quaint little rutted bucket

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Tested: 2004/2005 Mitsubishi Lancer GLS
(I know this post is useless without pics, but hey, they're to follow. I had to clean and wax it first. :)

Its been nearly three months since Dad got a new car, and although I hate to say it, I can say now thats its largely mine. Nobody drives it much except me, it is indeed my daily driver and both Dad and Mum refer to it as 'my' car, even though I am quite ashamed to admit it, since it reeks so much of seeming too spoiled and stuff.

Choosing this one over the other choices I had at that time was difficult. I initially planned to get a Honda Jazz 1.5 VTEC as it will be a bit cheaper and more fun to drive (haha 7-speed CVT!) but Dad opposed it, saying it was too small. :( My options then were limited to compact cars, and we had to make the decision to either wait for the new Civic (which, as it turns out, isn't really as purty as I had imagined it would be, although the innards are indeed nice), get a Mazda3 (which in itself isn't a bad car, but its too 'racey' for my taste) or (gasp, no!!!) get an Altis. (value for money? the altis is imho too expensive for what you get with it, although the recently released facelifted 40th anniv version brings back a much needed better value 1.6G variant)

On styling, wallpapers, engine and what not

So it was the dark horse, that girl in the corner who hasn't danced one bit yet, competing with the wallpaper for attention--and the wallpaper's winning, mind you--I gulped one last bit, swallowed my inhibitions, cursed at whoever's looking, and yes, swooped in and asked her to dance. Despite her inhibitions and shortcomings, she was a keeper, I figure people judged her all too quickly. It wasn't soon that I realized that I was falling for the Lancer.

Slightly longer than a Honda CRV but drives a bit lower than even some of its predecessors, this Lancer is a restyle of the respectable but underrated 2003 Lancer, based from the 2000 JDM (Japan Domestic Market) Lancer Cedia. The Olivier Boulay styling of this generation is controversial, to say the very least, since it made Mitsu take a lot of flak, especially from older Lancer fans, about the supposed ugliness it brought to an otherwise decent, serviceable and even surprising car.

In my opinion, the front fascia is a mixed bag. The big, gaping headlamps are somewhat atrocious and reminiscent of Nissan Motor Philippines' facelifted Sentra series, although the tri-diamond emblem is imho bold and refreshing, especially in black trim. If you like how the Grandis, and to a lesser extent, the 240M Galant ("Shark") is styled, then its not hard to appreciate this Lancer's design. (In my opinion, a better execution of the Boulay styling can be seen with the Evolution VIII, which was also featured in the recent movie, "Tokyo Drift" (Fast and the Furious 3). If the Lancer was only similarly equipped in terms of aesthetics, I doubt people would've found the split-hood opening odd.)

The back of the Lancer is curvy, and again, subject to relative judgment. I personally find it even better and more elegant than the 2003 model's, although the tail lamps could have been placed higher for better visibility. It helps that all models come equipped with a standard high mounted third brake lamp, although still.

One could imagine Mitsu had either gays (hey no offense to them, I like and appreciate what they contribute to modern society :) designing this one, or the design team is filled with females. The Cedia-based 2003 design despite being compared to a low-end Mercedes inspired cruiser, was already quite 'softy' and feminine to say the very least, and the 2004 facelift strengthened that notion. Small details abound: the rear end still retain the soft creases its predecessor had, the subtle lines across the doors, and the added small 'fin' like thing on the hood. The car's low hip point is something of an endangered thing amongs its contemporaries: among all the Jap-brand (and even the Korean ones) cars in the market locally, the Lancer is the only model remaining that still sports a low hip point and profile that was once the distinct characteristic of Asian builds.

While it has grown sporting ambitions, given the nice, responsive handling, the engine is the weak link--the 4G18 1.6 SOHC engine is perhaps the biggest disappointment--in an otherwise decent car. Horsepower ratings for the Orion-derived engine is surprisingly in line with the 1.6L variants of the Mazda3, and it can indeed run toe to toe with a stock 1.6 MZ3 thanks to the Lancer's peppy acceleration and excellent CVT virtual 6-speed gearbox. Other 'sport' inspired add ons include the handsome 6-spoke 15-inch alloy wheels and the 4-wheel disc brakes.

Interior and other goodies

The interior is the single biggest thing that captivated me though. The front panel is minimalist, functional and again, laid out and designed in a way that is reminiscent of a low-end Merc. While hard plastic abounds, they're of decent quality. The beige/dark grey theme Mitsu used is refreshing to look at and adds an air of luxury, detail and space to an already large cabin size for its class. The rear leg room is right smack at the middle of its class in terms of spaciousness: not too cramped ala the Sentra, but not like the Altis either. The instrumentation cluster is intuitive and is very easy to read at night.

The sweet spot though is the Mitsubishi Motors designed stock audio system. Mitsu wasn't scrimping on audio; the bundled head unit is a Pioneer DEH-6750MP, easily valued at 11 to 12k. The rear speakers, while being unbranded, are of full range design and produces above average sound and takes advantage of the physical characteristics of the cabin itself to improve the acoustics. The same can be said of the front pair as well. Basses and mids are fairly accurate, although they easily lose sight of quality once you start pushing the audio volume to 30-ish with 'loudness' set to low. Highs are respectable, given that most of the speakers are full range ones. Note that this isn't even the range-topping model in Mitsu's 2004/2005 lineup, yet the quality of the stock audio is even better than many models of the other makes. (*ehem*Toyota*ehem*)

The airconditioning system, while not having sweet new features such as the Ford Focus' newfangled (at least in this class) rear aircon vents, is powerful and is up to the task. Cabin noise is subdued, but this being an older car, soundproofing and NVH characteristics could have been better. Nonetheless, the lighter weight of the car compared to its classmates makes for the refreshing experience of driving this thing.

NVH and safety

The included Goodyear NCT5s are noisy. They're grippy and way better than their horrible NCT3 cousins, but they still lack ample road noise deadening details. Ambient road noise in the cabin, especially when driving at high speeds are largely due to the tires.

On this model, safety features are limited to 3-point ELR seatbelts for the front passenger and driver, while the rear seats have three seatbelts in all. The rear seats also come standard with a folding armrest that has two decently-sized (well, for Asian appetites anyway, which is a good thing :) cupholders. On the GLS, only the driver has SRS airbag protection, and there are no fancy brake-related acronyms here: No ABS and EBD.

Driving impressions and conclusion

Driving the car was a breeze. Steering was very responsive, and it strikes perfect balance: not too light, or too heavy either. While some may argue that its lightness is due to less noise-deadening material, it nonetheless gives the car its character. The driver's seat gives almost Merc-like driving position and view, which isn't bad at all. :) The hood dramatically tapers downwards, giving almost unhampered view of the road ahead.

Overall, I'm looking at long term bliss with this car. Its great value, and decent showing in terms of amenities and features, plus the handling, are more than enough reasons to make anyone who drives it happy. Yes, while it may be left choking in the dust compared to Toyota's VVT-I Altis and *ehem* Honda's newfangled 1.8 i-VTEC engines, it still makes for a great city cruiser. The refreshing design is noteworthy, and after two years since its release, it still makes people stare and take a second look, which may both be a good or bad thing, depending on your tastes. :)

Verdict: Quite getting there, Mitsu. Still need work, but its decent showing. Let's get things right next time: bring on GDI/MIVEC and EBD, at the very least. Forget the SOHC/DOHC debate, both have their merits anyway. I heard MIVEC does wonders for a supposedly "SOHC-only" design. :D Looking forward to the next gen.


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