2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback GT Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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In the compact car market, it generally pays to play it safe. Compacts are bread-and-butter models for car manufacturers, big sellers designed and built to suit the widest possible range of potential buyers. So while the market is well-served with an abundance of excellent choices - think Mazda3, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, VW Jetta, Hyundai Elantra, Suzuki SX4, and the list goes on - it sometimes seems that they are all a bit ... conformist. With the Lancer, Mitsubishi offers something a little different. Amongst its buttoned-down compact peers, the Lancer is the one rocking a faux-hawk.

Fittingly for a car that's just a little different, the Lancer is available in a wide range of distinct variants. You can get your Lancer as a sedan or hatchback, with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. At the top of the ladder is the outrageous Lancer Evolution (Evo), which has gained world renown for its performance in World Rally Championship racing and lends street cred to the entire Lancer lineup. The front-drive Sportback we tested sits towards the practical end of the Lancer spectrum, but with our test car's GT trim it offers very well equipped practicality.

What immediately sets the Lancer lineup apart from more mundane compacts is its superb styling. The current generation Lancer has athletic good looks set off by an aggressive, attractive front end. The Sportback's roof line flows back in a smooth arc from the top of the windshield to the taillights, creating an almost coupe-like profile, and there's a deep front air splitter and big rear spoiler. Overall, the Lancer Sportback is a seriously sweet looking 5-door hatch, especially when decked out in our test car's bright Octane Blue Pearl.

Inside, the Lancer is clean and uncluttered, if perhaps a little plain. In GT trim the Sportback gets leather seating (a six-way adjustable bucket for the driver and a four-way adjustable bucket for the passenger) and all Sportbacks get cloth door panel inserts. The remainder of interior and dashboard consist of a variety of decent-looking but rather hard plastics with chrome highlights and a carbon-fibre look appliqué across the dash to provide a touch of embellishment.

What the Sportback GT lacks in soft-touch materials it makes up for with an abundance of up-to-date toys and conveniences: Keyless entry and ignition, Bluetooth 2.0 hands-free cellular phone interface with steering-wheel mounted controls, steering-wheel mounted cruise control and audio controls, power glass sunroof, automatic climate control, colour LCD multi-information display, floor mats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift, leather-wrapped park brake, and more. The Sportback GT's party piece is a standard 710-watt Rockford Fosgate stereo driving nine speakers including a built-in 10-inch subwoofer, and equipped with an auxiliary RCA-style audio input jack, six-disc CD player, and Sirius satellite radio with 6-month complementary subscription. It's a truly awesome sounding system whether pounding out a high-volume dance beat or enlivening classic jazz with lifelike bass tones.

To keep the mobile party safe the Sportback GT comes standard with active stability control and traction control, a tire pressure monitoring system, antilock 4-wheel disc brakes and a full array of airbags including side-curtain and driver's side knee protection.

On the road, the Lancer Sportback GT clearly benefits from its close relationship to the rally-bred Evo - it is poised, responsive and fun to drive. The clutch and gearshift in the five-speed model I tested both have a light yet precise action, and on normal pavement the suspension provided a good compromise between crisp handling and a comfortable ride. Our test car had the stock GT tire and wheel package, consisting of P205/60R16 all-season tires on nice-looking 10-spoke alloys. This setup provided decent cornering grip, though the limits of adhesion are announced via prodigious understeer. The Sportback Ralliart comes with 18-inch wheels and tires (as did the 2010 Sportback GTS), so if ultimate handling is your thing it might be a worthwhile upgrade from the GT.

The 2011 Sportback GT uses Mitsubishi's 2.0L inline-4 MIVEC engine, which produces 148 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 145 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. It's a peppy and well-refined powerplant with just the right touch of growl. There's enough grunt at low revs for everyday driving around town, but as might be guessed from the peak torque numbers you need to keep the revs up during spirited driving in order to stay solidly in the power band - especially when shifting from first to second, where there's a biggish step in the gear ratios. The available constant velocity automatic transmission (CVT), which has six shift increments in its Sportronic mode, would likely remedy this mild quibble, but it's a $1,300 optional extra and you'd be forgoing a manual gearbox that is in all other respects a genuine pleasure to use. Fuel economy ratings (city/hwy) are 8.4 / 5.9 L/100km with the manual transmission and 8.0 / 5.9 L/100km with the automatic. My actual economy was closer to 10.5 L/100km around town, but this included a lot of relatively heavy-footed driving over short distances. 
In terms of practicality, the Lancer Sportback fits the bill splendidly. There's good leg and elbowroom throughout, and while I'd prefer a little more thigh support in the front seats, they are adjustable enough for most drivers and passengers to find a comfortable fit. With 60/40 split-folding rear seats and an easily removable rigid cargo cover, the Sportback has plenty of ultimate cargo carrying capacity, though with the seats up and the cover in place the trunk space is merely adequate. But Mitsubishi has a unique solution for this - thanks to the low profile space-saving spare, the trunk floor cover can be set to one of two heights to provide either a flat load floor with the rear seats folded, or slightly deeper trunk space when the seats and cargo cover are in place. In this mode the Sportback just fit a week's worth of groceries for our family of four in the back.

In addition to all of its physical virtues, the Mitsubishi Sportback is one of the best backed cars on the market, with an industry leading 10-year, 160,000km powertrain warranty and a 5-year, 100,000km limited warranty on the rest of the car. At an as-tested retail price of $24,098 (plus $1,600 delivery and inspection) the Lancer Sportback GT's head-turning good looks, abundant creature comforts, phenomenal sound system, sharp handling and long-term warranty protection all add up to something that's just a little different, and a whole lot good.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Mitsubishi, 2011, Lancer Sportback, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

Organizations: Mitsubishi

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