While trucks and SUVs are all the rage in today’s new vehicle market, the compact car segment is still an important volume business. Plus, if young buyers like your small cars, they may come back for bigger, more expensive ones later. Well, Mitsubishi has not had an easy time of selling small cars in America, its compact offerings easily outsold by Honda, Toyota, Ford, and Chevy. So Mitsubishi has regrouped with the all-new 2002 Lancer. But is the Lancer sharp enough to deflate their dominance?
Well, let’s put it this way. With nearly 30 years of rally racing history to draw on, a history that includes four World Championship titles, the 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer sedan certainly has the breeding to give it an “edge”.
And it doesn’t hurt that this new-to- the-US Lancer, which comes in three trim levels, shares its rigid platform with the current Mitsubishi rally rod, the Lancer Evolution. A platform that’s 50 percent more rigid than the Mirage it will replace.
The new Lancer also moves past the subcompact Mirage into the compact class by increasing it’s wheelbase and length by four inches to 102.4 and 177.6 inches respectively. The Lancer compliments its taut structure with a wide 57.9 inch track.
14-inch tires on steel rims are standard, but our test O-Z Rally model rides on sharper 15 inch alloy rims with 60 series rubber.
But that wasn’t enough to keep our Lancer from getting a little tail happy when pushed to its limits in our low speed slalom. As a slight amount of understeer upon turn in soon transfers to oversteer. It’s easily controlled however, by simply backing off on the throttle. And if you can control yourself, the power rack-and-pinion steering unit, which also had a little trouble keeping up with the rapid side to side motion, delivers reasuring feel.
All three models share the same independent coil-sprung, MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspensions with stabilizer bars front and rear. And while it may be on the soft side for aggressive on-track posturing, it does quite nicely on pothole roads elsewhere.
Indeed the ‘02 Lancer delivers a smooth, confident ride. Small bumps and imperfections in the roadway are handled with nary a quiver. Larger disturbances are only slightly noticeable. Yet despite its size and solidity, the Lancer handles like a smaller, lighter car.
Propelling the Lancer along its path of “lightness of being”, is a 2.0 liter, SOHC, 16-valve in-line 4 cylinder. Its output of 120 horsepower and 130 pound- feet of torque put the Lancer right in the neighborhood of competitors like the Honda Civic and Ford Focus. But far behind the 180 horsepower offered by the Volkswagen Jetta’s new 1.8 turbocharged four.
With power being fed through a driver adaptive 4-speed automatic transmission, our test Lancer met 60 in 10.4 seconds, and passed through the quarter mile in 17.9 seconds at 77 MPH. Although more power could be put to good use, the Lancer feels quicker than the numbers indicate. And the little 4 banger has a fairly broad powerband which could be more readily exploited with the available 5-speed manual tranny. That would be our choice.
Our choice would also be to equip our Lancer with available ABS brakes. Our fresh tester didn’t have them, and the front disc/rear drum system brought us down from 60 in a rather longish 137 feet. Fade was minimal, and in fact, decreased as the brakes wore in. But our driver’s still found it easy to lock the wheels with a heavy application of pedal.
The same equipment package that gets you ABS, will also get you another worthy safety device, side impact airbags. These two items top a surprisingly short list of extras, as we found the Lancer to be a well appointed car with top of its class interior room.
Even the value-equipped ES model comes with power windows, power door locks, and intermittent wipers.
An 8-way adjustable driver’s seat and tilt steering wheel are also standard. Moving up to LS trim will get you cruise control, while the O-Z Rally adds EVO rally car-styled white-faced gauges, a black interior scheme with brushed metal-finish trim and Rally edition floor mats.
All models get a 100 watt CD player stereo, with LS and O-Z models upgrading from four to six speakers and smooth operating rotary climate controls.
In the back you’ll find a fair amount of room for two, that tightens up quickly when a third adult is added.
Behind, in the trunk, is a reasonable 11.3 cubic feet of cargo space.
The Lancer shines even brighter when viewed from the sticker. ES models start at just $14,442, LS models slightly more at $16,442. Our O-Z tester starts at $16,832, and was out the door for $17,332. That’s more not-so-small car for very class competitive prices.
And, after two weeks with the Lancer, its clear to us that Mitsubishi is finally serious about a segment of the car market it has let languish in the U.S. From pricing, to smart looks, to a roomy and well outfitted interior, the 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer is razor sharp, and should easily make its point.
Engine: 2.0 Liter, Sohc, 16-valve In-line 4 Cylinder
Torque: 130 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 10.4 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 17.9seconds @ 77 MPH
60-0 MPH: 137 [w/out Abs] Feet
EPA Mileage: 27 MPG City 39 MPG Highway