The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Road Test - CRAIG DUFF

TIME hasn’t done the Mit­subishi Lancer any favours other than to high­light how good the orig­i­nal ve­hi­cle was.

It is akin to buy­ing a sec­ond­hand out­door din­ing set­ting: still struc­turally sound and with seats for all but the fad­ing var­nish means it needs a vis­ual lift. For Mit­subishi the an­swer has been to keep adding con­tent and cut­ting prices, en­sur­ing the small sedan stays on buy­ers’ radar as value for money. VALUE You have to look past the sticker to see the ap­peal of the Lancer range. The base ES is $20,390 with a five-speed man­ual gear­box, with the LX cost­ing $22,990 us­ing the same trans­mis­sion. A con­tin­u­ously vari­able auto adds $2250. On paper that doesn’t rate highly against a 2.0-litre Ford Fo­cus Trend ($24,590) with a sixspeed auto, the new Mazda3 Maxx at $22,990 with six-speed man­ual or the new Toy­ota Corolla SX at $22,990.

A look at the Lancer’s specs shows seven airbags are stan­dard, as is Blue­tooth with au­dio stream­ing and sev­eninch touch­screen with sat­nav. The LS adds a pow­ered driver’s seat and re­vers­ing cam­era. TECH­NOL­OGY Vari­able valve tim­ing has helped keep the 2.0-litre en­gine tick­ing over but it can’t dis­guise the lack of re­fine­ment. It just isn’t as smooth as a new Mazda/ Kia/Ford whether in man­ual or CVT guise.

The touch­screen is a wel­come bonus but it looks like an af­ter­mar­ket in­stall and the re­sponse isn’t as timely as it should be, es­pe­cially when re­ly­ing on the sat­nav in in­nercity streets — it’s pos­si­ble to be past the de­sired in­ter­sec­tion be­fore the screen reg­is­ters the lo­ca­tion. DE­SIGN The class-strad­dling Holden Cruze is one of the few to match the Lancer’s in­te­rior space.

This is a rel­a­tively roomy ve­hi­cle, which helps ex­plain why it keeps on keep­ing on. Fam­i­lies like that space — it helps keep the kids’ feet away from the back of the front seats.

That’s the high­light, though. The downside: the hard, tex­tured plas­tics con­fin­ing the Lancer to the lower end of the class in terms of oc­cu­pant com­fort and tac­tile qual­ity. The same ap­plies to the switchgear. Dated is a gen­er­ous term.

The Lancer’s ex­te­rior is just as sea­soned. A se­ries of hor­i­zon­tal slots for the grille and air in­take don’t cut it in the 2014 styling depart­ment. SAFETY Mit­subishi doesn’t beat its chest about the Lancer’s five-star safety rat­ing but it’s not bad for a seven-year-old car. That said, the chest is the one weak point in the Lancer’s ar­moury — it earns an ac­cept­able rat­ing in ANCAP’s frontal off­set crash test and a mar­ginal score in the side im­pact hit. That re­sults in a still laud­able score of 33.56/37, backed by the re­as­sur­ance of seven airbags. DRIV­ING If com­mut­ing is the com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor in buy­ing a car, the Lancer is in with a shot. This is fuss-free mo­tor­ing for a small fam­ily more in­ter­ested in get­ting the kids to day­care than dash­ing out a per­sonal best time.

Good thing, too. The Lancer is adept at nor­mal driv­ing du­ties but starts to un­ravel as the pace picks up and ex­poses its dy­namic short­com­ings. The steer­ing is so-so and the sus­pen­sion leans to com­fort over cor­ner­ing.

These traits don’t war­rant cross­ing the Mit­subishi off the list but they un­der­score the deft­ness of the newer small-car bri­gade in both ar­eas, let­ting own­ers have their cake and nib­ble the edges as well.

Road noise is an­other mi­nor Mit­subishi bug­bear, es­pe­cially when teamed with the CVT. It is PRICE $25,240 WAR­RANTY 5 years/130,000km CAPPED SER­VIC­ING Yes SER­VICE IN­TER­VALS 12 months/15,000km SAFETY 5 stars, 7 airbags RE­SALE 48 per cent EN­GINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 110kW/197km TRANS­MIS­SION CVT; FWD THIRST 7.2L/100km, 169g/km CO2 DI­MEN­SIONS 4.6m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.5m (H) WEIGHT 1315kg SPARE Space-saver mildly an­noy­ing in front or rear seats but can be drowned out by the sur­pris­ingly good Rock­ford Fos­gate au­dio. One bonus is the 400L boot that gives the Lancer room to shove all the bits a grow­ing fam­ily needs for a weekend away. VER­DICT It’s dated, dare I say daggy, but rep­re­sents rea­son­able value. Its ri­vals are a touch classier and are close enough in price to rate the Mit­subishi as an “also con­sider” rather than a first choice.

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