- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2001

NEW ORLEANS Fading is the Mirage like a shimmering pool rising off a searing desert floor suddenly gone into the parched recesses of the mind and in its place is a cool oasis, the new Lancer. And the best part, its real.

For more than 30 years, the Lancer has made a name for itself, be it on the streets or dirt tracks of the world, stretching from Japan to Europe and from Africa to the Australian Outback. And with modest fanfare it now comes to America's roads.

To say that Lancer replaces Mirage is a bit unfair. The Mirage sedan was a nice little subcompact that found a limited audience. Its performance, while sprite, had its limitations.

In its stead comes Lancer, a far larger more performance-oriented compact with more panache and tons of potential. If Mirage was everything Mitsubishi chose to ignore, Lancer, while conservative compared to Eclipse and Galant, is everything Mitsubishi chooses to extol in a modern sedan.

Mitsubishi has put a bold, smart face on Lancer that draws one in, and, from the A-pillar forward, the car has a look of sporty luxury. The balance of the car has what Mitsubishi designers call an "international design theme." Sharp edges, some soft curves, large windows, a roof-mounted antenna and fender-mounted turn signals speak to the theme.

Lancer's interior cabin is spacious and comfortable and built for five as long as two out of three in back are slender. The larger Lancer adds more than 3 inches in legroom as compared to the smaller Mirage, adding to the overall well-being of rear-seat inhabitants. Truck space is more than adequate with its more than 11 cubic feet of space.

The joy of Lancer is its overall performance and its ride and handling. With a highly regarded reinforced chassis similar to the one found on Mitsubishi's rally car, the Lancer Evolution, you're guaranteed a firm ride, yet with enough isolation to remain comfortable. Balance and control are functions of wide-track stability and nicely responsive steering with a good center-on feel. Overall, the Lancer sports a beefier four-wheel independent suspension and chassis than one would expect in a car this size or in this price class.

The front-drive Lancer is powered by a refined 2-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder 120-horsepower engine with 130 foot-pounds of torque. Keeping up with advanced technology, the Lancer uses a 32-bit engine controller leaving lots of room for aftermarket tinkering.

The engine can be matched to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic with adaptive shift control. The smooth manual shift is peppier, but the optional automatic will serve most drivers without complaint. Fuel economy with the five-speed is a pretty good 26 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway.

The Lancer comes in three trim levels, unfortunately not one of them is a street version of the high-flying, performance Evolution; although rumor has it that in response to some competitive issues an Evo for the consumer enthusiast is in the works.

Available now is a choice of the entry ES, a modest, performance-looking OZ and the top-of-the-line LS. The ES may be the entry level, but it is laden with features often not found on cars in this class. Among the standard features are air conditioning, power windows (auto down on the driver's side), power door locks, power side mirrors that also fold in, AM/FM/CD player, adjustable steering column, a tachometer, a height-adjustable driver's seat and a quartz clock. The LS adds such items as cruise control, remote keyless entry, and additional stereo speakers. Optional on the LS is an ABS (anti-lock braking system) and dual front side air bags.

The OZ Rally, as part of its package, has some fun items such as OZ Racing alloy wheels, front and rear bumper extensions, side air dams, Evo-style white-faced gauges and other such trim items. The powertrain is the same found on the ES and LS. A high-set rear spoiler is optional.

Pricing is not yet set for Lancer, but a good guess is in the $15,000 to the $17,500 range. At this writing, a quick check of the Mitsubishi Motors Web site shows little information on the Lancer. At roads' end, Mitsubishi assures that they will be "very competitive" in the class.

Adding Lancer to the American market is another step forward for Mitsubishi, finally giving them some clout in a tough segment with a car that can stand up to the rugged competition and the scrutiny of the U.S. consumer. It's no mirage.

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