Fads of celebrity culture are a strange thing. In the nineties Pamela Anderson reached the height of her fame and it felt like breasts had been reinvented. Around the millennium, Jennifer Lopez took up the mantle and suddenly it was bums that took centre-stage. Despite every person on this earth owning one, rear-ends reached a new level of popularity, and suddenly it was ok to have a big one, so long as it was well rounded. Fast-forward to 2009 and J-Lo’s famous derriÃ¨re is seldom seen on the big-screen, but the concept of the butt as a feature, a source of attraction, remains. Just ask Mitsubishi.
For the eight generation Lancer, Mitsubishi decided some cosmetic surgery was required on the back-end to spice things up. The Lancer sedan survived unscathed with the new enhanced rear only attached to the Lancer Sportback. The Sportback is exactly the type of styling that polarises opinion. Myself, I like the generous curves on the Sportback, but I’m that type of guy. Also, the Lancer Sedan is nose-heavy in its styling, the Sportback negates this and like a beer-gut on a darts player, the hatch brings a useful balance. It seems rude to stare too long at the Sportback’s rear end when the vehicle is flush with other admirable characteristics.
Everything from the back doors forward is identical on the Lancer Sportback as it is the sedan. Pushing forward from the rear the Lancer has a strong clean-cut look; a raked-back windscreen descends onto a subtle character-lined bonnet finishing out front with a large grimaced grille. On the VRX 18-inch rims come as standard and a chrome-tipped exhaust mean the Lancer is always dressed for the red carpet.
What’s the gossip on the interior? Well, the story starts with the smart key system, which enables the driver to keep the key in their pocket or handbag for the entire journey. Sit down and the cosseting front-seats support well, but possibly too firm for some tastes. The dashboard is the stage for hard black and silver plastics to mingle together, resulting in a dark understated atmosphere. Driving position and visibility is great while looking frontward but the thick C-pillar and high back compromise rear visibility severely and highlight the absence of rear parking sensors. The tubed instruments sit around a useful LCD screen that displays driver information. Well-located control buttons sit on both sides of the steering wheel. Interior space is good for driver and passenger, however, the rear door opening is narrow. Once seated in the back, legroom is good but headspace is limited for taller passengers. Putting ‘junk in the trunk’ is easy with the Sportback hatch opening wide and providing a 344-litre capacity, which is better than the Toyota Corolla and Mazda 3.
The most impressive element of the VRX’s interior is the equipment list. MP3 compatible six-CD tuner with iPod connectivity and optional subwoofer, paddle-shift CVT gearbox, climate control air-conditioning, sports seats, multi-function trip computer, power windows and mirrors, dusk sensing halogen headlamps, alloy pedals, Bluetooth connectivity, auto wipers and keyless remote central locking. A real A-list of kit but is it all for show or is there some menace under the bonnet?
Being gifted an engine upgrade for the 2009 model year the VRX now makes a true performance impression. With a 2.4-litre, four cylinder firing up front the VRX produces 125kW of power and a solid 226Nm of torque. It moves very well and although guilty of being sluggish of the line, once up to pace the VRX is a free-revving spirited drive. It’s a good performer at cruising speed and suffers no stage fright during open road passing.
The CVT automatic transmission is competent at delivering the power to the front wheels and is silky smooth at low speeds or in traffic, but has a tendency to surge at high revs. While the transmission is neither too erratic nor meek, the VRX’s steering wheel paddles offer a more direct connection between car and driver.
The handling is a pleasure with a strut front, multi-link rear that is set up very well meaning the VRX can be pushed on twisty roads or for evading moped-riding paparazzi. Body roll is minimal and the car tracks well around tight bends. Understeer, the enemy of most front-wheel drive cars, will catch out those going too hard. However, the ESP makes short work of minor errors and strong brakes offer comforting stopping power. Steering is reasonable, giving out ample feedback to keep the driver informed and lightening up well for easy manoeuvring at car park speeds.
The only thing keeping the VRX off this year’s Oscars list is its ride quality. Riding on 18-inch rubber, many bumps and dips in the road are passed on to the driver. Worse still is the road noise which is unacceptable and combined with some wind noise negatively affects the overall driving experience. I don’t mind the bumps and noise in a lightweight performance car, but at 1435kg the VRX isn’t that light and isn’t that much of a performer for it to be forgivable.
All safety boxes are checked with ABS, electronic brake force distribution, traction control and a total of seven airbags cover front and rear passengers.
The Sportback is more than just a counter-punch to the styling of the Subaru Impreza, it gives potential buyers another option. Most buyers will be front-focused Pamela Anderson fans and buy the Lancer sedan, but there will be a few that think different and prefer generous J-Lo curves at the rear. Overall the VRX is a well priced, strong performing and very well equipped vehicle. It is let down in terms of ride-quality and refinement but redeems itself with useful pace and predictable sporty handling. Mitsubishi has created a sophisticated modern hot hatch that is a top act and a competitive choice in its class.
Click through to the next page for a list of specifications
What we like:
- Well-equipped interior
- Good handling
- Responsive engine
- Smooth CVT transmission
What we don’t like:
- Reward vision
- Ride quality
- Back seat headroom
Words and photos: Adam Mamo
Mitsubishi Lancer VRX (2009) – Specifications
Displacement (cc): 2,360
Max power (DIN) kW @ rpm: 127 @ 6,000
Max torque (DIN) Nm @ rpm: 230 @ 4,100
Bore and stroke (mm): 88.0 x 97.0
Compression ratio: 10.5:1
Fuel consumption – l/100km: 8.9
CO2 g/km: 207
Fuel tank capacity (litres): 59
Fuel type: regular unleaded 91
Dimensions / Weights
Overall length (mm): 4,585
Overall width (mm): 1,760
Overall height (mm): 1,515
Wheelbase (mm): 2,635
Track front (mm): 1,530
Track rear (mm): 1,530
Turning circle (m): 10.0
Kerb weight (kg): 1,445
GVW (kg): 1,900
Head room – front (mm): 920
Head room – rear (mm): 833
Trunk volume – litres (VDA): 288
Trunk volume with floor lowered – litres (VDA): 344
Cargo capacity with rear seat folded – litres (VDA): 575
Cargo capacity with rear seat folded & floor lowered – litres (VDA): 635
Towing capacity with brakes (kg): 1,000
Towing capacity without brakes (kg): 550