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Review: Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Range

Don’t call it a hatchback, Mitsubishi’s five-door Lancer is the Sportback. Steve Walker reports

Good looks, low prices and lots of equipment will get the Mitsubishi Lancer so far and in Sportback form it offers useful extra practicality as well.

It’s not a class leader amongst the mainstream family hatchbacks it’s targeting but purely on a value for money basis, the Mitsubishi puts up a good fight.

Mitsubishi’s Lancer had always been a saloon and that was fine. We British, and our Northern European neighbours for that matter, don’t warm to booted cars in the same way as we do their hatchbacked equivalents but we’ll certainly take one if it’s packing something north of 300bhp and a rally-bred all-wheel-drive chassis - as Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution models invariably were. The market for road burning Lancer Evos was always going to be limited to the lunatic fringe, however, and so Mitsubishi has attempted to broaden the latest Lancer’s appeal. That, for the UK market at least, meant a five-door Sportback model.

The Sportback’s mission is to increase sales of the non-Evo Mitsubishi Lancers. It goes head to head with the established players in the family hatchback market like Ford’s Focus and Vauxhall’s Astra so it will need to be good. In the past the ordinary Lancer saloons that came to the UK market couldn’t really have been further removed from their fiery Evo cousins but the Sportback sets out to forge a stronger connection to the legendary performance car in the hope of benefiting from some trickle down kudos.

The ‘junior Evo’ angle will no doubt be fully explored by Mitsubishi in their attempts to raise the profile of the Lancer Sportback with customers who’d really like a supercar-slaying Evo X but whose financial situation says no. The engines aren’t quite in Evo territory but with a 107 and 141bhp 1.5 and 1.8-litre petrols plus a 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel, the range is a good fit for the upper end of the family hatch market. The petrol 1.8-litre model accelerates from 0 to 60mph in 10.4 seconds while the diesel can manage the same in 9.6s. The Sportback features the advanced suspension system that’s shared across the Lancer range with MacPherson struts at the front and an independent multi-link set-up at the rear. Buyers can also opt for a sports tuned chassis that includes thicker anti-roll bars, firmer springs and more heft for the hydraulic power steering.

"If the Lancer is going to break out of its niche and up its sales performance in the UK, the 5-door Sportback model will be essential"

Those wanting something with a little more firepower can step up to the Lancer Sportback Ralliart which looks and feels far more Evo-esque. Here there’s a 237bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine and performance that will give the usual hot hatchback suspects something to worry about. Crucially, it also features a version of the all-wheel-drive system from the Evo X which provides a serious edge over the front-wheel-drive alternatives. The standard Lancers do drive very adeptly, albeit with nothing like the lightening responses of an Evo. Poor road surfaces are soaked-up very effectively and there’s a lovely punchy feel to the manual gearbox.

Until the current generation came along, the man or woman in the street would have been hard pushed to spot any visual connection between the stock Lancer saloon and its Lancer Evolution relative. The two cars were chalk and some mad from of ultra-powerful high-performance cheese - with spoilers. Today, the link between Lancer and Evo is obvious and even the Sportback has a touch of aggression bubbling under the surface. At the front, Mitsubishi’s ‘Jet Fighter’ grille takes pride of place, as on all Lancer models, but the rear has been tweaked to accommodate the tailgate. The light clusters are longer and wrap around the bumpers while the roof line is toped of with a subtle body-coloured spoiler.

A big draw on the latest Lancer is the improved interior quality. The plastics and design are still probably a notch below the best in this price bracket, but they’re no longer leagues off the pace as they were in the old model. The cowled instruments are a particularly nice touch. Space inside is better than in the previous generation car thanks to the wheelbase and track increases but this Sportback version is no cavernous load lugger, the steeply raked rear end impinging on carrying capacity. Score one to the stylists. What you do get is an adjustable height cargo floor and auto-folding rear seats which help owners make better use of the space available. The load space can be configured to offer anything from 288-litres to an impressive 1,394 litres.

Equipment levels for the Sportback are very strong - as they are with all Lancers. Standard kit includes air conditioning, twin front, side and knee airbags, a trip computer, electric windows all round, a rear spoiler and a CD stereo with MP3 capability. On the Sportback GS3 model, you get 18-inch rims, front fog lights, cruise control, climate controlled air con, and stability and traction control. At the top of the range, there’s GS4 trim which includes Pan-European HDD satellite navigation with colour touch screen, a 30GB music server, heated leather seats, iPod input, a personalisation set up and an advanced vehicle data system. That’s an unbeatable kit list at the prices Mitsubishi is asking.

Fuel economy is competitive right across the board. The 1.8-litre petrol returns 36.7mpg and the 2.0-litre DI-D diesel gets a healthy 44.8mpg. Emissions are also tightly held in check, the two engines emitting 188 and 165g/km respectively. Choose an automatic gearbox and both the fuel economy and emissions take a significant turn for the worse. Insurance ratings are similarly reasonable with groupings ranging between 5 and 9. It’s worth bearing in mind that you’ll probably need to add £350 to the list prices of the Lancer models unless you love Frost White as the other five colours available are all optional metallic and pearlescent finishes. With a stronger image will come beefier residual values, propped up by Mitsubishi’s excellent reliability record.

Mainstream hatchbacks might not be the cars we readily associate with Mitsubishi’s Lancer dynasty but if the Lancer is going to break out of its niche and up its sales performance in the UK, the 5-door Sportback model will be essential. With a bulging equipment list and attractive prices, the established Lancer formula is very much intact but the Sportback plays far more heavily on its links to the barnstorming Evo models than its predecessors and that should be enough to get it noticed, if nothing else.

Mitsubishi has made a good attempt at increasing the practicality of the Sportback Lancer over its saloon counterpart. The car’s load capacity is hindered by the steeply raked rear window but a height adjustable load floor and automatically folding rear seats help to redress the balance.

Belfast Telegraph


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