- The Washington Times - Friday, November 30, 2001

Mitsubishi just keeps plugging away. Promoting a credible product line more often than not overlooked in the crush of more highly recognized competitors, Mitsubishi keeps tweaking and improving its lineup.

With the exception of the sporty Eclipse, none of Mitsubishi's vehicles have captured the imagination of consumers, despite earning generally good marks among owners and the automotive media. So, it should come as no surprise that the new compact sedan Lancer landed on the scene almost unnoticed this year.

Too bad. Like many of the Mitsubishi vehicles it joins, the Lancer is a better than average sedan in search of an owner body more concerned with value than status.

Lancer is the replacement for the Mirage sedan. The Mirage nameplate will continue to appear on the coupe. Three well-contented trim levels make up the Lancer family: ES, LS and the O-Z Rally edition. My test Lancer was an LS.

A quick look at the numbers reveals there is more going on here than simply a name change. Much larger than the Mirage it replaces, Lancer rides on a 102.4-inch wheelbase.

Exterior styling has evolved as well. The Lancer is a more sophisticated-looking sedan. Sleeker and more aggressive than the Mirage, Lancer has a good deal more curb appeal. Wrap-around headlamps, a larger grille and wrap-around taillamps all add to the Lancer's refined image. The changes aren't just skin-deep. Overall, Lancer is a more stable package, boasting roughly a 50 percent increase in both torsional and bending rigidity.

No matter which trim level is chosen, Lancer comes equipped with the same 120-horsepower, 2-liter, four-cylinder engine. Either a five-speed manual or the optional four-speed automatic can transfer engine output to the front wheels. If there is a shortcoming in this sedan, it's the lack of a larger, more powerful engine option.

Although much of this four-banger's 130 pounds-feet of peak torque seem to come rather early in the rpm range, it's still only 130 foot-pounds. It isn't a slug, but with a full compliment of five occupants, the going is less than spirited. The automatic transmission in my test Lancer shifted smoothly and was quick to downshift when a bit more oomph was required for merging in to expressway traffic and the like. Fuel economy numbers are promising with an Environmental Protection Agency mpg rating of 24 in the city and 30 on the highway.

Steering response was excellent and the handling satisfyingly crisp. The ride was a bit stiff for a family sedan, but much improved over the Mirage. Lancer also seemed quieter than the sedan it replaces.

The extra inches outside translate nicely into more room inside. Particularly noticeable is the increase in rear legroom. The seats are firm, but comfortable. Both the steering wheel and driver's seat are height-adjustable, nearly guaranteeing an ideal driving position. The same stylistic enthusiasm exhibited in the exterior is evident inside as well.

Clean and modern, the lines of the dashboard are futuristic, but not gimmicky. Everything is easy to find and see. Controls for the six-speaker audio system are located above the three large round knobs controlling the ventilation system. A bit of fake woodgrain helps give the interior a more expensive feel. The trunk has a decent amount of cargo space.

Base price of the Lancer LS is $15,897. Standard features not yet mentioned include dual front air bags, air conditioning, AM/FM stereo/CD player, power windows/door locks, dual remote power outboard mirrors, cruise control and remote keyless entry system.

My test Lancer also had an $800 option package with anti-lock brakes and dual front side-impact air bags. Adding the $545 delivery charge brought the price as tested to $17,242.

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