2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback LS
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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

A quick glance at the selection of small, affordable wagons available in Canada reveals limited choices. In many ways, small SUVs and hatchbacks have replaced traditional wagons – much of that has to do with the sportier image conveyed by SUVs and sporty hatches. Wagons are often viewed as boring vehicles with lacklustre styling that “your parents might have driven”. And right now, they’re just not cool. However, small wagons are very practical, affordable and easy to drive, and I predict they’ll make a comeback.

Currently, there are three “true” wagons available, the Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback, Ford Focus Wagon, and VW Jetta Wagon. The Chrysler PT Cruiser is also roomy enough to be considered a wagon if you prefer the retro look. I’m excluding the many wagon-like hatchbacks on the market, such as the Mazda3 Sport, Hyundai Elantra GT, and Chevy Optra5, because most don’t offer as much cargo space as traditional wagons and/or the sloping design of the rear hatch isn’t as practical for storing cargo. For example, the Mazda3 Sport hatchback offers 484 litres (17.1 cu. ft.) of cargo space with the rear seats up and 883 litres (31.2 cu. ft.) with the rear seats down. The 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback wagon, this week’s test car, has 705 litres (24.9 cu. ft.) with the rear seats up and 1719 litres (60.7 cu. ft.) with the rear seats folded down.

I’ve said before that if you are considering buying a small or mid-size sedan, you should think about a wagon instead. They are so practical when it comes to transporting family-related items such as sporting equipment, furniture, appliances, gardening supplies – or anything too tall to fit in the trunk. And wagons are very popular with dog owners.

Wagons do tend to cost a bit more than sedans, but their added versatility makes up for it. As well, wagons tend to have higher resale values because there are fewer of them, and used car buyers value their practicality.

Lancer Sportback pricing

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback LS

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback LS
Click image to enlarge

The 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback is a new wagon in the Canadian market, and it’s based on the compact, front-wheel-drive Lancer sedan. It’s worth noting that the 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer sedan won “Best New Economy Car under $18,000” from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. The Lancer sedan’s high points include a roomy cabin, comfortable ride, peppy engine, smooth automatic transmission, and reasonable price.

To help with the Lancer wagon’s image problem, Mitsubishi calls it the “Sportback” – but we all know it’s a wagon. And it’s a very stylish one at that. I like the Sportback’s aerodynamic front end, body-coloured bumpers, clean profile, and long taillights which extend up the to roof much like Volvo’s. There are no gimmicks in the Sportacks LS’s design.

Lancer Sportbacks come in two trim levels: LS and Ralliart, the latter being a sportier version. Sportback LS models start at $20,998 and Sportback Ralliart models are priced at $24,198.

Standard equipment on the Sportback LS is generous: a powerful 160 horsepower 2.4 litre 4 cylinder engine, 4-speed automatic transmission, a four-wheel independent suspension, and four wheel disc brakes. Inside are standard air conditioning, 140 watt AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers, power windows, door locks and heated sideview mirrors, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, cloth seats, and dark wood trim. Standard safety features include dual front airbags, five height adjustable head restraints, three point seatbelts for all five seating positions, rear door child locks and rear seat tether anchors.

Anti-lock brakes aren’t available on the LS but are available on the Ralliart. In my opinion, they should at least be optional on the LS model. Another concern: side airbags are not available, and a block heater is optional.

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback LS

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback LS

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback LS

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback LS

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback LS

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback LS

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback LS
Click image to enlarge

My test vehicle was equipped with the only option package offered: the Preferred Equipment Package ($1,000) which includes 15 inch alloy wheels, sliding cargo cover, roof rails, and body-coloured door mirrors. With Freight and A/C tax, my 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback LS came to $23,023.

Sportback Ralliart models, $24,198, add 2 more horsepower, 16 inch tires and alloy wheels, stiffer suspension, “ground effects” bodywork and rear spoiler, anti-lock brakes and electronic brake force distribution, and 2 extra stereo speakers.

Roomy interior

For a compact wagon, the Lancer Sportback feels roomy. There’s generous headroom and legroom for four adults, or two adults and three children. In particular, the rear seat offers plenty of footroom under the front seats, generous headroom, and a centre folding armrest with two cupholders. The 80/20 split folding seatbacks also recline for more comfort. The rear seat includes three 3-point seatbelts and three height adjustable head restraints.

The driving position is very comfortable, and the soft cloth front bucket has a height-adjustable cushion and good side bolstering for support when cornering. Outward visibility is good in all directions, however the centre rear head restraint impedes visibility through the rearview mirror – I recommend removing it until someone needs it.

