Do you remember those kids in high school who wanted to be tough guys but couldn't quite pull off the act? The kids who wore studded belts and safety pins but always managed to throw in a “please” or “thank-you”... the same ones who graffitied their school books with rock band logos but had hospital-grade clean bedrooms?
Pseudo-tough is the new black these days, from middle-aged couples walking ornate dogs with studded collars to pretty-in-punk school girls milling around the local mall.
With inspiration like that it's no wonder Mitsubishi has subscribed to a similar principle for its Lancer VRX. Available as a sedan or five-door hatch – ‘Sportback’ in Mitsubishi-speak. We sampled one of each to find out just what the Lancer had to offer the aspiring rebel with practical needs.
With a long pedigree of rally championships behind it, the Lancer has the potential to be a snorting, snarling little beast. But we all know that despite the headline grabbing efforts of the Evolution models, the volume sellers in the Lancer range are the naturally aspirated front-wheel-drive commuter cars. The ones that you'll see parked along every residential block and in every supermarket car park.
Mitsubishi has realised that although some people might aspire to an Evo, their lifestyle and budget is better-served by something a little calmer and more practical.
Welcome then, to the Lancer VRX. The body kit and big wheels do their best to convey some ‘bad-arse’ image, but the frugal four-cylinder engine and fuss-free ride are far better at accommodating the rigours of the daily commute.
We put the Lancer VRX siblings through their paces to find out how successful Mitsubishi has been in their efforts to come up with an accessible anarchist.
The first thing you notice as you approach the VRX is the angry scowl in that low-slung front.
Even on approach the car conveys a sense of evil, a touch of machiavellian insanity, as though it just wants to lower its nose into the pavement and gnaw its way through the bitumen. That shark-like nose and narrowed headlamps give the Lancer a purposeful look, and obviously one the public enjoys as this is the corporate face Mitsubishi has used to turn its failing fortunes around.
The VRX gets some extra menace with a subtle body kit incorporating a jutting front spoiler, chunky sills and a high-rise rear wing for the sedan, or a curvy little spoiler at the top of the rear window for the Sportback.
Teamed with 18-inch ten-spoke alloys, the Lancer does a great job of looking like an ‘Evo-lite’. It may not have the bulging guards or vented sheet metal of its big brother, but the neatly drawn profiles of each of the body styles works well.
The sedan and Sportback do tend to differ in their offerings though. Although both share the same front-end and doors, the bluff shape of the sedan conjures up images of an Alfa Romeo, both in the profile of its roof and shallow glass-house, as well as in details like the circular elements of the tail lights.
The Sportback however disposes of the Alfa-ness, instead adopting a more swept-back look with a faster rear pillar and more curvaceous lights that betray more of the car’s Japanese origins.
Despite the differing design philosophies, the two body styles mate incredibly well with the nose. The almost sedan-like profile of the Sportback helps in this regard.
The rising crease from the front guards through the door handles gives just the right amount of purpose to the side profile, while the relatively short tail to long nose proportions and tight overhangs avoid the hefty look of some competitors.
Inside, the Lancer presents a tidy, no-fuss environment for driver and passengers. Up front the dash design is clean and uncluttered. In front of the driver sits nothing more than a speedo and tacho with a multi-information screen in between displaying the digital fuel and temperature gauge as will as trip computer information.
Red illumination for the displays gives a sporty look but is easily washed out by moderate sunlight. This is less of a problem however in the instrument panel than it is for the audio screen above the head unit in the centre of the dash.
The dash itself is a black-on-black affair with a classy looking high-gloss panel that spears across the dash and into the front door trims.
A matt-silver finish provides highlights for the steering column mounted shift paddles the steering wheel mounted audio and cruise control buttons and the climate control knobs while a splash of chrome dresses up the air con vents and shift lever surround.
Detracting from things and sullying an otherwise classy interior is the use of hard plastics on the dash and door pulls, which proved to be somewhat scratch-prone.
Back seat passengers will find little to complain about with a healthy amount of knee-room and enough space beneath the front seats to comfortably accommodate their feet.
The rear bench is wide enough to seat three across without generating too many complaints and a pair of cup-holders for rear occupants is available by folding down the centre armrest.
The only grumble from the rear might come from those relegated to the hatch where the lowered roofline eats into headroom and hard plastic bolstering at each side of the bench can reduce comfort on longer hauls.
Carting cargo should pose no problems either. The sedan features a sizeable boot with a 400 litre capacity and split-folding rear seats, the Sportback adds to its functionality by being able to fold the rear seats from inside the boot - storage space however, shrinks slightly.
A clever two-stage floor in the Sportback allows for a flat floor (or fitment of a full size rim with the space-saver spare in use), or the floor can be lowered giving 288 or 344 litres of storage-volume respectively.
Both vehicles tested were fitted with Rockford Fosgate audio systems and the additional subwoofer takes up a small amount of space behind the rear wheel arch, but certainly nothing to be concerned about.
While we're on the topic of audio systems though, that Rockford Fosgate system is most definitely worth a mention. As a six-disc stacker with eight speakers and a subwoofer, audio performance is incredible for the price point. With the available Mistsubishi Multi Communications System (MMCS) the CD count drops back to one, but DVD playback joins the list of features as well as satellite navigation.
