Perhaps it’s not as important what the 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer sedan is as what it will be.
Reportedly the new Lancer has been earmarked to serve as the platform for the next-generation DaimlerChrysler small car to be produced at Belvidere in the ’04 timeframe, whether that vehicle is called Neon or given a new moniker.
D/C owns a 34 percent stake in Mitsubishi.
And that same Lancer platform has been designated for a small sport-utility vehicle for Mitsubishi. Lancer and Neon (or whatever name) plus an SUV off the same platform would mean Belvidere operating at full capacity, a rarity with only Neon.
What the Lancer, which is imported from Japan, lacks in styling flash (Mitsubishi boasts it has the “European look”), it makes up for in better-than-average ride and handling as well as off-the-line get-up-and-go, considerably more than the Mitsubishi Mirage it replaces as well as a good deal more than the Dodge Neon it apparently is destined to help replace.
The 2002 Lancer sedan takes the place of the Mirage, a nice vehicle Mitsubishi did little to tell anyone about. Lancer will go on sale in August dressed in OZ Rally, ES and top-of-the-line LS editions, all powered by a 2-liter, 120-horsepower, 16-valve 4-cylinder with a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic.
We tested the OZ Rally edition, which calls attention to Mitsubishi’s involvement in world rally racing. It comes with race-inspired appearance enhancements such as air dams, white faced gauges (which turn fuzzy red at night) and racing wheels emblazoned with “OZ” lettering.
But, when you affix the letters OZ to the wheels, you have to take into account that wheels go round and round so OZ becomes ON and NO depending on the wheel’s position.
Lancer sports larger dimensions than Mirage. Wheelbase and length both have been stretched by 4 inches, which not only increases cabin room (rear-seat occupants gain 3 inches in legroom) but also contributes to improved ride. Lancer is powered by a 2-liter, 120-h.p. upgrade of the 1.8-liter, 111-h.p. 4 in the Mirage, with the upgrade focusing on low-end torque for much livelier movement away from the light than Mirage delivered. Fuel economy is an impressive 26 m.p.g. city/33 m.p.g. highway with the smooth 5-speed, though the 1.8 delivered an even more impressive 28/37. Automatic runs about $1,000 more, but Mitsubishi won’t price options until closer to the August on sale date.
In addition to the more practical size and more functional power, kudos to Mitsubishi for the suspension. Smooth ride and decent road manners for basically an economy car. The suspension isn’t tuned for world rallying, simply for getting from points A to B without being bounced or shaken. But there are gripes, the main one being that to enjoy the safety and security of anti-lock brakes you must purchase the LS edition as well as the optional side-impact air bags.
Why would an automaker put its effort behind equipping its car w ith OZ ON NO wheels rather than on ABS as standard to protect its customers?
ABS isn’t offered in the ES or OZ Rally (hmm, maybe that’s why the letters spin until they read “NO?”). And no Lancer offers traction control. No sunroof, either. Oh, and until August, no price on the ABS with side air bags, either.
Why gripe about no sunroof? Because with windows down, the wind rushing against unfastened passenger belts is unrelentingly loud. Another gripe is that the power mirror control on the dash is obstructed by the steering column.
The trunk is fairly spacious and split rear seat backs fold individually to increase cargo carrying capacity, though, sadly, the seat backs don’t fold flat.
Lancer replaces only the Mirage sedan. Pierre Gagnon, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Mitsubishi Motors in the U.S., said the Mirage coupe will stay around for another year before it is dropped. Could be, however, that the small car coming from Mitsubishi and D C would be offered as a coupe. Gagnon also said Mitsubishi will add a Honda CR-V size sport-utility vehicle, another Japanese import, to the lineup for the 2003 model year built off the same platform as the Lancer, and an all-new and larger next-generation Montero Sport SUV for 2004, Galant sedan for 2005 and Eclipse coupe and convertible for 2006, all of which will be built at Mitsubishi’s plant in Normal, Ill. Gagnon said a Lancer wagon is also under consideration.
The Lancer ES offers as standard air conditioning; power windows/locks/foldaway mirrors; AM/FM stereo with CD player; height-adjustable steering column; electric rear window defroster; and digital clock. The LS and OZ Rally add cruise control; remote keyless entry; rear center armrest with cupholders; and split, folding rear seatbacks. The OZ Rally also adds a deck lid spoiler.
Price range: $14,000 for the ES to $18,000 for the LS with the Rally in the middle at about $16,000. 2001 Pontiac Aztek AWD
If only Pontiac had brought out the all-wheel-drive version of its sport-utility vehicle first rather than simply a front-wheel-drive model, especially because those in the Snow Belt were buried in the stuff this year and an AWD was a more popular pick than a FWD model.
Aztek still would have had an ugly rear end, but fewer people would have paid attention to it with a couple feet of snow covering it, don’t you think?
Now, as Ron Zarrella, head of General Motors’ North American Operations, told us, GM is considering whether to take the stylish rear end from the Buick Rendezvous, which is built off the Aztek platform, and attach it to the Pontiac to ease complaints. Stay tuned.
But let’s focus on the AWD Aztek.
The conclusion? Can’t fault the ride or handling of this machine, which boasts a more forgiving suspension than the Ford Escape. And can’t fault the performance of the 3.4-liter V-6 or gripe at the 18 m.p.g. city/25 m.p.g. highway rating in a vehicle larger than a Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V sport-ute. That’s better mileage than the smaller Chevrolet Tracker at 18/20.
But, besides the ugly and bulbous butt, you can gripe over the $26,915 base price and $2,265 tithe for the option package that brings you AM/FM stereo with CD and cassette, power driver’s seat, head-up display, sliding rear cargo tray, security alarm, OnStar emergency communications system and leather seats, which, along with the $550 freight charge, put a $29,730 sticker on the test vehicle.
GM’s premise is that Aztek is a vehicle for youth. But GM has to get Aztek into youths’ hands sooner than five years down the road as a used vehicle when they can afford one. While designers remake the rear end, bean counters need do a little magic on the window sticker to make it more attractive as well.