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Mitsubishi Lancer 2007 review: road test

Halo cars, it is accepted, are those models which confer lustre on the humbler entrants below.

The remarkable thing about the relationship between Mitsubishi's stunning Evo series and the common-or-garden Lancer is not so much that the Evo reflected glory, but wasn't dragged down by association.

Yet while the outgoing Lancer is profoundly ordinary, especially when considered next to the Mazda3 that rules the small-medium sedan class, the car has remained popular.

Indeed, for all its gasping inadequacy, the outgoing model had just about sold out.

That can only be down to the look of the thing which, while showing its age, remains a plain but strong design. As to its driveability, we prefer to maintain a tactful silence. By the same visual measure, the new-generation CJ Lancer that was revealed to the media in Canberra this week will just roll out of showrooms.

The Evo connection (the X is due next year) to the lesser Lancer is played for all its worth).

But, at least the newcomer has the underpinnings and wherewithal for the headline act not to have to play down to the supporting cast; when it makes the big entrance along with the Ralliart and Sportback versions. The new sedan looks the goods alright, albeit with an almost plagiaristic degree of Volvo S40 about the nose, front lights and silhouette, to say nothing of the overt Alfa Romeo look of the rear lamps.

Sorry, but the Lancer's appearance is, while massively effective, highly derivative.

Sorry then, also, for now reading like a spec sheet, because the sheer gear-for-the-dollar quotient is exceptional. Indeed, the three iterations of the new Lancer are not so much class-leading as class-redefining, setting small sedan benchmarks in several areas.

Not least of these is active Stability Control as standard across the range. Even the least Lancer has a knee-level airbag to complement the front two, and is allied with such active safety measures as traction control, ABS, discs on front and rear tyres, plus electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.

Mitsubishi virtually promises a five-star ANCAP rating, a quest helped by the Lancer having 1715mm more legroom than the previous version, plus a 35mm longer wheelbase and a track that is 65mm wider.

All models are powered by the same 2.0-litre DOHC petrol four-cylinder with MIVEC variable valve timing, a unit that with 113kW at 6000rpm and 198Nm at 4250rpm is by some way the most powerful and torquey that can be had for the money. Good for a claimed 7.7 litres of basic unleaded per 100km in combined conditions, the new engine manages the neat trick of being quicker, more economical and greener than the outgoing 2.4, thanks in no small part to being comprised of alloy and from judicious applications of weight-saving materials.

All Lancers come with a choice of five-speed manual or continuously variable transmissions, the latter being the first to be offered in the class as the automatic option. It comes with six pre-settings that, in the topline VRX, can be activated via magnesium steering wheel-mounted paddles for clutchless manual action.

At $20,990, the base ES model offers the above safety features, with side and curtain airbags an $850 option, and rides on 16-inch alloys to the tune of a four-speaker MP3-compatible CD. A split-fold rear seat is also standard.

From $25,290, the VR has seven airbags as standard, dusk-sensing headlights, rain-sensitive wipers, leather bits and six-stacker CD and optional $1600 sunroof.

The topline sports-suspended VXR skitters along on 18-inch rims, entry and ignition having been gained by a keyless fob.

It gets the nifty paddle-shifters, most overt sports kit and privacy glass plus, as a $750 option, the doof-doof stereo as well as a $1600 sunroof and Bluetooth preparation ($750).

Does it drive though?

On the road

Mitsubishi promised its new device would distinguish itself, and it does.

It has a flat cornering stance, as we discovered putting the various models around the back roads of the ACT.

It also claims uniform acceleration times across the range, although kerb weights vary from 1285kg for the entry-level car up to nearly 100kg more for the top model.

Those times are 9.5 seconds from 0-110kmh in the manual and a second more for the CVT. More efficient and faster though the whining 2.0-litre might be, the CVT-equipped version wants some prodding along via the six manual preset gear points.

In the VRX model, this is a treat, with the cool magnesium shifting padddles combining with a much tauter suspension and low profile 18-inch rubber, which makes for about as much push-on fun as you are going to get within the constraints of front-wheel-drive.

Not that the lesser models are without talent, either. Even the entry-model ES manual can be stirred along to good effect. However, with only five cogs it works harder and sounds somewhat coarser than the CVT.

Inside, the cabin the base model feels just like what it is. Even though it's hard plastic, it does not suggest poverty level.

But the incremental step up to the VR justifies the price rise, not least because the seven airbags become standard.

If you must spend the extra while waiting for the Evo X, the VRX with its drilled pedals, brushed aluminium trim and leather wheel will fulfill much of the boy-racer wish list.

With the CJ series, Mitsubishi finally has a Lancer other than the Evo that is capable of bringing a smile to the faces of both the bargain hunter and keen drivers. As such, it is a combination that should frighten its rivals right down to their skinny spec sheets.

 Question: you've read our reviews of the new Impreza, and now the results are in for the new Lancer. Which way will you go, or are you considering a third alternative? Leave your comments below.

Pricing guides

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Range and Specs

ES 2.4L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,400 – 4,070 2007 Mitsubishi Lancer 2007 ES Pricing and Specs
Evolution IX 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $8,200 – 12,650 2007 Mitsubishi Lancer 2007 Evolution IX Pricing and Specs
LS 2.4L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,800 – 4,730 2007 Mitsubishi Lancer 2007 LS Pricing and Specs
Velocity 2.4L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $2,400 – 4,070 2007 Mitsubishi Lancer 2007 Velocity Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide


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