The 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer VRX wagon.
The 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer VRX wagon. Contributed

Lancer is quality assured

MITSUBISHI Lancer is a small to medium Japanese car that has an excellent reputation for build quality and reliability and has long been highly-regarded on the Australian used-car market.

The red-hot Lancer Ralliart and the ultra-quick, ultra-expensive Lancer Evolution (Evo) models are much higher on the performance scale. We won't cover them in this used-car feature but save them up for another time.

As is often the way, the Lancer has become ever larger with each new model. Interior space is good in the front seats, but in the older models it can be rather limited in the back if the front seats are adjusted to suit tall occupants.

The latest Mitsubishi Lancer, sold here from October 2007 is comfortably into the medium segment and can be used as a family car if the kids aren't yet into their teenage years.

Lancer comes in a big variety of body types: two-door coupes, three-door hatches, four-door sedans, five-door hatchbacks and five-door station wagons. This situation has settled in recent times and only sedans and hatches are offered.

Three-door hatches prior to 1996 were called Lancers, but the name was changed to Mirage with the introduction of the new model of that year. Mirage imports ceased in 2004.

The Lancer MR coupe of 1997 to 2004 is a popular choice with sporting drivers due to its firmer suspension and sharper steering.

Engines are all four-cylinder units and come with a big spread of capacities ranging from 1.5, 1.8, 2.0 and finally 2.4 litres.

The marketing strategy saw the largest engine at any one time being introduced in the upmarket models, then gradually making its way down the line.

The 2.4-litre powerplant has plenty of torque, giving the car excellent performance and safe overtaking, yet it doesn't use a lot more fuel than the other engines.

Manual gearboxes are all five-speed units. Automatic transmissions on most older models were three-speed units until 1996, and had four-speeds from then. The auto with the 2.4-litre remains a four-speeder, but tiptronic functions give it increased usefulness if the driver is keen on squeezing a little more out of the engine.

Spare parts and repair prices are about average for this class and the Australian Mitsubishi dealer network is widespread and efficient.

The Lancer is relatively easy for the home mechanic to work on, with good under bonnet space and nothing particularly tricky in its layout.

Insurance charges are about average for the class, though you will often be asked to pay considerably more for the hot turbocharged GSR.

Check for previous body repairs by looking for ripples in the panels, paint that doesn't match correctly from one panel to another, and tiny spots of paint on glass, badges, body trim and so on.

Rust is uncommon but look over the lower areas of the body and the bottom corners of the doors, tailgate or boot lid as applicable. Also check the surrounds of the front and rear windscreens.

Do a complete check of all interior surfaces, in particular the tops of the dashboard and the rear parcel shelf. Look for rips in the seats, excess wear in the carpets and for damage in the luggage area.

If possible, start the engine when it is completely cold. It should fire up within a couple of seconds and idle reasonably smoothly and quietly straight away.

Carburettor engines, only fitted until 1996, won't be quite as smooth when cold as fuel-injected ones, but if things seem too bad, call in an expert for advice.

If the engine puffs oily smoke from the exhaust under hard acceleration it may be due for an overhaul.

Feel for an automatic transmission that is slow to engage gear or is inclined to change up and down unnecessarily.

HOW MUCH?

Budget on spending from $2000 to $4000 for a 1996 Lancer GL hatch; $4000 to $7000 for a 2001 GLXi wagon; $8000 to $12,000 for a 2004 MR coupe; $10,000 to $15,000 for a 2005 VR-X sedan; $13,000 to $19,000 for a 2009 RX sedan; $17,000 to $24,000 for a 2008 Aspire sedan; and $19,000 to $27,000 for a 2010 VR-X Sportback hatch.

For more motoring news check out drive.com.au.


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