BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Some car manufacturers have five year plans so rigid that Stalin would have given them the seal of approval. Every model is succession planned, facelifts are scheduled well in advance and every national importer has to rely on a fixed schedule. Then there's Mitsubishi. In this country, the importers take what they can get and if it sells, all the better. Every now and then they'll bring in an end of line special that's offered at almost ridiculously cheap prices. Such a car is the non-Evo version of the Mitsubishi Lancer that sold here between 2005 and 2007. As a used buy, it's not bad because the cars were so inexpensive from new that used examples go for peanuts.
Models Covered: (4dr saloon, 5dr estate 1.6, 2.0 petrol [Equippe, Elegance, Sport])
The way things used to work for Mitsubishi was that they offloaded their ageing stock to Proton who re-badged the old Lancers as Personas and Wiras. Come 2005, with Proton now building more modern tackle of their own such as the Savvy and the Gen-2, Mitsubishi found itself with a surplus of right-hand drive Lancers, these the humble non-Evolution models with normally aspirated 1.6 or 2.0-litre petrol engines offering no more than 133bhp. The UK importers had done pretty well in selling non-Evo Lancers before, shifting a respectable number of Lancer Estates between 1999 and 2001. Could it work again? This time, there were saloons as well as station wagons to sell and that choice of engines. However, this time, there was also a great deal more competition from cars like Chevrolet's Lacetti, Kia's Cerato and Hyundai's Elantra. As a result, the Lancer struggled until it was replaced by a new generation model in 2007.
What You Get
The Lancer certainly has keen pricing on its side, if not a wide variety of engine choices. Saloon buyers get a choice of Equippe or Elegance models, both powered by the same 1.6-litre engine. Plus there's a 2.0-litre Sport variant for those seeking a kind of Evo-lite feel. Mitsubishi haven't been shy when it comes to equipping the Lancer and this ninth-generation car features fifteen-inch alloy wheels, metallic paint, air conditioning, a CD player, keyless entry, colour keyed electrically heated and adjustable door mirrors and front fog lights. There's also a height adjustable driver's seat, 60/40 split rear seat and adjustable rear headrests. Both the Lancer estate and saloon models are fitted with a colour keyed rear spoiler. The flagship Lancer Sport models get sixteen-inch alloys, a Momo 3-spoke leather trimmed wheel, sports front seats, a CD auto changer, a sportier grille and lowered suspension. It's a lot of car for the money, especially when you consider the fact that it packs a 133bhp punch. Solely available with a five-speed manual gearbox, the Sport models will get to 60mph in 9.8 seconds and top out at 124mph. If you want to go quicker in a Lancer, the next step is an Evo with all its attendant high-maintenance issues. There's a lot to be said for the Lancer. It'll be brilliantly reliable, is very well screwed together and has been developed to a point whereby nothing about the car is intrinsically annoying or ill designed. The interior is neatly styled although some of the materials aren't anything to write home about.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
This is a bit of a difficult one, as there's not too much to worry about, which is excellent news for you. So, provided you're buying a car with full service history, you shouldn't be in for any nasty shocks but check that the electric windows, locks and door mirrors all work and that the air conditioner produces chilled air - fixing such items can be pricey.
(approx based on a 2006 Lancer Estate) A clutch assembly is around £185 and an exhaust system about £430. Allow £35 or so for front brake pads, whilst an alternator is about £200 and a starter motor around £370. A replacement headlamp is a similarly punitive £350 and a catalytic converter retails at around £300.
On the Road
Somewhat improbably, a sliver of the Evo's driving dynamics leaches down into the Lancer. There's a quick, almost nervy, feel to the steering and the car is happy to change direction very quickly. Drive the Lancer for any length of time and you'll begin to like it. It feels as if you're benefiting from Evo development without paying the bills. It's almost a guilty pleasure. The Macpherson front struts and multi-link rear are standard sports car fare and give the Lancer a firm ride with decent body control. The brakes aren't the crushing weapons Evo drivers are used to but the 15-inch ventilated front discs and 14-inch solid rear rotors nevertheless offer strong retardation albeit without a great deal of pedal feel. Anti lock braking is fitted as standard to all versions and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution backs it up, directing braking power to whichever wheel can best accommodate it. Safety is a key theme of the Lancer range, Mitsubishi recognising that it's a key driver for family car buyers and all models come with not only twin front airbags but also side bags, door impact bars and anti-trapping electric windows at both front and rear. The Lancer has proved its crashworthiness and all round visibility is very good - an often ignored safety function. It's a shame there are no diesel models to choose from as this would widen the appeal considerably and the fact that the very good 1.9-litre Direct Injection Diesel as seen in the Carisma can comfortably slot into the Lancer's engine bay is a missed opportunity. Nevertheless, the two engines served up both have something to be said for them. The 1.6-litre unit will power the manual Lancer saloon to 60mph in 11.6 seconds and on to a creditable top speed of 114mph. A combined fuel economy figure of 41.5mpg is not to be sneezed at either. Opt for the INVECS II automatic transmission and consumption is adversely affected, an automatic Lancer managing only 35.3mpg. The upside is that INVECS II is a very slick automatic gearbox which features software that attempts to learn your driving style, altering gearchange strategies as a result. The Sport model will hit a terminal velocity of 124mph and return 32.5mpg. If you're looking for a small saloon or estate that can serve up a decent supply of jollies, the Lancer Sport seems a surprisingly appealing contender.
As a used purchase the Lancer makes a surprising amount of sense. Yes, it is a long way from the cutting edge in terms of interior design and innovation but it's reliable, it's affordable and it's fun to drive in a way that many more inert feeling modern cars seem to have forgotten. A 2.0-litre Sport Estate is a surprisingly capable piece of kit and can be had with fairly negligible miles on it for the price of a basic new citycar.