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Review and photos by Paul Williams
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New York City – Back by popular demand! According to Mitsubishi Canada, the reintroduction of the Lancer Sportback, which left the market in 2004, is a response to pressure from its Canadian dealerships. The explanation is that small wagons of the Sportback type are not well received in the U.S., and because that’s where Mitsubishi Canada used to get its direction, they canned it there and it got canned here, too.
Not so fast, said the Canadian dealers. We like the car. Canadians like the car. And now that Mitsubishi Canada is an autonomous entity, working directly with Japan, they’ve been able to make the case for the
Sportback’s return as a Canada-only vehicle.
So if you missed it in 2004, here’s your chance.
As before, there are two versions, both front-wheel drive. The $21,598
Lancer Sportback LS features a 2.4-litre inline-four cylinder engine that makes 160-horsepower and 161 pounds-feet of torque, a four-speed automatic transmission, air conditioning, power windows, locks, heated mirrors, remote keyless entry, 15″ steel wheels with covers, cruise control and an AM/FM/CD player with four speakers. Anti-lock brakes are and side impact airbags are available with a $1,400 “Preferred” package that also includes roof rails, colour-keyed mirrors, 15″ alloy wheels and a cargo cover.
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The Sportback Ralliart ($24,998) gets the same engine rated at 162 hp and 162 lb.ft torque (the slight increase is due to a different exhaust calibration), the four-speed automatic transmission, a sport-tuned suspension, strut tower brace, sport grille, with front, side and rear airdams, special interior and 16″ alloy wheels. Anti-lock brakes are standard, as are the side-impact airbags.
I liked the Sportback in 2004, and still think it’s a very stylish machine. What’s it got going for it? Three things, really – well, four if you count the obvious functionality of a small wagon. But the three main things are its looks, its excellent power, and the long Mitsubishi warranty.
Regarding the Sportback’s appearance, there’s really nothing on the market that matches its chiselled, smart lines. The car looks low and wide and seems constructed almost entirely of straight edges. The Ford Focus maybe competes, or the Kia Spectra5, but the Sportback has a profile all its own. The rear lights are quite the work of art.
Under the hood, the Sportback’s 160 (or 162) horsepower is generous in a vehicle of this type, especially in “base” trim. The Mazda3 GT matches it, but the Mazda’s base engine is 150-hp, and even that is notable for the class. Focus tops out at 151 (base 136), Spectra is 138, Pontiac Vibe is 164 for the GT (base 124). Power in the Sportback surpasses or compares favourably with all these vehicles.
And Mitsubishi’s warranty is the best in Canada. The new management wants to make the point that Mitsubishi is here to stay, and a 10-year, 160,000 kilometre powertrain warranty, coupled with a five-year, 100,000-km general warranty is a vote of confidence for the brand that should see consumers covered well into the next decade. In case you’re wondering, Desrosiers Automotive Consultants calculate that Canadians drive their compact cars an average of about 20,000 km per year, but Transport Canada has the average annual figure at 16,000 km. Either way, it’s a long warranty.
Inside, the instrument panel is a model of simplicity, distinguished by the white-faced gauges of the Ralliart, and straightforward operation of the major controls. The heated, rearview mirrors are large, and visibility all around is good. The seats are supportive and a comfortable driving position is easy to find. The armrest was a little too low and too far back for my elbow, however.
Rear seat passengers have good legroom, and a drop-down centre armrest includes a clever fold-out/flip-up holder for two beverages. A notable feature is that the rear seatbacks recline, affording greater comfort for passengers there. Even though the Sportback is not as tall as many of its competitors, headroom is sufficient in the front and rear seats. Side curtain airbags are not available.
The split-folding rear seat doesn’t fold flat, but does open up a large and uniformly proportioned cargo area when required. Behind the rear seat is enough space for many bags of groceries, but unfortunately no handy hooks to stop them moving around. There is a 12V power point, however.
Acceleration is brisk and torquey from the SOHC engine, although the sound from the exhaust in the Ralliart can be intrusive (it’s not particularly loud, but does drone at particular engine speeds). The four-speed transmission shifts crisply and the car is quiet when underway, with little wind noise. The steering wheel is a little big, but feels substantial.
No manual transmission is available in the Sportback, which Mitsubishi says is not a problem due to the demand for automatics. But the Ralliart version, at least, seems targeted to a younger, tuner-type, buyer, with its red strut brace, firmer suspension and body kit. Wouldn’t they prefer a manual? Maybe not.
Even though the new Mitsubishi Canada management has pressed to get this car back to our market, 2006 is the last year we’ll see the Lancer Sportback in this form.
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There will be 780 Sportbacks, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. In 2007 we’ll see a new Lancer, and a new Sportback (in Canada, at least!).
If you like the distinctive looks, good power and long warranty – along with the utility of a wagon-type vehicle – a Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback offers a measure of exclusivity not found in other similar cars.
Related stories on Autos:
Mitsubishi Canada’s web-site