Round, white-faced gauges, including a tachometer, add a sporty look to the instrument panel, while dark-coloured wood and silver-coloured trim add contrast to the textured plastic dashboard. Personally, I prefer walnut wood, but dark wood is the only colour offered.

The centre instrument panel protrudes outwards, and is thus easy to reach. Both radio and heater controls are simple and sensible with plainly-marked functions. Just below the heater is a deep, open storage bin for cell phones, cameras, recorders, pens, coins or other items. A lighter just in front of the transmission lever can be used to charge cell phones. Other storage areas in the passenger compartment include door pockets, a glove box, and a small bin between the front seats, but the Sportback could use a larger storage area on the console.

The Lancer Sportback LS includes variable intermittent front wipers, and a rear wiper with an intermittent wiper setting and washer. Though it’s almost a necessity in a wagon with a vertical rear window, not all wagons have intermittent rear wipers.

The Sportback’s cargo area is easy to access through a lightweight lift-up hatch door, and has a low liftover height. The cargo area is fully carpeted and has a flat floor, four tie down hooks, and the optional sliding privacy cover. Underneath the cargo floor is a large concealed plastic storage bin, and two smaller ones at the sides.

The 80/20 folding rear seatbacks fold down easily by pulling up on a lever on the top of the seats, but the seatbacks don’t lie quite flat.

Driving impressions

Like the Lancer sedan, the Lancer Sportback has a comfortable if somewhat soft ride. A fully independent suspension helps to even out the bumps and provide stable handling. The power steering offers low effort and a tight turning circle of just 10.2 metres (33.5 ft.).

While the Lancer sedan has a standard 120 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder engine, the Sportback offers a class-leading 160 horsepower 2.4 litre four cylinder engine, with a single overhead camshaft, four valves per cylinder, and variable valve timing. 0 to 100 km/h takes 9.5 seconds and 80 to 120 km/h passing is accomplished in quick 8.0 seconds, according to independent tests conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. 100 to 0 km/h braking tests show a distance of 147 feet without ABS, a little bit more than average.

The engine is a bit noisy when accelerating hard, but in typical use around town and on the freeway, it’s very quiet. Its generous low-end torque (161 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm) makes the throttle very responsive, and the standard 4-speed automatic transmission is exceptionally smooth. The transmission is adaptive, meaning that it adapts shift points to your driving style and different driving conditions.

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback LS

2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback LS
Click image to enlarge

Fuel consumption is OK, but not the best in its class: 10.4 l/100 km (27 mpg) in the city and 7.6 l/100 km (37 mpg) on the highway.

In summary, the Lancer Sportback is a very easy car to drive, with a comfortable ride, responsive engine, good visibility, and a reasonably quiet cabin – but I wish ABS was available.


Competitors for the 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback ($20,998) include the Ford Focus SE Wagon ($19,365), VW Jetta Wagon GLS ($25,990), and Chrysler PT Cruiser Touring ($25,085). Buyers may also consider the Mazda3 Sport GT ($21,385), Toyota Matrix ($16,745), Pontiac Vibe ($21,580), Chevrolet Optra5 LS ($18,140), Hyundai Elantra GT ($19,025), and the Subaru Impreza 2.5 AWD hatchback ($22,995). It’s worth noting that the Sportback comes standard with an automatic transmission while most of its competitors don’t.


A well-priced and versatile compact wagon that’s easy to live with, the Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback offers car-like ride and handling with the practicality of a large cargo area.

Technical Data: 2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback LS

Base price $20,998
Options $1,000 (Preferred Equipment Package: 15 inch alloy wheels, sliding cargo cover, roof rails, body-coloured door mirrors)
Freight $950
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $23,023
Type 4-door, 5 passenger compact wagon
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.4 litre 4 cylinder, SOHC, 16 valves, variable valve timing
Horsepower 160 @ 5750 rpm
Torque 161 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Tires 195/60R-15
Curb weight 1370 kg (3020 lb.)
Wheelbase 2600 mm (102.4 in.)
Length 4605 mm (181.3 in.)
Width 1695 mm (66.8 in.)
Height 1424 mm (56.1 in.)
Ground clearance
Cargo area 705 litres (24.9 cu. ft.) rear seats up
  1719 litres (60.7 cu. ft.) rear seats down
Fuel consumption City: 10.4 l/100 km (27 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.6 l/100 km (37 mpg)
Fuel type Regular unleaded
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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