2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Sporty compact offers smooth ride, good handling.
The Mitsubishi Lancer represents a broad range of compact four-door sedans, starting with the affordable Lancer ES and progressing to something just short of a full-blown rally car, with models in between that are both affordable and sporty at the same time.
All Lancers are roomy, four-door sedans with seats that are comfortable and sporty.
The best value, most sensible and most popular model is the Lancer ES, a pleasant sedan with a smooth ride, good handling, and a comfortable, nicely trimmed interior. The Lancer O-Z Rally adds sports appeal to this basic package while still remaining sensible. The Ralliart package turns the Lancer into a true sport compact with its more powerful 2.4-liter MIVEC engine and sports suspension. It's a lot of fun to drive.
The Lancer Evolution is another animal, a four-wheel-drive turbocharged homologation special based on Mitsubishi's successful World Rally Championship cars. It's one of the hottest cars on the street, particularly on bumpy surfaces or anything that offers less than ideal traction. New for 2005 is an Evo MR named after the home-market club racing sedan Mitsubishi introduced in 1970.
The Lancer ES ($14,299) 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 ($15,199) is available. An option package ($800) adds a remote keyless entry system, a 60/40 split rear seatback, a fold-out armrest with cupholders, carpeted mats on the floor, and variable intermittent windshield wipers.
The Lancer O-Z Rally ($16,599) 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 Lancer WRC race 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 ($17,499) is optional. Other options include a sunroof and front side airbags ($1500), and a cargo net and chrome exhaust pipe tip ($131).
The Ralliart sedan ($18,499) 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 ($19,399). 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).
Three models of the Lancer Evolution are available, the Evo RS ($28,499), Evo VIII ($30,699), and Evo MR ($35,699). All come with a 271-horsepower turbocharged engine, four-wheel drive and a sports suspension. Practically ready to race, the Evos benefit from stiffened body structures. All are 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), plus sports seats and special interior features. The Evo RS comes with 17-inch Enkei wheels and high-grip P235/45WR17 Yokohama Advan tires. In addition to the features on the Evo RS, the Evo VIII gets an active center differential switch and Brembo brakes with sport ABS and EBD, plus more convenience features. The MR Edition adds a six-speed close-ratio gearbox, 17-inch BBS forged wheels and other features.
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. They're good seatbelts. Wear them. 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, but only two stars in the government front side-impact test.
Crisp styling sets the Mitsubishi Lancer apart from other compact sedans. If not beautiful, it looks aggressive. The wheels are pushed to the corners, giving it a stable stance. Short front and rear overhangs improve weight distribution. The windshield is steeply raked rearward to cheat the wind.
The Lancer has 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 model looks tame and respectable. The O-Z Rally edition looks anything but tame and respectable with its bumper extensions, shapely side skirts, and loud colors. The Ralliart versions look downright racy.
The Evolution looks like a rally car. 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. The Evo MR has vortex generators, eight little inch-high longitudinal fins on the back of the roof that generate downforce, similar to those seen on airplanes. For 2005, both the MR and the RS get a high-strength steel roof panel that saves as much weight as would chopping three inches off the top of the car. Getting weight off the top, high above the center of gravity, is a good thing. Add a roll cage, a big light pod, mambo mud flaps and a bunch of decals, and the Evolution would look ready to tackle the Pikes Peak Hill Climb or the Rim of the World rally in California. (Of course, more preparation would be required to build a successful rally car.).
The Mitsubishi Lancer has a surprisingly nice interior. For starters, Lancers come with good seats. The cloth seats in the Lancer 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're 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.
The Lancer ES has a surprisingly nice interior. Our ES came trimmed in light tones. A broad piece of handsome woodgrain plastic trim across the dash warms the cabin and looks richer than what we've seen in some of the newest luxury 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 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 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. The rear seats in the Ralliart are highly supportive, and quite comfortable, and feature sporty headrests.
The trunk in the Lancer sedans offers 11.3 cubic feet of space, a bit less than Civic and Corolla.
The Lancer Evolution comes with Recaro racing seats in blue and black cloth designed to accommodate a six-point racing harness. The three-spoke Momo steering wheel looks racy with its small airbag pack. The center console includes a special button for spraying water onto the turbocharger's intercooler for maximum horsepower, useful when racing through hot, mountainous terrain.
The Mitsubishi Lancer feels substantial when it's underway. It's tight but easy to drive, and quite capable of transforming lumpy pavement into a blender smoothie. Mitsubishi builds the Lancer on a rigid unibody platform with a fully independent suspension.
The Lancer ES we drove rode very smoothly and handled well. The steering felt responsive though there was a little play in the steering, a lack of on-center feel, in other words.
The Lancer O-Z Rally we drove glided over bumpy tar seams. We noticed 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 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 worked precisely yet lacked 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 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 engine speeds. Specifically, it develops 130 pound-feet of torque at 4250 rpm. With this engine, the Lancer feels 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. And it gets good fuel economy, earning an EPA City/Highway estimate of 28/35 mpg.
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 dampened Lancer's spirit, as automatics tend to do with four-cylinder engines. Also, the automatic drops the fuel economy to an EPA-estimated 25/31 mpg.
The 2.4-liter engine that comes in the Ralliart model has lots of low-rpm power, generating 162 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. 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's very responsive around town and generates 162 horsepower.
The Lancer Evolution is very fast. We've driven Evos 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. Its incredible grip allows hard acceleration when charging out of corners. The brakes are excellent. Its all-wheel drive 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 new Evolution MR edition uses a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission, which makes it.
Mitsubishi Lancer's size positions it at the center of a crowded field of compacts that includes Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Subaru Impreza, Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra, Mazda 3, and Dodge Neon. Competitively, Lancer has the longest body and its extended wheelbase produces a spacious passenger compartment with best-in-class front-seat legroom.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Larry Edsall is based in Phoenix; with nctd.com editor Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles and Phil Berg in Detroit.
Mitsubishi Lancer ES ($14,299); O-Z Rally ($16,599); Ralliart ($18,499); Evolution RS ($27,929); Evolution VIII ($30,699); Evolution MR ($35,499).
Options As Tested
ES Convenience Package ($800) keyless remote entry, split folding rear seat, rear armrest, rear cup holders, floor mats, speed control & variable intermittent wipers.
Mitsubishi Lancer ES ($14,299).
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