When the Mitsubishi Lancer EX debuted back in 2009, conspicuously absent was a base model with an economy engine. While this undoubtedly hurt sales, a cheaper Lancer EX would have made it impossible to shift the huge stockpile of "Cedia" Lancers left over from the previous production run.
Three years on, the Cedia is officially finito, and the local Lancer EX finally gets a 1.6-liter variant. While loaded with MIVEC variable-valve trickery, some might question whether such a small motor will work in such a big car. Well, that's what we're here to find out.
Though a bit dated compared to more modern competitors, the Mitsubishi Lancer EX 1.6 GLX MT still has that quintessential sports sedan spirit, much like the iconic Galant GTI. But besides style, the Lancer's long hood and rear deck are there for a reason. They make room for the extra hardware stuffed under the skin of the supercar-slaying Evo variant. While the 16-inch wheels and the lack of chrome and kit are more Clark Kent than Superman, a set of used 18-inch GTA wheels, a body kit and a "Ralliart" badge are just a trip to Banawe away.
The Lancer interior has always been rather spartan, even on the top-dog Evo, and the GLX is even more so. It is a simple black-on-black affair of knuckle-rapping hard plastics. There's some carbon-fiber styled trim and perforated leatherette to break it up, but it's also black-on-black. While it looks decent, there are some fit-and-finish issues around the cabin. The stiff foam seats aren't anything to write home about, either. Perhaps the only saving graces here are the sporty instrument gauges and the decent driver ergonomics. The shifter falls readily to hand, and the pedals are perfectly spaced for heel-and-toe action.
Although a displacement of 1.6 liters doesn't promise much action, short gearing and a rev-happy motor make the Lancer engaging to drive. There's a bit of a dead spot around 3,000rpm, but the engine pulls nicely when it's wound up. At over 100kph, acceleration tapers off as the motor struggles with the brick-like aerodynamics, but that doesn't seem to affect economy. Driven conservatively, it gets 9km/L in traffic and 16-18km/L on the highway (20km/L is possible at a steady 70kph, but that's a rather frustrating exercise).
RIDE AND HANDLING
It's frustrating because the Lancer loves to play. Shorn of the heavy 2.0-liter engine, the EX is surprisingly light, and that lightness pervades the entire experience. It takes very little steering or pedal effort to make the Lancer stop, turn and go. The tall tires lack grip and thump around a bit, but the suspension is otherwise supple and controlled, despite some body roll. Other downsides include vague electric steering, a notchy shifter and a fiddly clutch. But find a good road and the Lancer EX still has the ability to engage. Even without a turbo or AWD.
While it's no baby Evo, the EX GLX gives you the luxury of a DVD touchscreen with a backing-up camera and optional GPS. The speakers aren't great, but that's cheap and easy to fix. There are few cars this well-loaded and this spacious at this price. Still, I've always been a proponent of buying a car rather than buying toys, and I'd trade all the toys here for a Ralliart-spec suspension, bigger rims and lower-profile tires.
Not only does the 1.6-liter Lancer formula work, it works suprisingly well. This is a fun, economical and lively car to drive. And in terms of toys, the Lancer is the most loaded 1.6-liter in its class. But while it may appeal to the traditional buyer more than the futuristic Elantra or the refined Focus, there's no denying that the Lancer is starting to feel, well, old. Given the pricing, perhaps that can be forgiven, and the Lancer is definitely the best bargain in this market segment, but the next-generation Lancer can't come soon enough.
SPECS: MITSUBISHI LANCER EX 1.6 GLX MT
Engine: 1.6-liter MIVEC (variable valve) gasoline
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Power: 115hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 154Nm @ 4,000rpm
Drive layout: FWD
Photos by Niky Tamayo