Lancer has been a Mitsubishi success story and has had to carry its passenger car fortunes with the unfortunate demise of the V6-powered and Australian-built 380 a few years ago. It remains the Japanese importer's best seller with nearly 13,000 units sold this year, ahead of Triton and ASX.
Nevertheless sales are down 17.6 per cent so far and nearly a third last month. Mazda3 has a strong lead in this sector with 35,766 sales in 2012 with nearly an 18 per cent share, ahead of Toyota Corolla, Holden Cruze and Hyundai i30. Lancer is seventh. The new Corolla and the next generation Golf are expected to make life tougher for Lancer as well as the others. But Mitsubishi is hitting back with the LX.
Value is the name of the game and the new LX sits at the centre of the campaign. At $23,990 drive away it offers plenty of bang for the buck. It comes with Bluetooth 2.0 with voice activation and streaming audio plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and phone controls and a new audio system for easier operation and optimum sound.
There's also a new 6.1-inch full colour display audio system that also features the rear view camera view. Foibles are few. The USB port is hard to find, there is tilt-only adjustment for the steering and the Bluetooth link can be fussy. To sweeten the deal Mitsubishi offers a five year/130,000km new vehicle warranty, five year Roadside Assist and Capped Price Servicing for the first four years or 60,000km.
Although not cutting edge, the Lancer has the brand's staple MIVEC variable intake valve lift and timing system within the 110kW/197Nm alloy 2.0-litre engine. The familiar snout of the three-diamond brand is starting to age and needs an update. It looks distinctive enough but is not as modern as the sleeker opposition, especially the new Corolla and the latest crop from Korea.
Comfort has been boosted with heated front seats, a power driver's seat and climate control airconditioning. It comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, side air dams and a host of chrome touches on the radiator grille, boot lid accent on the sedan model, door handles and belt line moulding.
There's an extensive array of safety features, including Active Stability and Traction Control, ABS, Electronic Brake Distribution, Brake Assist, and seven airbags, including driver and passenger front, side and curtain, and driver knee airbag to score a five star ANCAP safety rating. The LX also features a reversing camera and reverse parking sensors to improve driver awareness and visibility, along with keyless entry and engine start to make life a little easier.
The 2.0-litre engine is lively and more flexible than the numbers suggest, as well as being close to its ADR fuel-use figure. I finished with a figure of 7.5L/100km, when the company claims 6.9. The five-speed manual is fairly simple to use, not super-slinky, but with good feel and engagement, however it is one short of the normal six-speeder in this class.
Most buyers will opt for the continuously variable auto transmission, but I prefer the manual. The cabin is a comfortable space, with climate control for our summer but the heated front seats won't be needed here unless you live on the Tableland and it's winter. It's easy to drive and easy to park with the rear parking sensors and camera a bonus.
The steering is light and points well, the ride nicely absorbent and there's plenty of grip. But it's not a sharp handler, like the Mazda3 or Ford Focus, and the stability control kept kicking in when I was getting a bit frisky coming down the Rex Range between Julatten and Mossman. The brakes are great and there's adequate performance for overtaking.
The LX cruises smoothly enough with only the coarse bitumen surfaces invading the interior. It's better than previous Lancers but still too noisy. Wind noise is low except for when punching into a head wind. The engine is quiet.
The Lancer's age is offset by some worthy features, including a great warranty that provides some level of security. It's not quite up to the dynamics of a Mazda3 or a Focus, rather it's a civilised little all-rounder. The LX is a pleasant small car that will appeal to many and at $23,990 drive away is good value too.
Mitsubishi Lancer LX
Price: $23,990 drive away
Warranty: Five years/130,000km
Resale: 54 per cent
Service Interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety: 5 star ANCAP
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder, 110kW/197Nm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, FWD
Thirst: 6.9L/100km (on test 7.5L), 91RON, 59 litres, 162g/km CO2
Price: from $20,990
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl, 103kW/173Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, FWD
Thirst: 7.1L/100km 166g/km CO2
Price: from $20,330
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 108kW/182Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, FWD
Thirst: 7.9L/100km 187g/km CO2
Price: from $21, 490
Engine: 1.8-ltre 4-cyl, 104kW/176Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual, FWD
Thirst: 7.0L/100km 166g/km CO2