SEE ALSO: Mitsubushi Buyer's Guide
Mitsubishi's impact on the compact sedan segment in the U.S has been pretty small, but the company would like to change that. Its Mirage has been known as the Lancer in most of the rest of the world, and, with the U.S. introduction of the latest generation is now Lancer here as well, at least in sedan form. (The Mirage Coupe continues mostly unchanged for 2002.) The Lancer is noticeably very different than the old Mirage in styling, closer to Mitsubishi's other sedans, the Galant and Diamante. It is significantly larger than the Mirage, without being too large for convenience and economy.
The U.S.-spec Lancer shares its basic chassis structure with its World Rally Championship competitor cousin, the Lancer Evolution. But the Lancer Evo's high-output turbocharged engine doesn't exactly make the Federal emissions-control people smile with joy, so we get a 2.0-liter, 120-horsepower engine. That does keep the price very reasonable, and it's still enough for the spirited performance demanded by budget-minded WRC fans, while providing the good fuel economy demanded by most other small sedan buyers.
And that may be the Lancer's best trait - something for everyone. There are three models, and even the basic ES is very well-equipped for its class with standard air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD sound system, power windows, mirrors, and doorlocks, an eight-way adjustable driver's seat and more "big car" features included in the base price. The LS adds a few more comfort and convenience features, and the O.Z Rally Edition has some of the look of the Evolution, including real alloy wheels made by racing supplier O.Z, for a fraction of what Mitsubishi would have to sell a real Evo for.
I've just finished a week with a Lancer O.Z Rally Edition. While definitely not a real rally car, it is not just basic transportation, either. It's a friendly, roomy, and very comfortable small sedan that got plenty of admiring looks and had a winning fun-to-drive factor.
APPEARANCE: Interestingly, the Lancer O.Z not only got admiring looks from young enthusiasts (indicating that Mitsubishi is right on target with its styling) but from my 90-year old neighbor as well. "What is that cute little car? I like it," she said. The Lancer has a well-proportioned shape that can please those looking for performance or practicality. The trapezoidal grille, with matte-black horizontal slats and chromed trim, establishes an affinity with the Galant and Diamante, while the large, angular headlights give it a contemporary look. The O.Z version sports namesake O.Z alloy wheels, an air dam-look lower front fascia, lower side sills, and a rear bumper extension. A moderately-large rear wing is optional.
COMFORT: The Lancer's increased size is most apparent and welcome inside. Even in the O.Z edition it's not fancy, but it is comfortable. The textured-cloth upholstered front buckets are very good for its class, and interesting use of various textured and finished materials makes the Lancer's interior look more upscale. Front occupants have good room and storage. The rear seat is much larger than was found in the Mirage sedan, and will hold two adults in reasonable comfort. It's split 60/40 in the LS and O.Z models. The O.Z version gets race-look black-on-white instruments and special commemorative floor mats.
SAFETY: The Mitsubishi Lancer utilizes Mitsubishi's Refined Impact Safety Evolution (RISE) technology, with chassis components designed for controlled deformation in the event of a crash. It incorporates safety cage construction and front and rear crumple zones.
ROADABILITY: OK, in its present U.S. form the Lancer isn't going to win the World Rally Championship. It is, however, a winner in the fun-to-drive championship, providing plenty of smiles per gallon. Like many much more expensive European sedans, the Lancer's fully-independent strut front, multilink rear suspension is tuned softly for comfort, relying on the chassis structure's rigidity -- 50 percent greater than the Mirage -- for precise handling. The combination works well. The Lancer is supple enough for comfort, but still provides plenty of pleasure in enthusiastic driving.
PERFORMANCE: If you're expecting 275-horsepower Lancer Evo performance from the O.Z Rally edition, you will be disappointed. Maybe in the future.... Right now the Lancer does have one of the largest engines in its class, a 2.0-liter 16-valve four-cylinder engine that puts out 120 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 130 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm. It has the low-rpm and midrange power that makes it useful and pleasant in everyday driving, and comes standard with a smooth-shifting five-speed manual gearbox that enhances the car's sporty feel. The engine's torque characteristics should also make the optional four-speed automatic a great choice, especially as it uses the same sort of adaptive shift logic as the automatic transmissions of Mitsubishi's more expensive cars.
CONCLUSIONS: The Mitsubishi Lancer is a stylish, energetic, and comfortable car.
SPECIFICATIONS 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer O.Z Rally Edition Base Price $ 15,487 Price As Tested $ 16,392 Engine Type single overhead cam 16-valve inline four-cylinder Engine Size 2.0 liters / 120 cu. in. Horsepower 120 @ 5500 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 130 @ 4250 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 102.4 in. / 177.6 in. Curb Weight 2701 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 22.5 Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular, 87 octane Tires P 195/60 TR15 Goodyear Eagle LS Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 26 / 33 / 27 0 to 60 mph est. 9.0 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Rear spoiler $ 360 Destination and delivery $ 545