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Mitsubishi Lancer Saloon 2.0 DI-D GS4

Click to view picture galleryThe new Lancer aims to boost
s mid-range appeal by
  giving you the ‘look
of its
  fearsomely fast Evolution big
  brother. But is there more to it
  than just some slick styling?
David Miles decides...”

THE ALL-NEW LANCER the tenth-generation, launched earlier this year is currently available as a two-wheel drive, four-door saloon although five-door Sportsback models will join the line-up in September (2008) and, of course, the better-known, all-wheel drive Lancer Evolution X high-performance models are already on sale and actively continuing their high-performance road car and rallying heritage.

The Lancer range has prices starting from 12,499 for the forthcoming 1.5-litre GSI 5-door — a bit of a price hike from the outgoing saloon model, which weighed in at around 10,000. Saloon models start at 14,999. Lancer Saloon Evolution FQ variants with 300, 330 and 360bhp power outputs are priced from 27,499 and go up to 37,999. Prices are still to be announced for the mid-range, all-wheel drive Ralliart Sportback model that is to be introduced to bridge the gap between the Evolution X and the rest of the range.

If the prices vary hugely, then so do the capabilities of the new generation Lancer. Evolution models are legendary for their power, performance and pure driving capabilities. Mainstream models, although they look very sporting, are much less capable but, like all Mitsubishis, they are soundly engineered, covered by long warranties and seem totally dependable.

Because of higher diesel fuel prices over petrol nobody, at this stage, can reliably estimate the sales split in the UK as to which engine options will prove most popular. Traditionally five-door hatchbacks, or Sportback as Mitsubishi calls theirs, will be the best seller. Mitsubishi estimate that 50 per cent of Lancer sales will go to conquest customers, 24 per cent of all sales will be saloon models, 70 per cent Sportback and six per cent Evolution versions.

Their positioning is aimed to offer the mainstream Lancer models at Mazda 3 prices but with the aspirational values of a Volvo S40. Residual values are forecast to improve for the new range at 37 per cent after three years — just behind the Honda Civic but ahead of the Mazda 3 and Ford Focus.

Unlike Ford — who have upper and lower medium sector passenger models (Focus and Ford Mondeo) — Mitsubishi's new Lancer line-up has to fit all requirements. The two body styles help, as does the wide range of trim and equipment levels and engine options.

So what, exactly, are the options? The Lancer four-door saloons are available with the choice of 1.8-litre petrol and 2.0-litre DI-D diesel engines with the petrol version also available with a CVT-type automatic transmission. The Sportback range offers the same engine options with the addition of a 1.5-litre petrol unit (manual or auto transmissions). When it comes to trim levels there are four: called, logically: GS1, GS2, GS3 and GS4. Availability depends on the engine chosen.

Even the entry-level GS1 specification is pretty high, with a rear spoiler, front air-dams and side body skirts (to give all Lancers the 'Evolution' look), front and rear electric windows, air conditioning, front side and knee airbags, electrically-operated door mirrors, remote door locking with alarm and immobiliser and stereo radio/CD player with MP3 compatibility.

Going up the scale, my test car — the Lancer 2.0 DI-D saloon — had a six-speed manual transmission, 18-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, cruise control, stability and traction control, privacy glass, climate-controlled air conditioning, sports suspension, pan-European satellite navigation, heated front seats, leather upholstery and an advanced vehicle information system. The price for this diesel model is a hefty 18,499 so, unless owners will be covering really high annual mileages and fuel economy is a major issue, the Lancer 1.8-litre petrol GS4 model — priced at 16,999 — is going to be the best buy. It is interesting to note that Lancer saloon and Sportback body styles are exactly the same price.

It's the styling that really sets the new Lancer apart from its many rivals. With its 'jet-fighter' grille and 'chopped' rear-end, the standard cars have taken on the Evolution X sports styling themes. They have a broad muscular stance; a longer wheelbase than Lancers of old; there is a wedge side profile and, add the side skirt, big alloys and rear spoiler, and even the most lowly new Lancer looks pretty good. More importantly for customers, it looks an expensive car with lots of road presence. The new Lancer, incidentally, uses a 'global' platform shared by such companies as Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Hyundai and Kia and it is the same as found beneath the Mitsubishi Outlander.

Looks alone should sell the Lancer to any driver wanting a family car with Evo styling, yet at a more affordable price and with the performance to use day-in and day-out as a business or family car. As we know, the Evolution models have an awesome reputation for performance. The mainstream models are not in the same league; more a case of style over function.

On 'my' 2.0-litre DI-D GS4 test car, the handling proved to be no better than very average and the ride quality was poor due to the sports suspension and the oversized 18-inch alloy wheels. The VW-sourced 138bhp turbodiesel engine with intercooler is definitely 'old' tech with its Pumpe Duse fuel system rather than the very latest direct-injection technology. It is noisy and not as smooth as its rivals.

Power is delivered with a rush at the top end of the rev-range and it is not as responsive or progressive in the low- and mid-speed ranges as one expects from a modern-day turbodiesel unit. However, it is still relatively economical, with a real-life 44.4mpg returned for typical day-to-day driving — more or less the same as the official figure of 44.8mpg. CO2 emissions are 165g/km with a Band D road tax rating: 145 this year — but 175 from next April (2009).

Although I haven't driven the 141bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine, I would suggest that this will be best option for most people because of its much better driving refinement. The downside to this unit is the official 36.7mpg and 183g/km, giving it a 170 road tax rating. With the more price-friendly GS3 specification and the 1.8-litre petrol engine, the Lancer saloon costs a very attractive 14,999: 4,000 less than my test car. To sum up: not so impressive are the indifferent driving qualities, jittery ride and road noise that make it difficult to believe this is a sibling of the Lancer Evolution — apart from the styling. On the plus side: you get stylish and sporty good looks, a high specification, a roomy interior, impeccable build quality and the petrol model is well priced. Your call! — David Miles

Mitsubishi Lancer Saloon 2.0 DI-D GS4
| 18,499
Maximum speed: 129mph | 0-62mph: 9.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 44.4mpg | Power: 138bhp | Torque: 229lb ft
CO2 165g/km | VED Band B 145 | Insurance group 9E