In the span of nine years, a lot has happened in the automotive landscape. We witnessed the boom of the crossover and the PPV, touchscreens have become de rigueur, and two generations of C-Segment sedans have spanned those years. This brings me neatly on to the Mitsubishi Lancer EX.
It first made its debut in 2008 and, as a college freshman at the time, I was wowed by the aggressive exterior, punchy 2.0-liter engine and that thumping Rockford Fosgate sound system. I had a spin in the manual version and, needless to say, it was a fun car to drive and that Evolution X DNA trickled down to its humble chassis. However, times have changed, especially after almost a decade. Cars, like people, age, either for the better or worse.
As the sun sets on the Lancer with no replacement on the horizon, a test drive is in order to see what it can offer. What we have here isn't the 2.0 GT-A that made me smitten as a student. I have the keys to the more sedate GLS variant with a manual transmission.
Silently updated last year, it got a new look with more equipment for the Lancer to keep up with the younger crowd. At the front, the baby Evo looks are gone with that pointy-looking grill replaced by a more conventional layout. A shame really, because the Lancer EX was one of the more sporty-looking cars in its class. That's not to say it's bad, looking at the same thing over and over for nearly a decade will get tiring after a while. I do wish Mitsubishi retained that certain character.
To keep up with the crowd, Mitsubishi also gave it a new bumper, removing most elements of sportiness. It does have daytime running lights to roll back the years. Reminding you that this is the entry-level model are 16-inch diamond cut alloy wheels and a piece of trim to cover up the jettisoned fender turn signals. Still, it's not a bad-looking car and, to some degree, stands out in the parking lot.
Inside is where it definitely feels its age. Hard plastics dominate the interior that is a sea of gray. What it is, however, is honest. Granted, there are quite a number of blank switches, you do have to find them just to notice the difference. Also, the Lancer EX is showing the limitations of packaging during its time. There is a high transmission tunnel that eats into rear legroom, the body is narrow, meaning hip and shoulder room isn't the best and the trunk is shallow, limiting cargo room. Also, the lack of a telescopic wheel means finding the ideal seating position will be a struggle for both vertically gifted and challenged.
While there is no fancy trim and no bells and whistles, it is well equipped. Even this entry-level model comes with a well-equipped touchscreen. The aforementioned touchscreen houses Bluetooth, an auxiliary port, USB and, surprisingly, navigation. As a bonus, it even has a reverse camera, making the task of parking easier. Another surprise was the automatic climate control system. Normally reserved for higher-trim models, it was nice to see this feature in the base model.
Pop the hood of the Lancer EX and you're greeted by a 1.6-liter engine dubbed the 4A92. The figures this mill produces are conservative at best. Power is rated at 117 PS while torque is at 154 Nm. It goes without saying that the 4A92 gets MIVEC, Mitsubishi's variable valve timing system. Shifting is done via a five-speed manual, a little behind the times with many offering six-speed units.
Start up the Lancer EX GLS and there's a fair bit of noise creeping in to the cabin. Upon depressing the clutch, it's soft and progressive, making this an easy car to drive for a learner. Setting off, I observed that it had a relatively high engaging point, but it's not grabby. In fact, it's one of the smoothest manuals I've encountered in a while. The gear shift feel is a different matter, however. It feels notchy and once slotted in gear, it feels like it sunk in a hole. It's not bad but it's initially odd. As a friend put it, “it's typical Mitsubishi”. Thankfully, they got rid of the long throw in favor of a shorter one.
Around the city, it's worth applauding the Lancer's ride. Rebound is good, perhaps thanks to the long travel suspension. In an age where suspension set-up seems to default on the firm side, the softer damping on the Lancer EX was refreshing. It would have been even better if the seats gave any support in the first place. Lumbar support is lacking, leading to some discomfort after spending hours in traffic. Side support was another point of criticism, as were the seat paddings. Initually comfortable, the padding is on the soft side and doesn't retain your posture, forcing you to re-adjust while driving.
Having tried out the EX GT-A, I also observed that steering is a little lighter. With its slimmer wheels and high profile tires, it was easy to maneuver the EX GLS around the metro. It was light to a point that one can mistake it for an electronic assist system but with more feel and feedback. That soft suspension does mean there is a noticeable amount of lean when taking on corners spiritedly. Then again, you won't be attacking corners with this commuter car on a regular basis.
The highway is a nice place to test out engine flexibility and with the Lancer EX GLS' long gearing, it takes some time to merge on the highway with confidence. You will have to downshift to to get to highway speeds a little quicker but by that time, noise and vibration surrounds you. One can hear a fair amount of wind and tire noise on the road but thankfully, the long gearing has its advantages. Put it in fifth gear and the decibels drop a little.
Aside from keeping noise down, long gearing greatly aided in fuel economy. At an average speed of 91 km/h, the smaller engined Lancer EX sipped fuel at a rate of 16.3 km/l on the highway. What was more impressive was its fuel consumption in the city. Even at a lowly 18km/h as an average speed, it still managed 9.1 km/l. With light traffic, that figure bumps up to 12.7 km/l at an average speed of 24 km/h. I can only imagine how much more efficient it might be if it had a six-speed manual. Before you ask, no, the Lancer EX GLS is not available with an automatic transmission.
It's difficult to sum up the experience I had with the Lancer EX GLS. On one side, it really feels its age and its newer rivals simply highlight its shortcomings. It's not as well-packaged in terms of space, the interior feels dated and its dynamics are middle of the road. Then again, at Php 850,000, the Lancer EX GLS presents good value for money thanks to its standard equipment, being easy to drive and boasting of great fuel economy. An ideal first car? It has the makings of one if you were to ask me.
Should the Lancer EX be retired by now? Honestly, yes, but the value proposition is more than tempting for some.