2002 Mitsubishi Lancer
2002 Mitsubishi Lancer Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
A new name for a new car loaded with equipment.
Mitsubishi has renamed its compact sedan the Lancer. All new for 2002 and loaded with luxury, the Lancer replaces the previous Mitsubishi Mirage.
Although Lancer is a new name in North America, the Lancer has been a Mitsubishi staple in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East through six generations spanning three decades. It's also Mitsubishi's robust rally car, racking up victories in World Rally Championship events and other races around the world.
For North America, Lancer comes ashore in a sparkling new format to replace the subcompact Mirage sedan in Mitsubishi's line. It's a bigger car than the Mirage and packs a larger engine, a more substantial unibody structure, and more sophisticated mechanical gear. Lancer also lines a comfortable cabin with plush equipment, even on the price-leader ES base edition.
Lancer OZ-Rally is a model that adds paraphernalia to mimic rally racers, but still keeps the price in line.
Lancer's larger package size, with four more inches in the wheelbase than Mirage, positions it at the center of a crowded field of compacts that includes class leaders Honda Civic and Ford Focus, plus Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla, Mazda Protege, and Subaru Impreza. Competitively, Lancer has the longest body and its extended wheelbase produces a spacious passenger compartment with best-in-class legroom for front seat riders.
Mitsubishi casts Lancer in three editions: ES, LS, and OZ Rally.
All draw from the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 120 horsepower and links to either the standard five-speed manual transaxle or an optional four-speed electronic automatic ($800).
Lancer ES ($13,897) is the most popular model due to its competitive pricing and generous amount of standard equipment. It comes with air conditioning, a tachometer in the instrument cluster, an in-dash CD player, and power windows, side mirrors and door locks.
Lancer LS ($15,897) is a luxury model that adds cruise control, a remote keyless entry system, a 60/40 split rear seatback, a fold-out armrest with cupholders, carpeted mats on the floor, more speakers for the audio system, and variable intermittent windshield wipers. Exterior enhancements to the LS include body-colored door handles and mirrors, and larger, 15-inch aluminum alloy wheels with 195/60R15 tires.
Lancer OZ Rally ($15,487) takes its name from OZ Racing wheels (pronounced oh-zee), an Italian company that makes top-quality competition wheels for Formula 1, CART, and World Rally Championship race cars. Lancer OZ Rally wears sporty body work inspired by the rally cars, including bumper extensions front and rear, and side skirts. It comes only with a five-speed manual gearbox. White-faced gauges and a cockpit trimmed in black with plastic panels that resemble brushed aluminum give the interior a racy look.
Options include the ES Convenience Package ($500), which makes some of the LS features available to the ES, such as remote keyless entry, the split/folding rear seatback, floor mats, and color-keyed door handles. The LS Preferred Equipment Package ($800) adds ABS and dual side-impact airbags, and we highly recommend these safety features. An optional rear spoiler ($360) is available for the OZ Rally.
Lancer looks good, the crisp sheetmetal styling differing from that ho-hum sameness of designs for typical compact sedans. The style is more aggressive, with wheels pushed to edges of the boxed body to stabilize the stance. Short front and rear overhangs improve the weight balance, and the windshield is steeply raked rearward to cheat the wind.
Lancer presents a strong face with a bold horizontal grille ringed in chrome. Oversized multi-lens headlamps cluster at the corners, while a thick front bumper and air dam thrust forward like a boxer's chin. The hood has stepped cut-lines that add shape and depth to the prow. The flanks look sleek and flat with slight fender flares around the wheels.
At the squared-off trunk, the Lancer borrows lines from European touring sedans with a blunt tail highlighted with bold, triangular taillamps.
The O-Z Rally edition looks even more serious with its bumper extensions and shapely side skirts.
An enlarged passenger compartment is the primary benefit derived from increasing the length and width of the Lancer's structure. Space is generous, and riders will find more than enough room for heads, legs and elbows.
The layout is typical -- two seats up front bordering a floor console and a bench for three in back with indentions for two. Yet the uncluttered design of the dashboard impressed us, as did the look and tone of materials used to dress the cabin.
Front buckets and the rear bench are covered in premium cloth fabric with silky embroidery stitching on seat center inserts in a matching color. Side bolsters on the buckets have contours for a comfortable fit. The driver's seat moves easily in eight directions, and we had no trouble adjusting it to fit long legs and a tall torso.
The steering column also adjusts vertically, and we liked the feel of the thick wheel. For the OZ Rally, it's padded and covered by stitched leatherette.
The horizontal dash has scooped sections forward of each front seat but it bulges in the middle to extend a center panel of audio and climate controls closer to driver and passenger. Three rotary dials for the ventilation system are large and easy to use. The audio system located above features tiny dials that should be larger. A band of plastic trim stretches across the upper part of the dashboard and divides it into top and bottom sections. For ES and LS versions, the plastic resembles dark walnut veneer and divides the dash into two-tone regions, with a dark color on top and a lighter one below. The OZ Rally switches to brushed aluminum color for the trim panel, which blends nicely with the cabin's black color scheme.
Analog gauges clustered beneath an arching cowl are big and bold. Faces of the gauges are black with white lettering for ES and LS trims, but big round gauges with white faces go with the OZ Rally.
Lancer also comes with many standard safety features, including frontal airbags and three-point safety belts for five positions. Front seatbelts have pretensioners with force limiters plus height-adjustable anchors, all of which can help reduce belt injuries in an accident.
Mitsubishi constructs the Lancer on a rigid unibody platform and equips it with a fully independent suspension. As a result, it feels substantial when set in motion. It's tight but easy to drive, and quite capable of transforming lumpy pavement into a blender smoothie.
On elevated concrete slabs of Interstate 10 crossing swampland west of New Orleans, the Lancer glided over bumpy tar seams. It was so quiet in the cabin that two passengers could converse sotto voce, despite our position in the middle lane squeezed between big-rig freight trucks.
Out in Cajun Country near Napoleonville, we played with the OZ Rally Lancer on narrow blacktop strips lacing across the bayous. It romped around the rare curve, chassis blocking lateral body sway and the body remaining relatively flat. A wide-track stance and front suspension with low longitudinal roll center contribute predictable stability to the car in corners, as the multi-link arrangement in back keeps rear wheels under control while damping road bumps. The rack-and-pinion steering works precisely yet lacks firmness in the center spot.
For motivation, all Lancer models draw from the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 120 horsepower. It is by no means the strongest in class, but special tuning is designed to generate more muscle at low- and mid-range speeds. That's why it leaps off the line and feels downright aggressive when running though second and third gears. There's still power left for passing, and our Lancer proved it can run comfortably at high speeds.
The manual transmission for OZ Rally has a short stick and shifts quickly. It feels tight and precise, even sporty.
A four-speed automatic transaxle, optional for Lancer ES and OZ Rally, uses electronic controls and adapts shift points to the individual style of the driver. We drove it and were impressed by the smooth and quiet shift work, but noticed the automatic subtly dampened Lancer's spirit as automatics tend to do.
The Mitsubishi Lancer is most attractive in the base ES trim where the MSRP of $13,897 nets a handsome sedan with generous room for riders plus comforts from impressive standard features that usually cost extra.
Lancer LS provides more gear but more dollars go to the bottom line. Lancer O-Z Rally looks cool and adds sporty touches for a reasonable price. Absent, though, are a powerful turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive found on the homologated rally cars such as the Subaru WRX.
ES ($13,897); LS ($15,897); OZ Rally ($15,487).
Options As Tested
rear spoiler ($360).
Lancer OZ Rally ($15,487).
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