First drive: Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback

* Lancer hatch tested * Costs from £12,499 * Ralliart version, too...

First drive: Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback
1 Jul 2008 13:34

With so many great small hatchbacks around, any new model needs a unique selling point. Mitsubishi reckons that its new Lancer Sportback has a couple.

For a start, it's not actually that small - in fact, it's longer than a BMW 3 Series saloon. Mitsubishi also suggests that it has a sportier image than its big-name rivals, hence the name.

The reality, however, is that value for money is central to the Lancer's appeal. At £12,499, the entry-level 1.5 GS certainly gives you a lot of metal for the money.

There's plenty of cabin space and the interior feels solid, too, but there's not a lot else to recommend it. The 1.5-litre engine gives adequate pace, but it's boomy when you work it hard.

Overall, the driving experience is nothing more than acceptable. The numb steering and bouncy ride mean that the Lancer is nowhere near as polished as the best small family cars.

You don't get as much kit as some rivals, either. Air-conditioning and four electric windows are standard on the entry-level models, but you need to upgrade to the GS1 trim to add alloys, and GS2 for curtain airbags.

The Ralliart version is more likely to capture the imagination - think of it as an Evo Lite and you get the picture.

Okay, so the power output, electronic gadgetry and wild bodywork add-ons are toned down, but you still get a clever four-wheel-drive system and a turbocharged engine with 237bhp.

Mitsubishi's semi-auto SST transmission also comes as standard, but that's a mixed blessing.

It works well enough, but we can't help thinking that a manual version would be more appealing to the market it's aimed at and drop the price to below the £20,000 barrier.

• The Lancer Sportback goes on sale in January.