There was a moment at the New Zealand unveiling of the current-generation Mitsubishi Lancer VRX back in 2007 that became legendary among motoring writers. Indeed, it’s still sometimes spoken of.
Pulling the covers off the all-new model, the then-marketing manager for Mitsubishi New Zealand exclaimed: “I know what you’re all thinking. But no, this is not the new Lancer Evolution!”
Actually, none of us were thinking that. A big grille, medium-size alloy rims and a small spoiler kit do not a super-sedan make.
That’s always been the problem for the Lancer VRX: the apparent expectation and marketing efforts of its maker in suggesting that it’s a sporty car, and the reality that it really isn’t. Lancer is a modest budget/fleet machine, made to a price, and the VRX happens to be a nicely dressed-up version of the above. Get your head around that and we should be okay.
Sure, it’s got a 127kW/230Nm 2.4-litre engine with a bit more poke than the 115kW/201Nm 2.0-litre unit in other mainstream Lancers, but as a measure of its non-sporting nature the manual-gearbox option has been deleted in the 2012 facelift model. The sole shifter is now a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).
What else has changed? The bumpers have been reshaped to be closer to the turbocharged Ralliart models – please see my comments above – the front seats are now heated, there’s high-gloss finish on the centre console and a reversing camera integrated into the rearvision mirror. A worthy touch, although the camera itself is somewhat awkwardly stuck onto the outside of the bootlid – you can’t help grabbing it like a handle when you close the lid.
For some reason, gas-discharge headlamps have been deleted from the VRX, which is a shame. However, with keyless entry/start and automatic lights/wipers, it’s still a decent amount of equipment for $40,890 (sedan or hatchback). The general fit and finish of the cabin is also much improved over Lancers past, although the materials are still rock-hard.
Lancer is a lot more refined than it used to be, with running changes to sound deadening and tyres over the past few years addressing the car’s road-noise issues. It’s much better than it used to be, but still more raucous on coarse chip than most rivals.
The cool-to-the-touch aluminium shift paddles (if only those in a Jaguar XF were as nice) for the gearbox are a bit of a tease, as CVTs are efficient around town but not conducive to enthusiastic driving. The car is capable enough in corners but the chassis feels a bit wooden, and the ride does not react well to rippled surfaces. The suspension seems to crash noisily into the smallest undulations.
If there was ever any danger of excitement getting away with you, the Lancer now has an extra safety feature: should you accidentally press the brake and throttle together, the Brake Override System will cancel the forward motion and concentrate on stopping.