The Mitsubishi Lancer has a well known and respected history of competing in the World Rally Championship and the Dakar Rally. These are arguably the two toughest races on the planet, yet Mitsubishi has always managed to stay in the upper echelons of the competitors. One of the primary benefits of being involved in competitive motorsport is that the use of cutting edge technology to keep you ahead of the pack on the race track will slowly migrate south into the road cars, benefiting the consumers.
One such beneficiary is the Mitsubishi Lancer. The Lancer Evolution (Evo) has always been fortunate enough to get the extra attention and latest gadgetry handed down from the motorsport arena. And when a new Lancer is announced we all scramble through the brochure to see what new-fangled top-secret rally tech has snuck in under the radar. As usual, Mitsubishi doesn't disappoint. The new Lancer Evo is blessed with all sorts of computerised handling equipment and the engine out of a Saturn 5 Rocket. As a whole it is one of the best cars Mitsubishi has ever made. Unfortunately, this review is not about the Lancer Evo. This review is about the Mitsubishi Lancer ES.
At first all seems well. The new styling is aggressive, without looking tacky. Mitsubishi has managed to find a common ground that is very difficult to achieve. The styling is reserved enough to appeal to more mature consumers, yet athletic enough to appeal to the younger generation too. The interior has an almost Zen-like neatness to it. The buttons sit flush with the dashboard and the position of all the peripherals are well laid out and easy to reach. There is a large on-board computer screen flanked by two portal-like gauges. Even the door panels are free from clutter and possess a quality feel. Mitsubishi really have gone for a 'less is more' approach to the Lancer and it has worked a treat. The Mitsubishi Lancer is a fantastic looking car, both inside and out.
And there are no shortages of extras. It has all the standard creature comforts including all-round electric windows, air-conditioning, cruise control and a four-speaker sound system that plays MP3 discs as well. Safety features include front, side and knee airbags, ABS, automatic stability control and automatic traction control. All this in a good looking sedan, with a big boot, lots of head-room, that costs less than $24 000 drive-away. I even managed to find some deals for a couple-grand less. Brilliant.
All that dissolved into disappointment though when I started to drive the Lancer. According to Mitsubishi, it has a 2-litre 4-cylinder engine that delivers 113kW at 6000rpm, and it will dispatch the 100km/h sprint in under nine seconds. This all seems strange though when I could barely dispatch 100km/h over a weekend.
Then there is the gearbox, well, you can't really call it that, as it has no gears. You see, Mitsubishi have bought a CVT transmission from Jatco, a company that ironically supplies their CVT transmissions to Nissan. Without getting too technical, the CVT transmission is made up of two cones facing in opposite directions and they move toward or away from each other to vary the drive ratio. It works almost the same as your average 21-speed bicycle. The biggest problem with CVT transmissions is that they don't work with petrol engines. When you pull off from a traffic light, the engine will sit at a constant 3000rpm while the car somehow accelerates. Whether you are going 30km/h or 90km/h, the engine will drum out the same, deafening noise through the paper-thin firewall at 3000rpm.
On the open road, radio blaring at full volume to distract me from the horrible noise, I found the ride firm yet comfortable. And on twisty mountain passes, it sticks like glue to the road. Although I wish they could have got the seats from the Evo or the VRX model too because when you corner sharply you end up slipping out of your seat and straddling the centre console. What's the point of giving a car great handling and then not permitting the driver or passengers to stay in the seat anyway?
This car has a lot of potential. By paying more attention to little things like the sound-proofing, seats and steering column, Mitsubishi could have made their entry-level car great. But it feels as if they came up with the brilliant design, got the handling perfect and then asked the accountants to finish it off.
To sum up, the Mitsubishi Lancer ES is a very stylish sedan, with a big boot and lots of safety equipment, but with a hopeless engine and atrocious transmission that holds onto the road in corners, but not the passengers. If you are going to get one, go for the manual and the Rockford-Fosgate Nightclub stereo system... or save up a bit more and get the VRX.
Ryan Broadfoot has been interested in cars from the age of four and spends most of his free time affiliated to all things motoring.