I'm not kidding though when I tell you you'll hear parts of your CDs on this system that no other factory car audio system short of a big-money German brand can reproduce. It is that good!
On the road the Lancer VRX twins do a lot of things well. Whether stuck in the peak-hour shuffle for extended periods, or whether you need to cover big miles, the VRX is one of the better small car offerings to do it in.
Even after a couple of big-mile journeys in the VRX I found myself looking for an excuse to keep going, if only just around the block.
On twisty roads the Lancer even manages to provide some entertainment. Though the steering is a little muted in its feedback, it responds quickly and, combined with minimal body roll and tidily controlled multi-link rear suspension, makes for a rewarding enough drive though the bends.
Taking the shine off the performance slightly is the propensity for the front-end to push a little wide when carrying speed through tight bends. It’s a front-wheel drive thing that you can correct by lifting off quickly.
Also (and this may be a matter of personal taste), the reluctance of the well-planted rear-end to step out ‘Swedish-flick’ style, can disappoint. The degree of control at all four corners of the car in a variety of conditions – remember we’re talking about a commuter hatch and sedan here - is certainly confidence-inspiring and better than we were expecting.
Performance from the 2.4 litre engine again provides no complaints. Keep in mind this isn't a ball-tearing traffic light grand prix device, but the 125 kW of power and 226 Nm of torque are more than capable of moving the Sportback's 1435kg and the sedan's 1375kg along.
Tied to the CVT auto, the engine can happily work away without you ever noticing it. In the urban crawl, it will rarely travel far beyond 2000rpm with a seamless build of speed and a positive effect on fuel economy.
One of the more grating elements of the Lancer was its noisy tyres, the Yokohama Advans can generate a fair amount of noise on some surfaces, especially in the Sportback. Enough to make conversations difficult at times. While still present in the sedan, noise suppression is slightly better.
Oddly though, the Ralliart Sportback which TMR is currently testing, is also much quietier, despite using the same tyre and wheel package.
Perhaps the noticeable tyre rumble is more of an issue with the VRX because of the muted engine and absence of wind noise inside the cabin. Another problem with the choice of rolling stock is that the tyres are fond of a squeal even before you're pushing the limits of their adhesion.
Many manufacturers find themselves in an awkward situation when it comes to making compromises, not every car can be all things to all people.
Mitsubishi has wisely decided to build an entirely functional sedan and hatch for day-to-day duties. The result is impressive. Both Sportback and sedan are certainly among the better drives and better value in the segment.
Having gone the next step with the addition of sports suspension and a more aggressive look to the VRX adds to the appeal and would appear to be winning favour in the showroom. (So, good move Mitsubishi… but I’d also be doing something about those tyres.)
That said, you're hardly going to use the VRX twins as weekend rally warriors. But neither will you be shaken apart by a harsh ride or have to contort yourself to fit inside.
Instead you'll be rewarded for your decision by a plush features list and comfortable journeys for you and four friends. Should the urge take you, there is enough ability underpinning the Lancer to make it worth your effort to give the column mounted shift paddles a flick and throw yourself at a winding road.
For the occasions where you find yourself lacking the motivation for a full-tilt attack, then the Lancer VRX will happily settle into a relaxed and effortless routine of stop-start traffic and loping highway trips.
And all while offering decent fuel economy and satisfying in-car entertainment.
The Last Word
“Just because you've made a rational decision when it comes to buying a car, doesn't mean that you'll have to suffer for it. Nine times out of ten the Lancer VRX will conduct itself in such a way that you'll barely be aware of the competent job it is doing behind the scenes. Then you'll catch sight of yourself passing a shop window and everything will fall into place; it looks good, but the style on display is not without the substance to back it up.”
- Visual aggression (especially the sedan) unmatched by rivals
- Classy appearance of interior
- Ease of use for day-to-day driving
- Comfortable well-balanced ride for the price
- Tyre noise at speed
- Compromised space in Sportback
- Poor choice of plastics for dash trims
|Type||2.4 litre DOHC 16-valve MIVEC|
|Bore x Stroke||88.0 x 97.0mm|
|Fuel System|| |
|System||Electronically controlled multi-point fuel injection|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||59L|
|Fuel Consumption|| Sedan: 8.7/100km (manual) 8.5/100km (CVT auto) |
Sportback: 8.8l/100km (manual) 8.9l/100km (CVT auto)
|Power||125kW @ 6000rpm|
|Torque||226Nm @ 4100rpm|
|0-100km/h (seconds)|| Sedan: 9.1 (manual) 9.8 (CVT auto) |
|0-400m|| Sedan: N/A |
|Max. Speed|| Sedan: N/A |
|Type||Manual / CVT Auto|
|Type||Anti-Lock Braking System with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA)|
|Front||Independent MacPherson strut with coil spring and stabiliser|
|Rear||Independent multi link with coil spring and stabiliser|
|Height (mm)|| Sedan: 1490 |
|Length|| Sedan: 4570 |
|Width|| Sedan: 1760 |
|Wheelbase|| Sedan: 2635 |
|Track|| Front: 1530 |
|Kerb Weight (kg)|| Sedan: 1345 (manual) 1375 (CVT auto) |
Sportback: 1405 (manual) 1435 (CVT auto)
|Boot Capacity (litres)||288 (floor up) 344 (floor down)|
|VRX Sedan & Sportback||$30,290 (manual) $32,790 (CVT auto)|