2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Functional, frugal and fun.
The Mitsubishi Lancer is a broad range of compact cars. The four-door sedans are roomy and comfortable, well-equipped with sporty, supportive seats. The new Sportback wagons offer functionality and fun at affordable prices.
The best value is the Lancer ES, a very pleasant sedan with a smooth ride, good handling, and a nice interior. The Lancer O-Z Rally looks cool and adds sports appeal without blowing the budget. The Ralliart package turns the Lancer into a true sport compact car with its more powerful 2.4-liter MIVEC engine and sports suspension.
The related but deviant black sheep of the family is the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, which joins the Subaru WRX in an exclusive class of street-legal cars that appeal to extreme enthusiasts.
The Lancer ES ($13,597) is the most popular model due to its competitive pricing and generous amount of standard equipment. It comes with air conditioning, a tachometer in the instrument cluster, an in-dash CD player, and power windows, mirrors and door locks. ES comes standard with a five-speed manual gearbox, but a four-speed automatic ($14,397) is available.
The Lancer LS is a more luxurious model that adds cruise control, a remote keyless entry system, a 60/40 split rear seatback, a fold-out armrest with cupholders, carpeted mats on the floor, more speakers for the audio system, and variable intermittent windshield wipers. Exterior enhancements to the LS include body-colored door handles and mirrors, and larger, 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels with 195/60R15 tires. The LS ($15,997) comes standard with the automatic. The LS Preferred Package enhances safety with antilock brakes (ABS), side airbags and 15-inch alloy wheels.
The O-Z Rally ($15,797) takes its name from O-Z Racing wheels (pronounced oh-zee), an Italian company that makes top-quality wheels for Formula 1, CART, and World Rally Championship race cars. The O-Z Rally Lancer wears sporty body work inspired by the rally cars, including bumper extensions front and rear, and side skirts. White-faced gauges and a cockpit trimmed in black with plastic panels that resemble brushed aluminum give the interior a racy look. A five-speed manual is standard, a four-speed automatic ($16,597) is optional. The only other option is a sunroof ($750).
The Ralliart sedan ($17,997) is powered by a 2.4-liter engine with MIVEC variable valve timing. The Ralliart comes standard with a five-speed manual with a short-throw shifter identical to the one used in the Lancer Evolution. However, it can also can be equipped with a four-speed automatic ($18,797). The Ralliart setup includes four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD, a sport-tuned suspension with stiffer shocks to reduce body roll in corners, a more responsive steering gear, freer-flowing exhaust and 16-inch alloy wheels with all-season performance tires. The car takes its name from Mitsubishi's Ralliart rally team and features an exterior appearance package that includes front and side air dams, fog lights, a rear spoiler and Evolution GT-A bucket seats. Side airbags, sunroof, and a 315-watt Infinity CD/audio system are available as a package ($1,500).
Sportback wagons come in LS ($16,597) and Ralliart ($19,197) versions, both with the 2.4-liter engine and automatic. The Preferred Equipment Package ($990) includes roof rails, color-keyed mirrors, 15-inch wheels, cruise control, and a cargo cover.
The Lancer Evolution ($28,987) is a homologation special for the World Rally Championship. On the street, it's a serious hot rod with a 271-horsepower turbocharged engine, four-wheel drive and a sports suspension. Practically ready to race, it gets high-performance differentials and a stiffened body structure. It's fitted with a special front fascia, a big rear wing, and a rear-window wiper (useful after charging down muddy, snow-covered special stages at 100 mph). The car also gets sports seats and special interior features.
Crisp styling sets the Mitsubishi Lancer models apart from other compact sedans. If not beautiful, it looks aggressive, with wheels pushed to edges to stabilize the stance. Short front and rear overhangs improve weight distribution, and the windshield is steeply raked rearward to cheat the wind.
Lancer presents a strong prow with a bold horizontal grille ringed in chrome. Oversized multi-lens headlamps cluster at the corners, while a thick front bumper and air dam thrust forward like a boxer's chin. The hood has stepped cut-lines that add shape and depth. The flanks look sleek and flat with slight fender flares around the wheels. At the squared-off trunk, the Lancer borrows lines from European touring sedans with a blunt tail highlighted by bold, triangular taillamps.
