Japan and Korea aren’t likely to go down to the pub for a few beers together any time soon. Despite the geographic proximity, these two countries have a history of conflict that strains relations to this day. Thankfully the arguments now only manifest themselves in economics; and the occasional dispute over small islands.
However it is the automotive arena that is the new battleground and cars like the Lancer better watch out because the Koreans are coming.
The Mitsubishi Lancer VR is a good car. Much as it pains me to say it, so is the Hyundai Sonata. This comparison wouldn’t have been a viable one a couple of years ago but times have changed and the fact that Mitsubishi has a Korean priced car is both a positive and a negative.
The positive is that you can now have the Lancer for the price of a ‘lesser quality’ Korean car. The negatives are two-fold however as cars like the Sonata and i30 are not the dodgy messes of cheap plastic they used to be and despite sporting new clothes and good driving dynamics, the Lancer’s interior is barely level with the quality of the Sonata’s.
So what does the Lancer have over the competent kimchi-consuming competition? Firstly the interior and boot space is almost unbeatable at this price point as the new Lancer is quite large inside and is pretty much perfect for the family with 2.2 children.
An interesting feature is the CVT automatic transmission which seamlessly offers forward motion in what is essentially one gear. Planting your foot from standstill is an interesting experience as the engine revs to around 5500rpm and stays there to 100km/h providing peak power all the way. While a novel feature there is a ‘tiptronic’ style self-shifting option for those who can get confused by such transmission trickery.
The exhaust note is not as sporty as you’d expect from a cousin to the all-conquering Evolution Lancer range, with an anodyne note that sounds like a petulant teenager whinging about having to do the washing up tonight. Despite the noise the engine itself is sprightly enough and really does like to rev given the chance. Put your foot down and the Lancer hauls with real gusto in an accelerative way that you can feel, which is quite something given that the highest priority manufacturers seem to give their designs these days is to insulate the driver from the driving experience. This is a feature I really liked about the Lancer. It’s an honest car that gives up ‘refinement’ levels for intimacy on the road. Sure it’s got more road noise than other cars in its segment, but the trade off for that is a lower weight and a better feeling of connection between you and the road, unlike the ‘steering through cotton-wool’ experience cars like the Camry/Sonata deliver.
This is a car that wants a driver, not someone only interested in a vehicle as a household appliance.
The styling of the Lancer is a solid ‘wedgy’ (not the bad kind) look that is quite handsome and which Honda used to great effect on the Accord Euro. As well as hints of the Accord there are glimpses of Alfa Romeo in the profile. While not a triumph of automotive styling, the high rear end is distinctive, featuring angular lights and a cool rear spoiler that unfortunately hinders rear vision. The gold colour of our test car didn’t really do any favours to the nice lines of the Lancer, but even in this hue it still managed to attract a few stares from those in the Car and SUV offices as well as those on the street.
Road manners are decent in the Lancer and it makes a good cruiser across town or out on the open road. The seating position is low and the steering wheel complete with audio and cruise controls is decent to hold despite looking like it came from a mid-90s Mitsubishi FTO. The rest of the interior is happily of this century and looks quite good with the dash featuring smooth styling and soft touch plastics.
The keyless entry system is a great feature to use for getting into the car but not as user-friendly when starting it. Instead of a start button there is a plastic switch connected into a conventional ignition barrel which you twist (like a key) to start the engine. A strange system, but Mitsubishi probably has a few ignition barrels lying round that need to be used up.
The Lancer better watch out as the Hyundai Sonata is a similarly priced competitor that has become a decent enough ride to compete with and possibly beat the Mitsubishi.
The Lancer is a good car but the interior quality needs to come up half a notch to be able to compete with its Korean rivals before focusing on home town opposition like the Mazda 6 and sublime Honda Accord.
If the slightly dated interior doesn’t faze you then the combination of quality engineering, good looks and low sticker price could make the Lancer a real bargain.
Click through to the next page for full specs on the Mitsubishi Lancer VR
Price: from $28,990. As tested $32,490.
What we like
Smooth CVT transmission
Dated steering wheel
Interior and boot space
What we don’t like
Keyless starting ‘key’
Spoiler obscuring rear vision
Whinging exhaust note
Dated (but functional) interior
Engine Displacement (cc) 1,998
Max power (DIN) kW @ rpm 115 @ 6,000
Max torque (DIN) Nm @ rpm 201 @ 4,250
Bore and stroke (mm) 86.0 x 86.0
Compression ratio 10.0:1
Fuel consumption – l/100km 8.2
CO2 g/km (LB model) 191
Fuel tank capacity (litres) 59
Dimensions / Weights
Overall length (mm) 4,570
Overall width (mm) 1,760
Overall height (mm) 1,490
Wheelbase (mm) 2,635
Track front (mm) 1,530
Track rear (mm) 1,530
Turning circle (m) 10.0
Kerb weight (kg) 1,350
GVW (kg) 1,850
Head room – front (mm) 950
Head room – rear (mm) 895
Trunk volume by VDA (litres) 400
Towing capacity with brakes (kg) 1,000
Towing capacity without brakes (kg) 550
Words Ben Dillon, photos Darren Cottingham