2003 Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally Edition
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Story and photos by Russell Purcell

For my first test vehicle I chose to evaluate the Lancer, Mitsubishi’s entry-level offering, as this is one of the most competitive (and profitable) categories on the road. The car comes in three variants, the ES, the gussied up LS, and the sporty OZ Rally Edition. The latter car features a host of distinctive equipment designed to reflect Mitsubishi’s long motor sport history, largely written in the annals of the World Rally Championship (WRC).

This car arrives on the scene with perfect timing, as competition in the compact class has heated up with regards to both performance and style. The high-performance import auto market has melded with popular music, film and fashion trends to create a culture all of its own. Mitsubishi’s Japanese counterparts already offer ‘sport’ models, as do many of the domestic brands, all designed to help claw back some of the profits these giants have lost due to the fact that aftermarket equipment suppliers were first to recognize the enormous potential of the ‘custom’ and ‘tuner’ markets.

So what makes the Lancer OZ so special?

If you are an avid video gamer or watcher of Speed Channel, you will no doubt have some knowledge of the Lancer. The Lancer has been a huge success for Mitsubishi for almost a decade, largely due to the high-profile success of the RalliArt Lancer EVO WRC cars. We all know that Subaru revitalized its image and attracted a new, younger buyer when it launched the potent Impreza WRX for 2001,

2003 Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally Edition
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another car loosely based on a WRC powerhouse, but there is a difference with Mitsubishi’s perspective on such cars. The WRX is a very powerful and highly technical machine, making the cost of ownership a little high for most young buyers. The OZ Rally Edition of the Lancer offers all the sporty looks of its high-performance cousin the EVO, but without the very expensive underpinnings and mechanicals that will get most drivers over their heads with regards to both payments and driving skills.

The Lancer OZ retains the company’s familiar grille resplendent in chrome, but the rest of the car is largely monochromatic. My tester was an eye-popping yellow, which made the extended bumpers, side skirts and enormous rear spoiler really stand out. The silver O.Z. Racing five-spoke wheels seemed a little overwhelmed by the rest of the car, as visually they appear to be undersized in relation to the external dimensions of the car. Special O-Z Rally emblems appear on the trunk lid and are embroidered into the carpets, and the O-Z name is emblazoned on the wheel rims as well. All this equipment represents added value for the consumer and is fully covered by the factory warranty. This is definitely a factor to consider when deciding on buying a similar class car and modifying it yourself or through an after-market shop.

All Show and No Go?

2003 Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally Edition

2003 Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally Edition
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Well not quite. Sure you do not have the near 300-horsepower produced by the legendary EVO 7’s turbo-charged power plant, but the 2.0-litre four-cylinder that the OZ shares with the base ES produces a commendable 120-horsepower and 130 lb-ft of torque. The standard five-speed manual transmission would be my choice to extract the most from this engine, but a four-speed automatic with adaptive shift control is available as an added cost option. Unfortunately the EVO’s all-wheel-drive system is also absent, but the car does feel surefooted, nonetheless.

While not a white-knuckle express, the OZ’s on road performance feels enthusiastic, no doubt aided by the smooth action of its stick and the communicative rack-and-pinion steering. The car has a very tight feel as the chassis is very solid, and is directly derived from that of the EVO.

Lightweight OZ alloy wheels (OZ is a noted high-performance wheel manufacturer) reduce the sprung weight over the base Lancer’s standard wheel package, and gives the car a very ‘toss able’ feel when flogging it through corners. A little more aggressive tire choice could improve the OZ’s handling dynamics, but tire longevity and all-season performance would suffer.

The suspension seems responsive, but braking may prove to be the car’s weak point. The car wears discs up front but drums in the rear. ABS units are optional and not available on the base ES at all.

Is it new?

The current Lancer platform may be new to Canada, but it is a year old design, as it replaced the Mirage in the US market. As a result, it has undergone constant refinement and it shows. The car offers admirable room all around, as well as refined road manners and excellent build quality.

On the inside

2003 Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally Edition

2003 Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally Edition
Click image to enlarge

The Lancer offers comfortable seating for four adults or five passengers in a pinch. Visibility is excellent from ever vantage point as windows are tall, the hood and trunk are short, and the pillars are quite narrow. Seating surfaces are durable cloth, but the front units could use a little more side bolstering as well as padding in general. Leg, hip and shoulder room is very good for a compact car, even in the rear passenger compartment. I was surprised to see that neither front seat back had a storage pouch, a feature that most people will miss, as it is considered commonplace nowadays. The rear seats

The four-spoke steering wheel has a good feel, although I would expect a sportier model in the OZ to go along with the rest of the appearance pieces. The dash is well laid out and simplicity seems to be the key element of the design. HVAC controls, vents and other switches all fall within easy reach and perform well. The faux-wood trim from the ES is replaced with a band of metal trim, and sporty white-faced gauges occupy the instrument pod. These look great during the day, but at night they take on a gray hue with glowing red numbers. While passing through urban areas with abundant street lights, the reflection from the outside lighting made the gauges difficult to read, even when cranked up to their brightest setting.

The biggest surprise was the car’s CD stereo. Mitsubishi is the first automaker I have seen that has chosen to fit OEM stereos that are of a standard chassis size. What does this mean? This means if you want to pull the head unit out of the car so that you can add your own ‘dream’ system, you will find that the majority of aftermarket systems will simply bolt into the original’s dash compartment. There will be no need for extra cutting or the custom fabrication of faceplates and new trim pieces. Very cool.

2003 Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally Edition
Click image to enlarge

The rear seats fold forward for transporting longer cargo, but the opening is relatively small. The trunk itself is a good size for this category, and can be opened via a pull lever near the driver’s door sill or via a key. I was surprised that there wasn’t a button for an automatic trunk switch on the car’s power door lock remote, as that seems like an obvious extension to that device.

Although the base Lancer is well-equipped, I expect most buyers to jump past the ES to one of the other two value-added models. This allows for the selection of a host of luxuries including goodies like air conditioning, power windows, locks and mirrors, as well as a power sunroof (OZ only). The availability of optional safety equipment like side airbags and ABS brakes make the LS and OZ models a good choice. Standard equipment on the OZ includes air conditioning, a 6-speaker CD player, power mirrors and windows, remote entry, cruise control and auto-off headlights.

The Verdict

2003 Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally Edition
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The Lancer OZ represents a well-featured and very practical car, with more than enough power and performance to satisfy your everyday driving needs, and is a worthy adversary to all but the fieriest compacts on the street. For about the same money as a well-equipped Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla you get a car that looks like it should cost thousands more. Roll up beside a Subaru WRX or even a Dodge SX-2.0 R/T however, and your secret will be revealed.

So if you are in the market for an economical compact sedan with proven reliability and very distinctive styling the Lancer OZ Rally Edition may be just the car for you. If you are unsure of the big wing, flashy wheels and the often unwanted attention such equipment attracts, then either the Lancer ES or LS may be your cup of tea.

Technical Data: 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally Edition

Base price $15,997 (base ES)
Price as tested $19,997 (OZ)
Type 4-door, 5 passenger compact sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.0-litre four cylinder, 16-valve SOHC
Horsepower 120 @ 5500 rpm
Torque 130 lb.-ft. @ 4250 rpm
Transmission 5-Speed Manual or 4-Speed Automatic with adaptive shift control
Curb weight 1225 kgs. (2701 lbs.)
Wheelbase 2600 mm (102.4 in)
Length 4510 mm (177.6 in)
Width 1695 mm (56.3 in)
Height 1394 mm (54.9 in)
Fuel consumption City: 8.7 l/100 km (27 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.1 l/100 km (33 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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