Introduced in April 2001 at the New York International Auto Show, Mitsubishis replacement for the subcompact Mirage exhibits compact dimensions. The Lancer was not developed as an economy car; instead, the foor-door front-wheel-drive (FWD) vehicle had a competition background that evolved from the Lancer Evolution World Rally Car. The production model is more civilized than the rally car, according to Pierre Gagnon, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America. Even though its suspension has been retuned for everyday driving on American roads, the two cars are closely related down to their unibody chassis level.
Mitsubishi claims that quietness is one of the cars hallmarks, helped by abundant sound insulation and foam-filled body areas. The Lancer is billed by Mitsubishi as an antidote to driving boredom and as an affordably priced compact FWD sedan. Three versions are offered: the base ES, the midlevel LS and an especially spirited O-Z Rally sedan, which is dubbed the street-style Lancer. Mitsubishi also has introduced a higher-performance Lancer Evolution VIII.
Only subtle changes to the Lancer are evident for the 2003 model year. A new power glass sunroof is available for the LS and O-Z Rally editions. At the Chicago Auto Show in February 2003, Mitsubishi unveiled a Lancer Ralliart thats intended to fit between the styling-focused O-Z Rally and the performance-packed Evolution. The Ralliart goes on sale in the fall of 2003 as a 2004 model.
The Lancers styling is said to be European-inspired. The interior provides excellent visibility. The sedans cab-forward profile incorporates a high roofline on a comparatively long, 102.4-inch wheelbase. It measures 177.6 inches long overall and stands approximately 54.1 inches tall. Compared to the Mirage coupe that it replaces, the Lancer is 9.5 inches longer overall and has a wheelbase that is 7.3 inches longer.
Fender lines are relatively high, and sharp edges blend with soft curves on the Lancers body. The turn signals are mounted on the front fender, and the grille has a chrome surround. A-pillars contain rain gutters to help keep water from seeping inside. Aerodynamic wraparound headlights have a multireflector surface, and the low bumper has a large opening for efficient airflow.
A four-wheel-independent suspension uses front struts and a rear multilink configuration. The tires measure 14 inches in diameter on the Lancer ES, and the LS and O-Z Rally edition ride on 15-incher rubbers. A rear spoiler is optional on the O-Z Rally, which comes with standard racing alloy wheels, bumper extensions and side air dams.
Five occupants fit inside the Lancer, and this car provides considerably more legroom than the former Mirage. A low instrument panel and belt line help with visibility, and a high hip point for the front and rear seats should ensure easier entry and exit. Cloth upholstery comes in gray, tan or black. The ES and LS sedans have woodgrain accents, and the O-Z Rally edition gets a black interior with brushed-metal-finish trim.
Standard equipment includes a height-adjustable drivers seat, a CD player, and power windows, door locks and mirrors. The LS adds remote keyless entry, cruise control, variable-speed intermittent wipers and a 60/40-split, folding rear seat. Extras on the O-Z Rally include a sport-touch steering wheel, a parking brake handle and gearshift lever, and white-faced gauges that are styled after the Evo VII rally racecar.
Under the Hood
The Lancers power comes from a 2.0-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder engine that develops 120 horsepower and 130 pounds-feet of torque. Engine features include an equal-length intake manifold and a reprofiled camshaft that improves the torque curve for greater performance. A five-speed-manual transmission is standard, and the optional four-speed automatic has adaptive shift control.
Side-impact airbags and antilock brakes are standard on the ES and O-Z Rally models and optional on the LS sedan. The front seat belts have pretensioners and force limiters. Repositioned front head restraints are angled close to the occupants head.
The Lancer moves into a different league than the old Mirage. The Lancer isnt the kind of car that stands high in its new class, even when its fitted with sporty details. Despite its motorsport pretensions, the O-Z Rally edition with the manual shift lacks the secure confidence of a sport sedan. But it is wholly adequate and satisfying as a small family car.
Acceleration is peppy when pushed hard, and the clutch is operated adeptly. Some engine buzz is noticeable, but the Lancer is as quiet as most four-cylinder cars. The gearshift is OK, but not perfect. The clutch is a bit of an obstacle because it sometimes yields excessive driveline looseness and lacks sufficiently smooth engagement.
Handling is adequate as the Lancer corners easily and responds acceptably to steering inputs, but some drivers may prefer more grip and tenacity in turns. The Lancers choppiness is minimal but not absent. The suspension absorbs quite a bit of roughness for an above-average small-car ride. Expect to notice all the commotion underneath. Occupants can get jarred at times, but the experience isnt enough to be annoying.
Legroom, headroom and elbowroom in the front seats are ample, and the seats themselves are fairly firm, supportive, comfortable and modestly bolstered. The controls are all within reach. The gauges are easy to see in the daytime, but theyre not quite bright enough at night. The backseat has a hard perch in the center, but its not the worst by any means. Rear-seat headroom is so-so, but legroom and toe space are terrific, beating some cars that are much larger. The trunk isnt huge, but it is easy to load and provides ample cargo room.