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Used car review Mitsubishi Lancer 1996-2004

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    The Lancer is a strong little car that stands up well in crash testing

Graham 'Smithy' Smith reviews the used Mitsubishi Lancer 1996-2004: its fine points, flaws and what to watch for when buying it.

Quality, condition and service history are the most important things to consider when choosing a cheaper car for the young motorist. Buy the best car you can afford, in the best condition, with a solid service history and you shouldn't go wrong.

Most young drivers, or their parents, usually have a limited amount of money to spend, which necessitates looking at older models to find the ones that fit. Buying a quality older car almost certainly means buying one from a Japanese carmaker, such as the CE Mitsubishi Lancer.

Mitsubishi launched the CE Lancer in 1996 and it ran until 2004. Prices now range around $1500 for the earliest examples to as much as $7000 for the last ones. It's available in practical sedan and wagon body styles, and a coupe, which is likely to be the most appealing to young drivers.

Two four-cylinder single overhead camshaft engines were offered. One was a 1.5-litre, the other a larger 1.8-litre unit, both of which offered a combination of solid performance and good fuel economy. The GLi was the entry model and came in sedan and coupe form.

It came standard with power steering, cloth trim, full wheel trims, and a fairly basic two-speaker sound system. For more there was the GLXi sedan and wagon that came with central locking, power mirrors and four-speaker sound.


The Lancer has an enviable reputation for reliability, but it depends heavily on being well serviced. Walk away from any car that hasn't been properly maintained, even if it appears a cheap buy. Mechanics who regularly work on them say the Lancer gives little trouble, although they stress that it's important to change the cam-timing belt as per Mitsubishi's recommendation of 90,000 km.

Older cars tend to get knocked about by owners who couldn't care less, so look closely for panel damage that has been poorly repaired. Under the bonnet look for oil leaks around the engine and gearbox.


Generally, the Lancer is a strong little car that stands up well in crash testing, making it a safe choice for young drivers. Importantly, Mitsubishi added dual front airbags in 2001, which makes that a key consideration when shopping. ANCAP rated the dual airbag model at 3 stars.


Mitsubishi claimed the Lancer averaged around 6.5 L/100 km in their lab tests, which makes it an economical little car. It took 91-octane unleaded fuel and Mitsubishi gave E10 ethanol blend fuel a tick.


Price new: $20,730 to $26,950
Engine: 1.5-litre 4-cylinder; 69 kW/126 Nm 1.8-litre 4-cylinder; 86 kW/161 Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual, 4-speed auto, front-wheel drive
Economy: 6.5 L/100 km Body: 4-door sedan, 4-door wagon, 2-door coupe
Variants: GLi, GLXi Safety: 3-star ANCAP


$1500 to $6000 for the GLi; $1500 to $7000 for the GLXi.


An affordable and reliable little car that will give good service, and has a good turn of speed and low fuel consumption.



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  • Zippy performance
  • Good fuel economy
  • Reliable engines and gearboxes
  • Sporty coupe favourite of young buyers
  • No airbags before 2001
  • High level of road noise


  • VW Polo 1996-2004: Great driving car when new, but can be expensive as kays climb. Probably not the best choice for a cash-strapped young driver. Pay $1500-$10,000. 3 stars.
  • Toyota Echo 1999-2004: Cute, roomy, and Toyota quality, what more could you ask for in a   cheapie. Pay $2500-$10,000. 3.5 stars.
  • Nissan Pulsar 1995-2005: Well-built, solid and reliable small car. Should be on your shopping   list. Pay $1500-$10,500. 3.5 stars.

Comments on this story

Displaying 2 of 2 comments

  • I have a 2002 sedan. A really great little car, sporty very economical and very reliable. I would certainly recommend the Lancer for those looking for a car for younger drivers and young at heart, east to park have nice lines and go very well would highly recommend. I do about 700klm a week 350 k for 24 to 27 litres depending on severity of right foot and fuel octane as I tend to mix and match a bit. would highly recommend

    Steve Jones of Maitland NSW Posted on 11 June 2012 1:38pm
  • A good and in my experience, accurate review. I bought a Lancer MR coupe new in October 1997 and in ten years covered 442,000 kilometers. It gave no trouble apart from changing an ignition coil pack at 320,000km. It was always economical and fun to drive. It still wasn't using any significant oil even at that mileage. I only changed because I needed a much bigger vehicle for towing. I still miss my Lancer. A really cheap car to run.

    Andrew Hunter of Adelaide Posted on 28 October 2011 10:44pm

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