April 30, 2009
2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart (top); 2003 Lancer LS (middle); 2003 Lancer OZ Rally (bottom). Click image to enlarge
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By Chris Chase
Breaking into a new market with a new product is tough enough in general, and it only gets more difficult when the products cost tens of thousands of dollars. Consider cars: of the few auto manufacturers that have tried to get a foothold in Canada recently, how many have survived? Daewoo lasted only a few years after they tested the waters in 1999. Kia tried it a year later, and they’d be gone too if it weren’t for Hyundai, which scooped it up and now operates (successfully!) it as a subsidiary.
It seems as though any import automaker that’s done well here was able to largely by showing up at the right time. Toyota, Honda and Volkswagen (to name just a few) took advantage of a 1970s fuel crisis to convince leery buyers that their products were worth consideration.
In 2003, Mitsubishi decided to take a shot at competing in Canada. By this time, the company was well-known in the U.S. even if they were a bit player compared to more established importers; the company’s claim to fame here was a series of cars sold under the Dodge, Plymouth and Eagle nameplates by Chrysler.
Coming to Canada was a big gamble for Mitsubishi. They didn’t have a fuel crisis to help fuel sales, and even if such a situation had existed in 2003, the company’s most economical car, the Lancer, was mid-pack at best in most categories compared to its competitors here.
When the Lancer arrived here, it was available in three trim levels: basic ES, a better-equipped LS version and the OZ Rally edition, which tacked on some extra body pieces and vaguely rally-look wheels from aftermarket manufacturer OZ (pronounced oh-zee).
2004 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback LS. Click image to enlarge
All three cars were powered by the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine making 120 horsepower. Transmission choices were a five-speed manual (standard equipment) in ES and OZ models or an optional four-speed automatic; the LS came only with an automatic.
In 2004, a station wagon version, called the Sportback, was added. Both it and the sedan were available in a new Ralliart form, which got a 2.4-litre engine making 162 horsepower. Curiously, the Sportback, which was also offered in LS form, got an automatic transmission only. Also curious was the Sportback’s disappearance after the 2004 model year, and subsequent reappearance in 2006.