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Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback 2.0 DI-D GS3

Click to view picture gallery“Need to down-price? Dont want
  to give up size and style?
s new Lancer Sportback
  could do the trick

SOME NEW CAR CUSTOMERS are down-pricing and downsizing because of motoring costs but for many users size still matters. They still want, and need, a car fit for purpose, affordable and with a high level of specification but without being seen to move downmarket in image.

Mitsubishi Motors in the UK are promoting just such a car — their new Lancer range — with a 'Birds and the Bees' television commercial to be aired from Monday 9th February after the 9pm watershed because it adds a sexy tone to their marketing message.

So will sex sell the new Lancer range? Whatever else it does, it will create interest and even raise a welcome titter in the current mood of doom and gloom. The commercial is based on a conversation between a son who asks his dad "Where did I come from?" and from that point on the commercial uses supposedly real life motoring situations to get the answer across to the youngster. It is worth a look.

Mitsubishi have in the past used light-hearted innuendo to promote their vehicles. They were the company that branded its previous top-of-the-range Lancer Evolution the 'FQ' — and yes, it means exactly what you think it does.

The Lancer was the first ever Mitsubishi model range to be launched in Europe, in 1974, when it was shown at the British Motor Show. Even before that date, and from then onwards, it has been one of the model ranges involved in Mitsubishi's worldwide rallying efforts together with the Starion, Galant, Shogun and L200.

Today's Lancer still has a sporting pedigree but it's now a larger and heavier car. The latest Evo X models are unlikely to have a future in rallying but there are moves to take the car into circuit racing and a beefed-up version has just failed in an attempt to again win the Dakar Rally for Mitsubishi.

The latest addition to the new Lancer line-up is the Sportback — a five-door hatchback that's bigger than a Focus but smaller than a Mondeo. And it looks sporty; and not just from the back. Joining the existing Lancer Saloon and Evo X models (which went on sale last year), the Sportback models will take around 75% of all Lancer sales in the UK with a choice of 1.8-litre petrol or 2.0-litre turbodiesel engines; prices start at 14,149 and rise to 18,649. An automatic transmission option for the petrol engine adds 1,000 to the price.

There are three levels of specification for each engine option: GS2, GS3 and GS4. Retail customers, the largest group of buyers in the UK for Mitsubishi, are expected to choose the least costly 1.8-litre petrol GS2 model whilst higher mileage business and company car users-choosers will go for the fuel-efficient (and better specification) 2.0-litre DI-D GS3 diesel.

All-wheel drive, 237bhp 2.0-litre petrol turbocharged Ralliart Sportback models in GS and GSR trim levels will be added to the range this year as a mid-way model between standard and Evo versions. Prices are being quoted as 21,649 and 24,149 respectively.

Lancer saloon models have the choice of 1.8-litre petrol or 2.0-litre diesel engines but just with GS3 and GS4 specification with prices ranging from 15,149 to 18,649. Lancer Evolution X FQ models come in saloon-only body form with 300, 330 and 360bhp turbocharged petrol engines with prices from 28,499 to 38,999.

My test car was the new Lancer Sportback 2.0 DI-D turbodiesel GS3 priced at 16,649 and for me, as I cover a high annual mileage, it would represent the best value. But by charging 1,500 more than the 1.8-litre GS3 petrol version — the extra cost for what is an aging diesel unit sourced from Volkswagen — the price could be too steep for many retail customers.

Officially, my test model should return 43.5mpg in the combined cycle but in real life the DI-D turbodiesel engine regularly did better than that: 47mpg at worst and 49.5mpg at best. With CO2 emissions of 173g/km, the annual tax bill is 170. If I had been test driving the GS2 variant with 16-inch wheels instead of the 18-inch ones that come as standard with GS3/GS4 specification versions, the CO2 emissions would have been 165g/km, meaning an annual road tax bill of 145. So size definitely does cost.

Talking of cost, Mitsubishi runs a Service Plan scheme for Lancer owners. For petrol models, 3-years/37,500 miles costs 275; 295 for diesel variants — good value.

The Lancer uses Mitsubishi's recent new global platform, as used for the Grandis MPV and Outlander SUV, so you can see the latest Lancers have grown in size and can now cater for lower and upper medium sector users. With an overall length of 4,570mm this is a substantial car with plenty of legroom front and rear although the headroom is not so good and the boot, at 344 litres, is not as roomy as the class average. The 60/40 split rear seats fold to give 1,340 litres of load space but the wheel arches protrude into the boot, limiting carrying capacity.

The quality of the interior looks good with plenty of equipment for your money. Some of the trim plastics used are a bit bland — no 'soft-feel' to them; but it is functional. All Sportback models have as standard a rear spoiler, front and rear electric windows, electric door mirrors, air conditioning, front, side, curtain and knee airbags, trip computer, stereo radio/CD player with multiple speakers, cruise control and a leather-covered steering wheel and gear knob.

The GS3 version gains 18-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension, sports body kit, stability and traction control, privacy glass and climate air conditioning. The GS3 as tested also looks a really sporty car; very eye-catching and classy, so it is ideal for motorists down-pricing without losing the status of a medium sized car. The sports body kit really works well with the new Mitsubishi 'jet fighter/shark nose' styling theme being gradually introduced throughout its range. It looks very similar to the latest Evo Xs — and that's not a bad thing.

The ride comfort is also good despite having a sports suspension and bigger wheels. However, road noise intrusion is high and the ride is unsettled at times but with the competitive price of the Sportback and its very good looks, I could live with these faults.

The 2.0-litre 138bhp VW-sourced turbodiesel engine, albeit with changes made by Mitsubishi, is both well-known and proven. And while it is quite noisy at tickover and under hard acceleration, generally the sound deadening works well enough at cruising speeds. It is reasonably flexible, too, thanks to 228lb ft of torque delivered from 1,750rpm. The six-speed manual transmission is good, with positive gearchanges. Fifth and sixth gear ratios are deliberately long-legged for low CO2 emissions, so you need to be in the correct gear as it doesn't like being driven at low speeds in high gears. But it is fuel efficient, and nearly 50mpg is certainly a good effort from a car of this size.

While the bigger 18-inch wheels mean higher road tax bills and there's loads of road noise and a smallish boot, and the driving performance is functional rather than sporty, there's a lot in the Lancer Sportback's favour: namely smart, sporty looks, high equipment levels, roomy for passengers, comfortable ride, the low cost servicing package and good fuel economy. And traction and stability control thrown in, too. In short, loads of car for the money. — David Miles

Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback 2.0 DI-D GS3
| 16,649
Maximum speed: 127mph | 0-62mph: 10 seconds
Overall test MPG: 47-49.5mpg | Power: 138bhp | Torque: 228lb ft
CO2 173g/km | VED Band E 170 | Insurance group 8E