When I told my friends that I was reviewing a Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback ES, many responded with, “wait, Mitsubishi is still in business?” See that right there that is a problem. No car company wants to have that question asked by consumers.
The Lancer is Mitsubishi’s foray into the compact car segment. The question is, is it competitive or is there a reason many consumers don’t know Mitsubishi still sells cars in the United States?
The front of the Lancer Sportback ES features Mitsubishi’s current design language, which has a sharp and forward slanting grille. It looks as if the front clip is about to eat you. My girlfriend thinks it looks like a shark and I can see that resemblance. The sides have a strong crease that run from the front fenders to the rear fenders and there is some slight sculpting is down by the rocker panels. The rear has a very steep slope to the glass and this cuts into the cargo room slightly. An integrated rear spoiler extends to the rear roofline and gives the rear glass a little cover during rain and snow storms. The optional 15″ alloy wheels look decent but have large tires that fill out the wheel wheels. Side repeaters for the turn signals are a nice touch in this class. Overall, I like the exterior for its uniqueness. It doesn’t look like any other compact car on the road.
The interior is a little more of a let down. A few years ago this interior would have been standard fare, but now the competition has upped its game. The plastic on the dash is all hard and somewhat cheap looking. The switches and knobs all feel fine, and the HVAC controls have a nice solid click to them on each interval. The cloth seats do feature a unique pattern, though the bottom bolsters are farther apart then I would like.
The radio display is red and inset into the dash slightly. This looks fine, but in sunlight the entire display gets washed out. The auxiliary inputs use red and white pigtails instead of the normal auxiliary input jack. That is somewhat annoying if you do not have the right cables. Once you have the correct cables it gets more confusing, you must hold the MP3/CD button on the radio for 2+ seconds to switch to the auxiliary input. I’m creative, but even I had to go to the owners manual to figure that one out.
The steering wheel has a voice command button along with hang up and answer buttons for the Bluetooth. The only issue is, this particular Sportback didn’t have Bluetooth. It seems all Sportbacks are pre-wired for Bluetooth and have the buttons. So, if you do not select the option for it, you will be stuck looking at the buttons every time you drive the car. Just a reminder that you kind of skimped on the options. Not exactly sure why they are there but hey, they are.
I wanted to comment on the seating position; it was more rally car than compact car. With an adjustment for up/down, forward/back/and a back adjustment, it was easy to find a comfortable driving position. The steering wheel did tilt but does not telescope.
The engine is a 2.0-liter MIVEC inline 4-cylinder that pumps out 148 horsepower and 145 pound feet to the front wheels. The power is put down through either a five speed manual or Sportronic CVT automatic. The Sportback I had featured the Sportronic CVT, which I will say wasn’t as bad as I initially expected it to be. Personally, I am not the biggest fan of CVTs due to their rubber band nature, but this one seemed to mimic a six-speed automatic fairly well. Only when really pushing the engine did it start to have a rubber band feel. The Sportback was actually fun to drive, when going around a corner it felt more like a rally car than a typical compact car. While the two higher trim levels are definitely sportier, this base Sportback was able to throw a smirk or two on my face.
Aside from the interior material quality and radio display, I do have one major gripe. The price of the Sportback ES seems reasonable, until you realize what you can now get for that same kind of money. Starting at $17,775 with a manual transmission and no options, this is not exactly a cheap compact car. The model I was in had the CVT and alloy wheel options bringing the total to $18,955. The EPA mileage ratings are 25/32 mpg, while I averaged 23.5 mpg in the city and 27.6 on the highway. Not exactly class leading on the gas mileage either.
So what did we end up with? A compact hatchback that has some sharp styling and sport driving characteristics. That sounds like a somewhat unique combination. With vehicles like this, it really isn’t a surprise to me that my friends didn’t know Mitsubishi was still around. This is a unique and almost niche vehicle. Your top priorities can’t be fuel economy or interior material quality. It also isn’t the best value based solely on price, especially when compared to a Mazda3, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, or a myriad of other compact car options. No, to buy this car means you want to be different and stand out from the crowd. With a fun to drive factor that is surprising and a fair bit of utility, this shark is in crowded waters but deserves a fair shake if you want to stand out from the compact car crowd.
Full Disclosure – The review vehicle was provided by Mitsubishi