Mitsubishi Lancer is one of the longest-running nameplates on the Australian motoring scene. Indeed it even pre-dates the 1980 formation of Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited (MMAL) having been sold here as the Chrysler Lancer since 1974.
Along the way this small-medium sedan and hatch has become the largest passenger car in Mitsubishi's Australian range, mainly because of the demise of the ill-fated 380 family sedan but also the SUV boom which continues to draw buyers away from conventional cars.
The current, seventh generation, Mitsubishi Lancer has been on sale here since late 2007. Seven years – and counting – is a long time between new models so Mitsubishi has had to work hard at keeping Lancer's looks up to date with a series of styling upgrades on top of what was a neat yet conservative original design. The most recent update was in September 2014 for the 2015 model year.
As is generally the case, the form of the hatchback stands out over the function of the sedan so it comes as a bit of a surprise that only one five-door variant is now offered.
While looks are important, pricing is equally so in the highly-competitive market segment in which Lancer lines up against Australia's two biggest selling cars, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3. To try and gain ground on the big two Mitsubishi has added extra equipment and cut prices across the Lancer range to now start below the $20,000 mark.
Although it's smaller than the Magna and 380 models that preceded it, Lancer is larger than average for its class which is likely to appeal to buyers looking to downsize – but without overdoing it. The rear seats can cater for three adults, but is better suited to two and a child or three moderately-sized teens. Legroom is reasonable although the usual compromise may be needed between front and rear seat occupants.
The front seats are well shaped and spacious enough for most and provide good support for moderately hard cornering. There are plenty of stowage areas for the mobile phones, drink containers and assorted bits and pieces that we deem essential nowadays.
At 400 litres in both sedan and hatch, boot capacity is large enough to carry a decent load of family holiday gear. This can be expanded with the rear seatbacks folded.
To complicate matters MY 2015 Lancer has been given a number of changes to variant names. The new entry level ES Sport replaces the previous ES but comes in at an impressive $18,990 with a five-speed manual gearbox or $20,990 with CVT automatic.
Unusually for a base model the ES Sport comes with a rear spoiler and side skirts as well as two-tone 10-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels, Ralliart cloth seat trim with contrast stitching and a leather look centre console trim. But it's Sport in name only with no performance enhancements.
All models from ES Sport upwards now have indicator lamps in the door mirrors, new designs and colours of door trims, and Emergency Stop Signal which activates the hazard lights under hard braking.
The LS name has been retained for the next level model which sells for $20,990 (manual) and $22,990 (CVT). It adds smart key ignition, 6.1-inch colour touchscreen, reversing camera, leather facing on the seats powered driver's seat.
The only surviving Lancer hatchback is the GSR Sportback ($21,990 and $23,990). It gets the larger of the two engines as well as 18-inch alloy wheels, sport body kit, sports-style front seats and sports pedals.
The previous VRS now becomes XLS at $26,490 and $28,490. It gets nine-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio, 7-inch colour touchscreen, satellite navigation, SD card input, automatic lights and wipers, automatically dimming interior mirror and power folding door mirrors.
The higher performance models remain as Ralliart ($37,990) and Evolution ($52,990 and $58,990).
Price cuts range from $1400 for the ES Sport to $7000 for the MR SST automatic Evolution, the latter no doubt in response to Subaru's big cuts on its WRX range.
ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS
Two long-serving naturally aspirated engines are offered in the standard Lancer models. The ES Sport and LS get a 2.0-litre unit with peaks of 110kW and 198Nm at 4250 rpm; while the XLS sedan and GSR hatch have a 2.4-litre 125kW/226Nm at 4100 revs.
The Ralliart comes with a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 177kW and 343Nm between 2500 and 4750 rpm. The Evo gets a re-tuned version of the same engine with power of 217kW and 366Nm at 3500 revs.
Our test car was the automatic ES Sport. While we've not always been fans of continuously variable transmission (CVT) in the past we found this Mitsubishi version quite smooth and except under steep climbing it could easily pass for a conventional auto.
Lancer's ride is relatively firm, a feature that we appreciated but it may be best to take it for a test drive if your preference is for a softer feel.
Steering is nicely balanced with precise response, another aspect of the car that driving enthusiasts will enjoy.
Fuel consumption is listed at 6.9L/100km, a figure that we couldn't match, running at just under 9.0L/100 km in our normal drive route of urban and motorway conditions.