2013 MITSUBISHI LANCER REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Four-door small sedan
Price: $32,240 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 125kW/226Nm 2.4-litre 4cyl petrol | CVT auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.5 l/100km | tested: 12.5 l/100km
In 2007, Mitsubishi launched its CJ Lancer. It was bigger, safer and roomier than any previous Lancer.
It’s been a consistent seller for the Japanese company, but it’s now 2013 and, really, not much has changed.
More equipment has been added and, yes, it’s gone from a 4-Star ANCAP rating to a 5-Star car, but most of everything else has remained much the same. No surprises then that it has gone off the boil with buyers.
When Mitsubishi presented us with a MY14 Lancer VRX for a week, it was an opportunity to see whether it still stacks up against its (very tough) competition in today’s market.
Here’s how it fared.
Quality: Adding a few goodies here and there hasn’t done much to improve the overall interior quality, which looks every bit the 2007 cabin we’ve seen for years.
The Lancer still sports the segmented dashboard, with uneven cutlines clearly defining the passenger-side flap under which an airbag lies. Hard plastic abounds throughout, with the largest slab across the dashtop.
A saving grace is the dark-grey gloss strip which runs across the fascia, breaking up the monotony.
The silver gearshift surround, however, looks good. Throughout, to Mitsubishi’s credit, things are solidly fitted and free of rattles (even when subjected to thumping bass from the standard-fit subwoofer).
Shut the doors, however, and there’s a very hollow, tinny sound, revealing the lack of sound deadening.
Comfort: The sports seats fitted have an excellent blend of comfort and lateral grip with enough bolstering to keep you in place, though the driving position does feel a little high.
The rear seat, with its deep hipline, allows enough headroom for taller passengers – something the Sportback version doesn’t do as well.
Overall, the Lancer's larger size liberates enough interior space for this to not be considered a small car, despite its classification.
Equipment: The VRX is equipped with more kit than the base model. It includes some up-spec features like automatic rain-sensing wipers and auto headlamps, climate control, as well as Mitsubishi Multi Communications System which has a seven-inch touch screen with sat-nav (and 3D mapping) plus a rear view camera.
The camera itself, however, looks like a cheap add-on, simply being stuck onto the boot face.
The MMCS system links Bluetooth with voice activation and audio streaming, includes a CD player with MP3, iPod connectivity, USBand is channelled through a cracking Rockford Fosgate nine-speaker system (including that punchy subwoofer).
Curiously, while you get a key-fob for keyless entry and start, you still have to turn a paddle to crank the engine, while its stablemate, the ASX comes with a start button. How long before the Lancer catches up?
Storage: While the regular Lancer gets a 400 litre boot, some of that is chewed up with the subwoofer installed on the VRX. Boot space therefore drops to 377 litres.
There are the usual door pockets which are a good size for storing bottles of water, there are four cupholders, a medium-size under-elbow cubby hole in the centre and under the centre stack two small lidded spaces for business cards or coins.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Despite its below-par interior quality, the VRX isn’t a bad steer.
Feedback from the wheel is quite good, and though it is a little spongy around dead centre, its weighting is quite satisfying. The steering has a propensity to self-centre yet it doesn’t detract from the drive experience.
With a CVT gearbox, the Mitsu controls the ratio and consequently it sounds like a slipping clutch. The upside, says Mitsubishi, is the best ratio for the best economy.
That doesn’t help proceedings though if you want to get somewhere quickly.
Despite its larger engine size (2.4 litre), the VRX only manages a 9.8 second 0-100kmh dash, meaning it’s easily outgunned. If you want to go a little quicker or prefer to feel more involved, the manual VRX is your best bet.
Refinement: Unfortunately, the VRX really lets itself down in this department.
Road noise on all but the newest and smoothest of surfaces can be quite intrusive. Coarse-chip country roads require the stereo to be cranked up to drown out the constant thrumming.
Even down a city freeway, holding a conversation can be quite a strained experience.
The engine, however, isn’t thrashy or strained and goes about things reasonably quietly, even at full throttle.
Ride and Handling: The VRX uses its larger wheels to its advantage when cornering.
Riding on 18-inch tyres (and 45 profile rubber, which is why road-noise is so pronounced) there’s enough suspension compliance to handle broken tarmac and potholes, yet it doesn’t lean over like a boat either.
The VRX certainly tips into corners more enthusiastically than the ES and LX Lancers and strikes a good balance between ride comfort and playful handling.
Braking: The front discs are vented, while the rears are solid. Braking performance is adequate, pedal feel is good, however its ABS struggles to slow it quickly on gravel.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars. The Lancer scored 33.56 out of a possible 37 points.
Safety features: ESC, traction control, ABS, brakeforce distribution, side-intrusion bars in the doors and seven airbags.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Mitsubishi offers a five year / 130,000 km new vehicle warranty, five year Roadside Assist
Service costs: Capped Price Servicing for the first four years or 60,000 km of ownership on all new vehicles. Each service costs $250.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Holden Cruze SRI-V auto ($28,690) – The zesty Cruze has a better build, a potent engine and a quieter ride. It’s also locally built and a lot cheaper. Definitely worth a close look (see Cruze reviews)
Ford Focus Sport auto ($31,690) – The Focus is still one of the best small cars around, and with good reason. Its quality build, engaging dynamics and good looks make it a standout in this segment (see Focus reviews)
Mazda3 SP20 Skyactiv Luxury auto ($30,990 ) – While it’s due to be replaced soon, the current Mazda3 is still a great car. With good handling, excellent interior quality and involving drive, it’s a worthy contender. (see Mazda3 reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
While still a good-looking machine, the Lancer is in dire need of an overhaul. The same basic sheetmetal has been around for more than six years now and the interior, in particular, looks tired.
While the VRX is honest transport, and has proved strong as old boots, it has been left behind by some truly excellent rivals. If you must have a Mitsubishi, the base Lancer is a better value-for-money proposition.
But at this price level, the VRX auto isn’t really in the game. (At least we still have the Evo to lust after.)