THE NEW Mitsubishi Lancer EX looks like it's ready to take off. The front end reminds me of an F-86 Sabre fighter jet, and why shouldn't it? Mitsubishi has been in the aircraft industry since over half a century ago. It produced the F-2 supersonic fighter jet, a variant of the lethal F-16 Fighting Falcon, and the A6M fighter, its most prominent plane better known as the ‘Zero' in WWII. The latter made Allied pilots shiver when locked in one-on-one combat with it.
I strap myself in the new Lancer and the soft bucket seat hugs my six-foot frame comfortably. Obviously, the seats were designed for people with large frames. I jack up the seats for a better overall view of my surroundings. At this point, I'm beginning to get the feeling that I'm out on a mission to find some action. Forget about cool cruising, Americana-style: The Lancer practically demands that you be seated in the correct performance driving position to enhance the ‘go out and tangle with the opposition' sensation.
Hold on, wait one moment...this is a Drives review for Top Gear and not a kamikaze mission! I remind myself before takeoff that I have to return the Lancer in one piece. I turn on the ignition and I hear the engine's distinct growl from the exhaust. It's not annoyingly noisy. Instead, it heightens your feeling of being in fighter-pilot mode.
Whether you get the manual stick shift or the semi-automatic with paddle shifters, the Lancer's tranny is quick to respond to your input. I'm an old-school driver. I like manuals when doing either a toe-and-heel or left-foot braking, but the paddle shifters allow for quick shifting in tight, quick turns. The handling is very responsive, especially in this variant equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels and 45-series tires. Sure-footed and athletic, the Lancer is forgiving to those who will explore it to its limits. And believe me, a regular driver will have a lot to explore.
The Lancer begs to be thrown around on sweeping and tight turns. Just like its WWII fighter predecessor, it feels light and agile but is forgiving to bad inputs from the driver. Once you get the feel of it, you lose the initial tension that is akin to what you might have felt, say, in your first dance back in high school. The four huge 16-inch rotor disc brakes stop the car on a dime. This test car has been driven around continuously by other drivers at breakneck speeds. And after several laps at the Subic International Raceway, the brakes show no fading and the brake pedal exhibits no softening despite the continuous abuse from my fellow motoring journalists.
The exterior styling is geared toward a young, affluent and spirited driver, especially with its radical rear wing. Naysayers, wait before you make your comments; this car really needs the rear wing. At 170kph on extended periods, it keeps the car firm on the ground and makes it feel like you're only running at 80kph. The car is capable of going way past 170kph with its 153hp engine. Tuners will have a field day placing a turbocharger and intercooler on this car to break the 200hp barrier.
What propels this agile platform is a new engine designated 4B11, which weighs 27kg less than the previous Lancer powerplant. The weight difference is very noticeable in the improved weight balance of the vehicle, especially once you start swinging it around turns like a katana. It doesn't plow or understeer as one might expect from a front-wheel-drive vehicle. Don't expect-to borrow Botchi's favorite term-‘heft', meaning that sensation of luxurious weight and bulk in higher priced European sports sedans. After all, the new Lancer is not to be used as a broad sword to batter, bludgeon and butcher an enemy into submission. It's more like a samurai's katana-swift, agile, efficient and strong. It will be as disciplined as its user as you drive it up to its limits. It makes you want to scream "banzai" with a savage grin on your face, a rising-sun bandana wrapped around your forehead.
The more sedate middle executive buyer who probably grew up driving a box-type Lancer his father had given him, need not fear that he has been booted out of Mitsubishi's demographic sales chart. The MX variant is slightly more sedate and more comfort-conscious. The responsive wheels and tires don't sacrifice much of the innate fun of this vehicle.
Riding at the back will not cramp your style. Rear legroom is surprisingly spacious and won't give you a claustrophobic compact-sedan sensation. Also notable is the fact that this is one of the very few sedans in its class in which I don't have very little head clearance when seated at the rear. Just watch out for the high-noon sun coming down on you. But hey, you most probably will be tinting the vehicle heavily anyway.
To make the Lancer ride more pleasurable, a six-disc in-dash stereo system with six speakers cancels the world outside. I only wish the 650-watt Rockford Fosgate audio system, with a 10-inch subwoofer, were also on the base MX variant, so that later on Junior wouldn't have to go hungry scrimping on his allowance for a stereo upgrade. That is, when the time comes for dad to pass the car on to his son.
On a personal note, there remain a few things on my wish list for the car: all-wheel drive train; at least an extra 100 horsepower; lower maximum torque band; and a hot chick in the front passenger seat. Then again, the wizards at Mitsubishi Motors Philippines just might pull a rabbit out of the hat, so to speak, and introduce the Lancer Evo X. That will surely make a splash.
And then you won't have any trouble finding that hot chick.