The ES and LS models look tame and respectable and are often presented in understated tones. The O-Z Rally edition looks anything but tame and respectable with its bumper extensions, shapely side skirts, and loud colors and the new Ralliart versions appear downright racy.
The Sportback looks like a miniature Volvo V70 wagon from behind, with its tall, wagon-style roofline. The Ralliart Sportback gets sporty bodywork like the Ralliart sedan.
The Evolution looks like a rally car and is known overseas as an Evo VIII. First, there's the big rear wing. Then there's the aggressive front end, a big front air dam filled with an intercooler for the turbo and a hood with screened air vents. Blistered, squarish fenders made of lightweight aluminum look like competition hardware. Add a roll cage, a big light pod, mambo mud flaps and a bunch of decals, and your Evolution would look ready to tackle the Pikes Peak Hill Climb or the Rim of the World.
The Mitsubishi Lancer has a surprisingly nice interior. For starters, Lancers come with good seats. The cloth seats in the ES are supportive, with good side bolstering. The O-Z Rally seats are covered in premium cloth fabric with silky embroidery stitching on the center inserts in a matching color. Side bolsters on the front buckets have contours for a comfortable fit. The driver's seat moves easily in eight directions, and we had no trouble adjusting it to fit long legs and a tall torso. The Evolution GT-A seats that come in the Ralliart models are highly supportive with aggressive side bolsters; they are comfortable for cruising yet offer offer enough support for driving on a race track, and are tastefully trimmed in black with orange highlights.
The uncluttered design of the dashboard impressed us, as did the look and tone of materials used to dress the cabin. A band of plastic trim stretches across the upper part of the dashboard and divides it into top and bottom sections. The O-Z Rally uses a brushed aluminum color for the plastic trim panel, which blends nicely with the cabin's black color scheme. A Ralliart Sportback we tested used a soft-touch material.
The best interior value is the base Lancer ES. Our ES came trimmed in light tones. A broad piece of handsome woodgrain plastic trim across the dash warms the interior and looks richer than what we've seen in some of the newest SUVs. The pebbled material used on the top of the dash is nice and the satin finish trim on the center stack, center console, and shifter surround looks good. Lancer ES and LS models have a two-tone dash; the upper dash is a dark color, with a lighter tone below. The mouse fur around the door handle and armrest feels nice, but doesn't quite live up to the other materials.
The steering column adjusts vertically. We liked the feel of the thick wheel in the O-Z Rally, which is padded and covered by stitched leatherette. The steering wheels in the ES and Ralliart models we tested felt good but looked uninspiring in an otherwise handsome interior. Big, bold analog gauges are clustered beneath the arching cowl. Black gauges with white lettering are used in ES and LS models, while the O-Z Rally gets white-faced gauges. The Ralliart has an all-black interior with carbon-style accents and white-faced gauges with orange lettering at night.
The Lancer's dash design features scooped sections in front of each seat for roominess with a center panel of audio and climate controls that bulges out for easy reach by driver and passenger. Three rotary dials for the ventilation system are large and easy to use. Above the HVAC controls is the audio system, which suffers from tiny dials. The cup holders are big and solid, but there's only a small amount of center console storage.
The Lancer has comfortable and roomy rear seats. (And rear seat roominess is identical in all models, including the Sportbacks.) The rear seats in the Ralliart Sportback are highly supportive, and quite comfortable. The Ralliart models feature sporty headrests in the rear seats.
Sportback models feature 60/40 split rear seats with adjustable reclining seatbacks. The rear seats fold flat, providing 60.7 cubic feet of cargo area. The Sportback has 24.9 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats up. The trunk in the Lancer sedans offers 11.3 cubic feet of space, a bit less than Civic and Corolla.
Safety features include frontal airbags and three-point safety belts for all five positions. Front seatbelts have pretensioners with force limiters plus height-adjustable anchors, all of which can help reduce belt injuries in an accident. The Lancer was named a 'best pick' by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's crash testing program. It rated four stars out of five in frontal impact testing by NHTSA, and only two stars in the government front side-impact test.
The Lancer Evolution comes with Recaro racing seats in blue and black cloth design.
