Even the starting price Lancer ES immediately gets you thinking about the Evo X speed machine.
The distinctive nose, upsized body and quality improvements move the new Lancer well away from the pack and signal a huge change for a company that sold its previous Lancer because it was cheap and cheerful.
This year's Lancer was good enough to finish in the top four for the Carsguide Car of the Year.
Explore the 2007 Mitsubishi Lancer range
That is a powerful recommendation in a class that is packed with contenders and a surprisingly small number of pretenders.
The body design and new nose are obvious extensions of the approach that has given the world the benchmark Lancer Evolution X, which promises to rewrite the records for Japanese pocket rockets despite competition from the Subaru STi.
There is more cabin space, the body is strong and Mitsubishi is promising class-leading safety with electronic stability control across the range, at least three and as many as seven airbags, and anti-skid brakes.
Pricing is pretty sharp, from $20,990, and there are three models, from the ES starter car to the VRX, which has Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), at $31,490.
There is a lot to like, but the Lancer's 2.0-litre engine, even with variable valve timing, is a letdown.
Some of the upscale cars have more road noise than we expected. But those are relatively minor things.
The Lancer is already outselling the locally-made 380 and will be the Adelaide-based brand's star.
It will bring sales, profits and confidence to the company and dealers, and that is a big deal for a company that let its shoulders slump before Rob McEniry arrived to fire some life into the model line-up.
“Everyone at Mitsubishi is committed to sourcing vehicles that offer the best levels of occupant safety, security and comfort at the best possible price and the Lancer does all that,” McEniry says.
“Within the next 18 months we will be introducing the rest of the Lancer family, including the new Evo X, then two more Ralliart sports variants, and finally the stunning Lancer hatchback line-up.”
The new Lancer has been loaded for Australia, so even the ES has airconditioning, cruise control, electric windows and mirrors, with optional side and curtain airbags.
The step up to the VR brings the extra airbags and six-stack CD sound, while the VRX gets 18-inch alloy wheels, paddle shifts and Rockford Fosgate premium sound.
On the road the new Lancer is such a huge change from the old car that it takes a little time to adjust.
The cabin is roomy, the quality is good, the refinement is up with the best in the class, and it is ... just plain nice to drive. The old car was affordable and honest, but that was it.
I spent time in a couple of Lancers, an ES with the Constantly Variable Transmission and a manual VR, and much preferred the base car.
It is quieter, with a smoother ride, and was simply more honest.
What's that? Well, the VR is closer to the look of the forthcoming Evo X, but without the value for the extra money. And that highlighted the shortcoming in the Lancer's engine.
It makes only 113kW and that is not good enough, even with the CVT in the basic ES, to keep it operating at what the engineers believe is its sweet spot. The CVT responds crisply with manual-style shifts in six-speed sports mode, but the engine is still fairly lifeless. The other complaint is the digital display in the centre of the dash, which has the read-out for the clock, radio and trip computer.
It is invisible in bright sunlight and not much better in dappled light. It needs to be fixed. Not that Mitsubishi is alone. Aston Martin has a similar problem and there is trouble with the display in the Ford Mondeo.
Going back to the Lancer, the cabin has plenty of space for five adults, the seats are comfy, the controls have a solid, quality feel and the basic design is good. Parking vision is pretty good, and the headlamps are fine.
So it gets a lot of ticks and I think the ES is pretty good value, as well. But how does it rate against its rivals, because that is the real test?
Not as sporty as Ford Focus, or as classy as a Corolla, but it strikes a nice balance between them. The Mitsubishi also drops straight into the top group of small cars and should be on any serious shopping list with the added advantage of benchmark basic safety.
Best of all, you will always be able to find a Lancer in a car park crowded with all the other me-too small cars.
The bottom line
A winner. And proof that Mitsubishi can still build classy cars at the right price.