In 2004, one of the newest entries in the economy end of the market was the Mitsubishi Lancer.
As you may recall, Mitsubishi had made a bit of a false start in Canada a few years before that. Amid considerable fanfare, it announced that the company was setting up a dealer network and then, for whatever reason, changed its mind. Many assumed that that was the end for this Japanese company in the Great White North.
But they did come back and, in 2003, the Lancer ES was voted Best New Economy Car of the year in the under-$18,000 category by the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada.
It's not hard to see why. In the economy-car market, you win people over by building a car that is easy to get along with and has an accessible sticker price. The 2004 Lancer succeeded on both scores.
After all, it was by then in its seventh generation, and competed directly with rivals such as the Dodge 2.0SX, Mazda Protégé, Suzuki Aerio and Pontiac Sunfire/Chevrolet Cavalier. There was also a four-door station wagon version, called the Sportback.
The standard powerplant was a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine that developed 120 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and was mated to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
Despite its false start, Mitsubishi has a history of building tough, driveable, econo-boxes (remember the old Colt in its various incarnations?) and the Lancer was no exception.
In fact, that's what it was all about: being easy to get along with. No complicated controls or unmanageable electronic functions to worry about; no semi-automatic transmission, no GPS, no climate control system to fuss over - this was an unassuming, nicely designed, four-door economy sedan that went about its business quietly and efficiently.
Compared with many other models in this class, there was plenty of sprawl space in the back seat, with almost as much legroom as its larger sibling, the Galant. It was, however, at the expense of trunk space. With about 320 litres of stowage behind the back seat, the Lancer was less capacious than, say, the Honda Civic or Mazda Protégé.
It came in four trim levels: ES, LS, O.Z., and later, the Ralliart. The O.Z. got its name from its alloy wheels and came with power windows, air conditioning, rear deck spoiler and a CD player, among other things. You could also order ABS and a power sunroof. Base price for the entry-level ES was a smidgeon under $16,000, with another $4,000 for the O.Z. before options.
Fuel consumption, very important in this market, was acceptable, but not outstanding: 9.8 litres/100 km in the city and 7.8 on the highway for the manual transmission version. Since they basically had the same drivetrain, these numbers applied to all models, with the exception of the Ralliart.
Like most econo-boxes, the Lancer was fun to drive, as long as you kept things in perspective. It had lively acceleration and good road manners, with no nasty surprises and you could drive with enthusiasm once in a while, if that's what moves you. But all things considered, its real forte was as a commuter vehicle.
If you wanted more urge, the Ralliart version was a definite step up in the performance department, with some 162 horsepower on tap. Mitsubishi was and is deeply involved in rally sport around the world, and the Ralliart was kind of a tamer version of their successful rally cars.
There are no safety recalls on file with Transport Canada, but the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has three. However, none of them are serious and probably don't even apply to vehicles sold in Canada. One concerns improperly labelled bilingual airbag warnings and the other two deal with replacement headlight issues.
NHTSA does have some 36 technical service bulletins for this vintage of Lancer, however, and they cover just about everything. Rear brake noise, collapsed upper radiator hose, oil pan bolt issues, misfiring engine during cold starts are just a few of the contretemps listed. Again, many of NHTSA's service bulletins take the form of advisories, rather than life-endangering alerts.
Consumer Reports doesn't have much on the 2004 Lancer, but the '03 version gets pretty good marks and there isn't a huge amount of difference between the two. The exceptions are the climate and exhaust systems, and even those are just below average as opposed to poor. Otherwise, it's all good.
Market research company J.D. Power gives the '04 Lancer sedan "about-average" or "better-than-most" ratings in all areas, with the exception of powertrain quality. It gets a slightly-above-average rating for predicted reliability.
Nowadays, prices for a five-year-old Lancer range from about $5,500 to just under $11,700, depending upon the model and equipment level. Unsurprisingly, the O.Z. is pricier than the base version, and the Sportback seems to run about another $2,000 higher in resale.
2004 MITSUBISHI LANCER SEDAN
Original Base Price: $15,997; Black Book Value: $7,300-$11,700; Red Book Value: $5,275-$8,025
Engine: 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre four-cylinder
- 120 hp/142 lb-ft for 2.0-litre
- 162 hp/162 lb-ft for 2.4-litre
Transmission: Five-speed manual/four-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 9.8 city/7.8 highway (2.0-litre with manual five-speed); regular gas
Alternatives: Toyota Corolla, Dodge 2.0SX, Mazda Protégé, Honda Civic, Suzuki Aerio, Pontiac Sunfire, Chevrolet Cavalier, Nissan Sentra