Introduced for the 2002 model year, the compact Mitsubishi Lancer wasnt developed as an economy car. Instead, the four-door front-wheel-drive sedan had a competition background that evolved from the Lancer Evolution World Rally Car.
Three versions of the Lancer have been offered: base ES, midlevel LS and an especially spirited O-Z Rally sedan, which is dubbed the street-style Lancer. Mitsubishi has also introduced a higher-performance Lancer Evolution VIII, and a Lancer Sportback model has been added for 2004. In addition, a new Ralliart sedan joins the Lancer lineup for 2004; it is equipped with a 162-horsepower engine and a sport-tuned suspension. All Lancers get a restyled front end with integrated bumpers.
Lancer styling is said to be European inspired. The sedans cab-forward profile incorporates a high roofline on a comparatively long, 102.4-inch wheelbase.
The fender lines are relatively high, and sharp edges blend with soft curves. The turn signals are mounted on the front fender, and the grille has a chrome surround. 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 Lancer ES gets 14-inch tires, while the LS and O-Z Rally edition ride on 15-inchers. Racing alloy wheels, bumper extensions and side air dams give the O-Z Rally a special look.
Five people fit inside the Lancer. A low instrument panel and belt line help with visibility, and a high hip point for the seats should ensure easier entry and exit. The LS has 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.
Under the Hood
The 2.0-liter, 16-valve four-cylinder engine develops 120 hp and 130 pounds-feet of torque. A five-speed-manual transmission is standard, and the optional four-speed automatic has adaptive shift control. A 162-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine goes into the new Ralliart sedan.
Side-impact airbags and antilock brakes are standard on the ES and O-Z Rally models and optional on the LS and Ralliart sedans. The front seat belts have pretensioners and force limiters. Repositioned front head restraints are angled close to the occupants head.
Even when fitted with sporty details, the Lancer isnt the kind of car that stands high in its class. Despite its motorsports heritage, the manually operated O-Z Rally edition lacks the secure confidence of a sport sedan. But it is wholly adequate and satisfying as a small family car.
The Lancers acceleration is peppy when pushed hard. Some engine buzz is noticeable, but the Lancer is as quiet as most four-cylinder cars. Even though the clutch operates adeptly, it sometimes yields excessive driveline looseness and lacks sufficiently smooth engagement.
Handling is adequate as the Lancer corners easily, but some drivers may prefer more tenacity in turns. Choppiness is minimal but not absent.
The front seat features firm seats and ample space. The gauges are easy to see in the daytime but arent quite bright enough at night. Rear-seat headroom is so-so, but legroom and toe space are terrific.