Mitsubishi builds the Lancer on a rigid unibody platform with a fully independent suspension. So the Lancer feels substantial when set in motion. It's tight but easy to drive, and quite capable of transforming lumpy pavement into a blender smoothie.
The Lancer ES rides very smoothly and handles well. The steering is responsive though there's a little play in the steering or a lack of on-center feel.
Our Lancer O-Z Rally glided over bumpy tar seams. It was so quiet in the cabin that two passengers could converse sotto voce, despite our position in the middle lane squeezed between big-rig freight trucks. We pushed the O-Z Rally Lancer around narrow blacktop roads and it romped around the curves with the chassis blocking lateral body sway and the body remaining relatively flat. A wide-track stance and front suspension with low longitudinal roll center contribute predictable stability to the car in corners, as the multi-link arrangement in back keeps rear wheels under control while damping road bumps. The rack-and-pinion steering works precisely yet lacks firmness in the center spot.
The Ralliart models have a firmer ride with their sport-tuned suspensions. The shocks have significantly higher damping rates and the front springs and anti-roll bars have higher rates as well, all of which means less body lean in corners and less dive and squat under braking and acceleration. Indeed, the Ralliart leans very little in corners. Bumps are heard and felt and the whole affair feels stiffer, but it's not harsh.
With 120 horsepower, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that comes on ES, LS, and O-Z Rally models is by no means the strongest in its class, but Mitsubishi has tuned it to generate more muscle at low- and mid-range speeds (130 pounds-feet of torque at 4250 rpm). It feels quite zippy around town, leaps off the line, and feels downright aggressive when running though second and third gears. It cruises comfortably at high speeds and there's still power left for passing.
The manual transmission has a short stick and shifts quickly. It feels tight and precise, even sporty. The available four-speed automatic transmission uses electronic controls and adapts shift points to the individual style of the driver. We drove it and were impressed by the smooth and quiet shift work, but noticed the automatic subtly dampened Lancer's spirit, as automatics tend to do.
The 2.4-liter engine that comes in the Ralliart and Sportback models has lots of low-rpm power, generating 162 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. It's very responsive around town and generates 162 horsepower. With its strong torque, the 2.4-liter engine works very well with the automatic, making for a responsive combination. When cruising in traffic, it quickly yet unobtrusively downshifts with a touch of the throttle. It seems unfortunate that the Sportback models are only available with an automatic as a five-speed manual seemed more appropriate for the bright yellow Ralliart Sportback that we drove.
The Lancer Evolution is very fast. We've driven them on roads and on racing circuits. The steering is super quick. The Evo turns in very quickly and eagerly takes a set going into corners. The suspension is very tight, very well controlled. The car is stable and fast going through the corners with excellent grip from the Yokohama A-046 tires. It feels stuck, planted to the pavement. Squeeze the throttle down. Incredible grip allows hard acceleration while still coming out of the corner and it rockets toward the next apex. The brakes are excellent. Its all-wheel-drive setup is a huge advantage whenever grip is even slightly compromised: bumpy pavement, wet pavement, snow, ice. A second set of tires is recommended for winter use (and we'd recommend a second set of wheels to go with them). Also, putting grippy tires on a four-wheel-drive rally car means buying tires a bit more often.
The Evolution feels like a competition car even when.
Mitsubishi Lancer's size positions it at the center of a crowded field of compacts that includes class leaders Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla, Mazda Protege, Subaru Impreza, and Dodge Neon. Competitively, Lancer has the longest body and its extended wheelbase produces a spacious passenger compartment with best-in-class legroom for front seat riders.
The Lancer Sportback is designed to compete with the Mazda Protege5, the five-door Ford Focus, and the Toyota Matrix.
Mitsubishi Lancer ES ($12,597); LS ($15,997); O-Z Rally ($15,797); Ralliart ($17,997); Sportback LS ($16,597); Sportback Ralliart ($19,197); Evolution ($28,987).
Options As Tested
ES Convenience Package ($550) includes remote keyless entry, 60/40 split fold-down rear seatback, rear seat center armrest w/cupholders, rear headrest, color-keyed door handles, floor mats.
Mitsubishi Lancer ES ($13,597).
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