Significance is in the Details
When thinking of the Mitsubishi Lancer, most car enthusiasts envision a muscular Evolution X charging through a remote mountain pass. While the Evo hogs the spotlight–and the imaginations of car nuts — it is the humble, less aggressive Lancer that serves as the halo car’s foundation and rules the three-diamond’s annual sales sheets. In 2010, the base Lancer accounted for 46% of Mitsubishi‘s total U.S. sales; the Evo only 6%.
For all of its sales significance, the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer ES we recently took for a spin doesn’t feel like an automaker’s pride, joy, or breadwinner for a number of reasons, particularly in the ES trim. True, the edgy shark-face mug has gained a lot of good and bad criticism since its 2007 Tokyo Motor Show debut, but it hasn’t gone under the knife since. (C-segment competitors named Civic, Corolla, and Mazda3 have all been face-lifted in some capacity since then.) Bits like its four plastic-covered 16-inch steel wheels wrapped in 205/60-16 Dunlop all-season rubber don’t help the exterior’s cause much and look terribly small underneath the low-slung body pieces. The look is akin to a weightlifter sporting Hugo Boss dress shoes; the footwear just doesn’t match.
For all of its unadorned nature, however, the Lancer ES has some notable external attributes. The aforementioned nose, with its color-matched inserts and chrome grille surround, isn’t as “loud” as the Evo’s louvered example. Plus, the lack of a Gulfstream G6 rear wing makes the ES inconspicuous to law enforcement. Painted door handles and side mirrors differentiate the ES from the lower DE and are an improvement over standard black pieces.
As the second of four trims, the ES arrives with standard essentials like manual air conditioning, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, CD/MP3 four-speaker stereo, 60/40 split folding rear seat, keyless entry and power locks/windows, auto on/off headlights, and front/side/knee airbags. Strap into one of the cushy front seats and you’ll notice a plain black cabin replete with cheap-looking hard plastics and bright silver trim pieces.
The roomy front passenger space is very convenient, with multiple cup holders and a large central storage bin. A three-spoke sport steering wheel has buttons to control the stereo and cruise control settings, although you’ll have to buy optional equipment to get the pre-wired Bluetooth working. My two backseat riders praised the Lancer’s 36.1-inches of legroom and its 12.3 cu-ft trunk space, which easily gobbled up luggage.
One major interior gripe dealt with Mitsubishi’s radar red radio and car data displays. Like GM’s famous green digitized user interfaces, they look as if they were taken from an Atari 2600 video game. Another quibble had to do with the five-speed manual’s feel. One staffer mentioned the gearbox was probably “better suited for a Fuso box truck,” while others praised it for an easy throw that will likely bode well for novice drivers.
Under the hood lives a 148-horsepower, 142 pound-feet of torque 2.0-liter four-cylinder MIVEC heart that is expectedly pokey on the lower end of the rev spectrum, yet lively when wrung out to its 6500 rpm limit. Play fuel miser for a bit and the respectable 24 mpg city, 33 mpg highway fuel economy claims can be easily achieved.
Get on the slim pedal and you’ll be waiting somewhere around 8 seconds for 60 mph to show up. Head into a corner with some gusto and you’ll think the body was innately magnetized to every corner’s outermost edge. While the roll may be copious, the ride is comfortable and relatively quiet for a car of this class, thanks in part to the thick 60-series rubber shoes and extremely loose suspension setup.
In a fiercely competitive C-segment filled with notable contenders, the minute differences, be they positive or negative, count for a lot. Four years ago, the Lancer established itself as a mid-pack player with value and aggressive styling on its side. But over the years, those attributes have waned and the Lancer is slowly sliding further behind its ever-evolving, better-quality peers. It may possess a sound platform with all the standard features and mpgs an entry-level buyer would want, but nowadays, that isn’t enough. When the new model debuts in a few years’ time, Mitsubishi will need to address the little things to make this Lancer significant again.
|2011 Mitsubishi Lancer ES|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door, sedan|
|Engine Engines||2.0L/148-hp/142-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|Curb weight||2900 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||180.0 x 69.4 x 58.3 in|
|0-60 mph||8.0 sec (MT est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||24 / 33 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||0.71 lb/mile (est)|
|On sale in U.S.||Currently|