Slicing up the world rally championship circuits gave Mitsubishi's Lancer an incredible sales kick. It was then cool to own a Lancer and bask in the glow from the winner's circle. But that glory was 15 years ago. After Mitsubishi pulled out of rallying in 2005, Lancer is just another small car in a race even more brutal than the WRC rounds - the race to win sales.

If familiarity breeds contempt, then almost seven years with the same body shape has led to buyer indifference and allowed rivals to jump the queue with cheaper prices, turbocharged performance and more contemporary designs.

Value

OK, so it's a bit old. But it should be cheaper. Only the recently-launched turbocharged Nissan Pulsar SSS is more expensive but that's by a mere $50 while the three competitors listed here are also more fuel efficient.

The VRX automatic is $32,240 and gets a high level of kit including leather seats, 18-inch alloys, a brilliant Rockford Fosgate nine-speaker surround-sound audio, rear park sensors with camera, sat-nav and rear spoiler.

But the best feature is ownership: The warranty is a fat five years or 130,000km and roadside assist goes to five years if you keep servicing at a dealer. Capped price service means a mere $750 for three years and resale is a reasonable 50 per cent.

Design

Lancer presents as a neat, well-proportioned sedan enlivened by a more recent nose job that, for the VRX, consists of a bold blacked-out jet-fighter (Mitsubishi's term) grille which marks the car almost as dangerous - certainly a step up on the warm-water impression of its cheaper siblings.

The bootlid spoiler and 18-inch wheels kick the theme along. The VRX is also available as a liftback for no extra cost and adds more load versatility but, weirdly, has a smaller boot area. Cabin style is simple but very effective though the keyless start still needs the driver to twist a faux key in the ignition lock.

Technology

The 125kW/226Nm 2.4-litre is a step up on the standard issue 2-litre and works with a CVT automatic with a preset six-speed manual mode controlled by paddle shifters. The engine was born in 2005 and is shared with Chrysler (Sebring, Jeep Patriot and so on) and Hyundai-Kia (Santa Fe, Optima, iMax and iLoad) and used by Mitsubishi as 1.8-litre, 2-litre and 2-litre turbocharged (Evo) forms.

Lancer's suspension is par-for-course MacPherson front struts and multi-link rear and braking is all-wheel discs. The VRX adds Mitsubishi's LINK infotainment centre with seven-inch touch screen and sat-nav with 3D mapping.

Safety

There's a five-star crash rating, seven airbags, electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, rear park sensors, a reversing camera and two Isofix child seat anchor points. The spare is a space-saver though a full-size is optional.

Driving

Don't get excited about the engine size. The 2.4-litre is no performance machine and noted more for its smoothness and low-speed torque than outright oomph. The CVT auto tars it with presumptions of a revvy, noisy and lag-ridden delivery but Mitsubishi gets this one right, even outdoing more expensive CVT-equipped rivals.

Solid steering, confident cornering and good ride comfort are highlights but there's more wind noise and tyre noise (on coarse bitumen) than most cars in its class. Taken as a family or commuter car and it rewards with its ease of use and docile manners.