviest of driving. A semi-respectable 0-100 km/h time of 10.5 seconds is also achieved.

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Coupled in this instance to Mitsubishi’s all new CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) the driving experience can be a little disconcerting at first, but once the feeling (or lack thereof) of the standard auto box subsides the gains in performance and economy gained become enjoyable and impressive.

Offering six "ratios" in manual mode the CVT box is quite drivable, very flexible and responds punctually to changes in throttle pressure thanks to the INVECS-III adaptive control system. Though not the best CVT box I've experienced, it nonetheless offers swift in-gear performance and makes overtaking not too daunting an affair.

Complimenting Lancer’s impressive performance is its competent handling abilities. Eager turn-in and flat, settled corner exits keep a balanced, flowing feel through windy roads, further assisted by the standard ASC (Active Stability Control).

The poised handling does little to diminish the overall ride quality with lumps and bumps being well sorted even over the repetitive corrugations of unsealed country roads. It is very easy to live with even when you’ve got four people on board.

Steering is reasonably well-weighted, though can be a little heavy at idle which makes parking bothersome. Fortunately Lancer has a decent turning circle which should help things along. Road feel at speed is good and offers crisp feedback once you're feeding though some tight, windy stuff and with very tidy handling characteristics makes short work of messy, twisty country roads.

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Braking is well sorted though the pedal feel isn't as readily graduated as some of the rivals meaning a little more travel than should be necessary. This could be put down to press cars having a hard life, but all the same this vehicle only had a few thousand kilometres on the clock.

In all though, the Lancer is a great little package. The exterior form makes living with the basic interior an easy compromise and with it's excellent performance and handling characteristics make the road noise seem of little consequence for most drivers. Mitsubishi offer an outstanding warranty (5 years/130,000kms) and a very good safety rating which for the money make Lancer pretty hard to pass up.