EXPERT REVIEW

AZCentral.com's view

The look is intense: bright yellow with a towering spoiler, “ground effects” lower-body trim and alloy racing wheels.

It’s the kind of look favored by a new generation of hot rodders, the import tuners who create aggressively styled sports coupes and sedans mainly from compact Japanese cars. It’s a look inspired by international racing and promoted by the recent Hollywood movie The Fast and the Furious.

Mitsubishi Lancer O-Z Rally is a special edition of the Japanese automaker’s compact sedan, new for 2002 to eventually replace the forgettable Mirage. O-Z Rally, named for the maker of its alloy wheels, is designed to celebrate Mitsubishi’s success in world rally racing in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia, all places where Lancer has been a familiar name for 30 years.

Unfortunately, Lancer O-Z epitomizes that old hot-rodding slam: all show and no go. Underneath the flash and dash is a pretty ordinary little car. Though competent and well made, O-Z is neither fast nor furious.

I was disappointed. Not only did I have to endure the stares from people wondering why this dad was driving such an adolescent automobile, but also I had to pilot a boy racer that didn’t perform anywhere near as sharp as it looked.

I’m sure most of the young drivers for whom this car is designed to attract would be likewise disappointed. Though the price is right for the youth market, about $16,000 with all the trimmings, it’s bound to get a reputation as a trendy imposter.

The only available engine for Lancer is a 120-horsepower four-banger, certainly adequate for regular sedan duties, but paltry for this application. Like most Mitsubishi engines, this one is smooth and tractable, and a five-speed stickshift helped to wring some strength out of it. But powering a street machine? Forget it.

Nor is the suspension anything special. There may be antiroll bars front and rear instead of just in the front, for the standard-issue ES or LS models, and the wide, low 15-inch tires surely grip better than the regular 14-inch highway rubber. But ride height is normal, and body sway is not well controlled.

Handling and cornering are run of the mill, with none of the tight, edgy feel of a performance setup. The power rack-and-pinion steering is fairly responsive, but again, nothing special. Drum brakes are used in the rear instead of the preferred four-wheel discs, which seems to reiterate the no-go equation.

There are also some pieces missing: antilock braking is not available on the O-Z. Nor are side-impact airbags, as they are on most of Lancer’s competitors.

There is one area where Lancer shines, and that’s the interior, which is roomy and accommodating. Seats and surface materials look and feel richer than expected from a low-priced car, and the backseat has enough headroom and legroom to justify its role as a family sedan.

In the O-Z, the dashboard takes on a high-tech look in black and faux aluminum with w hite-faced gauges. The floor mats are decorated with the O-Z Racing logo.

The O-Z comes well equipped at its base price with all power features, a decent stereo with CD, cruise control, and all those appearance upgrades. The only extra on the test Lancer was the rear spoiler, priced at $360. The base-model Lancer ES comes nicely equipped starting at $14,400.

Another Mitsubishi that I drove recently puts the O-Z into perspective. It was an Eclipse coupe with its suspension tuned by an import magazine. The Eclipse was also decked out with racy add-ons that attracted plenty of attention, but it was able to back up its boasts with V-6 performance and really hot cornering capabilities.

The Lancer O-Z Rally, despite its appearance, is just a basic transportation kind of car that looks like something it’s not.

As a compact sedan, Lancer is a nice car and a good value. As an O-Z Rally, Lancer falls flat.

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