Introduced for 2002, the compact Mitsubishi Lancer wasn't 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 are offered. Base ES and O-Z Rally models use a 120-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Introduced for 2004, the Ralliart sedan is equipped with a larger four-cylinder rated at 162 hp and a sport-tuned suspension.
Ralliart models get a new grille and sport pedals for 2005. Mitsubishi also offers a high-performance Lancer Evolution that's listed separately in the Research section. A Lancer Sportback model was added for 2004, but it lasted only one season.
The Lancer's cab-forward profile incorporates a high roofline on a comparatively long, 102.4-inch wheelbase. Aerodynamic wraparound headlights have a multireflector surface, and the front bumper has a large opening for efficient airflow. Ralliart sedans have unique fog lamps.
A four-wheel-independent suspension uses front struts and a rear multilink configuration. The Lancer ES gets 14-inch tires; the O-Z Rally edition rides on 15-inchers, and Ralliart sedans have 16-inch rubber. Racing alloy wheels, bumper extensions and side air dams give the O-Z Rally a distinctive look.
Up to five occupants can fit inside the Lancer. A low instrument panel and belt line aid visibility, and a high hip point for the seats should ensure easier entry and exit. The ES has air conditioning, a 140-watt CD stereo, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Extras on the O-Z Rally include a sport-touch steering wheel and white-faced gauges.
Under the Hood
The 2.0-liter four-cylinder develops 120 hp and 130 pounds-feet of torque. A 162-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder goes into the Ralliart sedan. Each engine teams with a standard five-speed-manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic.
Side-impact airbags are optional on O-Z Rally and Ralliart sedans. Antilock brakes are standard on the Ralliart. The front seat belts have pretensioners and force limiters.
Even when fitted with sporty details, the Lancer fails to stand out in its class. Despite its motorsports heritage, the manual-gearshift O-Z Rally edition lacks the secure confidence of a sport sedan. Still, it's wholly adequate and satisfying as a small family car.
Acceleration is peppy when pushed hard. Some engine buzz is noticeable, but the Lancer is as quiet as most four-cylinder-powered cars. Even though the clutch operates adeptly, it lacks sufficiently smooth engagement.
Handling is adequate. The Lancer corners easily, but some drivers may prefer more tenacity in turns. Choppiness is minimal but not absent.
The front seats are firm and provide ample space. The gauges are easy to see in the daytime but aren't bright enough at night. Rear-seat headroom is adequate, but legroom and foot room are terrific.