First drive: 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer EX 1.5 in UAE & Oman
After a long break, I have finally decided to write another review in here. Think Mitsubishi Lancer; yeah, think! I bet the vast majority of you will now think of a silver-coloured bland-and-boring rental runner crying out loud in agony on the last lane of a motorway while trying with all its might to catch up with a Toyota delivery van! Get a manual variant and you may be able to get a glimpse of the delivery boy too. Yeah, that was what it was and that is what it still is! So why the review? Because what I am going to write is not about the Lancer, but its newer sibling, the Lancer EX.
The Mitsubishi Lancer EX, which debuted in the UAE markets in late 2007, comes with two engines – an economical 1.5-litre and an interesting 2.0-litre. The car I am reviewing here is the economical 1.5-litre variant, which a friend of mine used to own. It is the top-spec model in the 1.5-litre range which, apart from the usual power options, comes with sunroof, auto a/c, 16-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlamps, adaptive front lighting system, a 6-CD changer head unit, rear spoiler and steering controls.
What hell of a difference the EX is from the regular Lancer, that visual disaster which every other driver in the UAE would have rented at least once in their lifetime. And that exactly was Mitsubishi’s intention when they completely redesigned the Lancer and came up with what can be called one of the best looking designs in its segment. Park it near an insanely-costlier Jetta, and the VW owner would be left in nothing but utter dismay. The shark face, Alfa-Romeo inspired tail lamps, high-in-the-air rear spoiler, and side skirts, all give it a real sporty look. However on the flip side, there are a few flaws one may have to pay in turn for the good looks; the rear spoiler in the car is so high that it actually blocks the rear view, adding to a back that sits high already. Amateurs may need parking sensors to make sure they do not bump into anything while reversing. Apart from the rear, outward visibility is fine.
Talking about the interior, it’s mostly hard plastics all around – but unlike some costlier Toyotas, the quality is significantly better, and the fit and finish is flawless. It has ample headroom and legroom for front driver and passenger; rear passengers do have large headroom, while the 6+ footers might find their knees touching the front seats. In terms of overall space, it easily goes past the Civic and Corolla. Seats are mildly bolstered and very comfortable too. Only gripe we had with the car’s interior design is the excessive reflection of the dashboard on the windscreen – and that becomes irritating sometimes as it tends to become a major distraction, especially during sunny afternoons.
The interior isn’t very silent either – with wind noise being heard at speeds over 100 kph, some tyre noise and engine noise at speeds above 140 kph; the engine noise becomes particularly audible under hard throttle, more than the Civic.
Once on the roll, the Lancer exhibits superb ride comfort with only slight firmness and excellent cornering limits. Though slightly firm it does soak bumps without being too harsh on the passengers. There is moderate body roll, but the road grip is admirable and it is probably the closest Japanese rival to the segment leader, the Focus. But once over the limit, the driver will be given a warm delight with what can be called, catastrophic understeer – and this is exactly when the difference between this Japanese shark and the European Ford become evident. Don’t get me wrong though, that warning is only for the ‘fast and furious’ amateurs who don’t have enough money for an Evo. Braking is linear and is aided by ABS, EBD and Brake Assist.
Among other passive safety features, it has the Adaptive Front Lighting system; generally found in higher end vehicles, it is a system that detects steering motion and lights up a turn as you approach it thus providing much better visibility in pitch darkness. And that helped us in areas like the Dibba – Masafi road in the UAE and the Adam-Thumrayt highway in Oman, where one would not find even a 5-watt bulb for street lighting. Add to it the bright bi-xenon headlamps covering a humungous area, and night driving is a breeze.
The new generation Lancer EX is propelled by a choice of two engines – a 2.0-litre motor putting out 152 hp and a 1.5-litre motor netting around 107 hp. Though the 2.0-litre motor is more than adequate, the 1.5-litre engine is severely underpowered for a rather heavy car. Mated to a basic 4-speed automatic gearbox, it takes a painful 13.2 seconds, with a/c off, to hit 100 kph and it tops out at 199 kph if you have the patience. Anyway, it does score good when it comes to fuel efficiency. The best mileage we have got till date from this machine is a tremendous 5.6 litres/100 km, covering well over 850 km from one single tank, and that was on our trip to Salalah. The usual trip computer readings hover around 6.8 litres/100 km in mixed driving conditions, which is again a very good figure for such a car. If what concerns you more is acceleration and speed, go for the bigger 2.0-litre engine mated to a CVT transmission which can hit 100 kph in about 8.9 seconds, a figure that makes some of the bigger boys in the game really sweat!
To summarise, the latest iteration of the iconic Lancer is indeed a move in the right direction by Mitsubishi after their long saga of cars with uninspiring designs and boring options. With very good options, fierce looks and neat pricing, the Lancer gives good competition to its rivals. Mitsubishis are known for excellent reliability too. But very weak after-sales support and sub-standard service quality from dealers still somewhat afflict its image. We ourselves have had some bad times with the dealers when it came to servicing the car. Add to that expensive maintenance and spare parts cost which is more than some of the European and American marques. People who drive Mitsubishis buy them solely because of brand image which the dealers are successfully dirtying as much as they can. And this car definitely would not add to the damage – it is a respite instead.
Story and photos by Vivek “Oberoi” Menon.