Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback — Hatchback Flair, Utility

MOTOR MATTERS NEW ON WHEELS BY BILL VISNIC

There used to be a time when you could get a compact hatchback from just about every automaker. Hatchbacks helped optimize the utility of small cars, enabling you to turn them into cargo haulers of surprising capacity.
Hatchbacks usually sold well to the compact-car constituency, but somewhere along the line most car companies convinced themselves Americans didn’t like hatchbacks anymore. So sedans dominate the compact-car market these days, but there are a few holdouts; small-car specialist Mitsubishi being one.
Mitsubishi’s new-generation Lancer sedan is crisp and engagingly styled and when enthusiasts saw the hatchback version Mitsubishi sells in other countries, they clamored for it to come to the U.S.
Mitsubishi complied. For 2010, they’ve launched the Lancer Sportback. The hatchback’s unique, sloping hatch makes it look longer, but the Sportback is less than a half-inch longer than the Lancer sedan. The rakish design draws a lot of attention and we see good reminders of previous-era Saabs in the Lancer Sportback’s profile.
The hatchback design enables owners to shove some large items through the cabin when swinging up the big back gate. When the rear seats are dropped flat there’s a hefty 52.7 cubic feet of cargo space, enough to swallow all manner of stuff you’d never wedge into a sedan’s trunk.
The tested 2010 Lancer Sportback GTS with a 5-speed manual transmission is the base trim for the Sportback line priced at $19,190.

You can get the same car with the same free-spinning, 168-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder and a continuously variable automatic transmission for $1,000 more. The line-topping Lancer Sportback Ralliart justifies its $8,400 price hike over the base Sportback GTS with a turbocharged version of the 2.4-liter (237 horses) and Mitsubishi’s high-tech and wonderful-to-use twin-clutch automated manual transmission.
The standard 4-cylinder moves the Lancer Sportback GTS just fine, though. This is a smooth and willing powerplant, although it can be a little thrashy-sounding. We don’t understand this car’s mediocre fuel economy ratings of 20 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg highway, although a sixth gear for the manual transmission might help. We’ve tested a midsize crossover that had the same fuel-economy ratings — and it was a much larger vehicle.
We applaud Mitsubishi for the nimbleness it is intent on building into the chassis of many of its vehicles (the Outlander GT, for instance, is one of the market’s best-handling crossovers), but we think the chassis engineers went overboard on the Lancer Sportback. The power steering is overboosted and non-linear in its feedback and the ride is pingy, almost as if the springs are just too stiff to allow shock absorbers to cushion the impacts the road deals out.
You won’t find any quirks in the 2010 Lancer Sportback GTS interior. Heartily recommended is the extra $1,500 for the Touring package, which seems a bargain in delivering leather seats that do much to improve the ambiance of the interior materials, effective high-intensity discharge headlights, rain-sensing wipers, plus a sound-deadening windshield that helps offset overall interior noise levels.
Mitsubishi’s 2010 Lancer Sportback GTS is a delightfully versatile car thanks to a hatchback design that greatly enhances utility. Compared with crossover vehicles that have become so popular, the 2010 Lancer Sportback offers almost as much versatility to carry cargo or passengers, but does so with more stylistic flair and traditional compact-car affordability. — Bill Visnic, Motor Matters

Next New On Wheels: 2011 Hyundai Sonata

SPECIFICATIONS
2010 MITSUBISHI LANCER SPORTBACK GTS
VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 5-passenger FWD compact hatchback
BASE PRICE___________________ $19,190 (as tested: $23,310)
ENGINE TYPE__________________ 16-valve DOHC I-4
DISPLACEMENT_________________ 2.4-liter
HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 168 at 6000 rpm
TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_____________ 167 at 4100 rpm
TRANSMISSION_________________ 5-speed manual
WHEELBASE____________________ 103.7 in.
OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 180.4 in.
TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb) 32.8 ft.
FUEL CAPACITY________________ 15.5 gal.
EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 27 mpg city, 31 mpg highway

Spare Parts
SUZUKI GRAND VITARA: Suzuki’s 2010 Grand Vitara wraps on-road refinement and off-road capability in an attractive package. Size-wise, the Suzuki SUV hits the mark. Grand Vitara strikes the right balance when it comes to dimensions. The benefits of this sensible sizing of a Sport Utility Vehicle are evident the minute that you slide inside. The two-row cabin seats five — and 6 footers can fit in either row. Cargo is similarly well covered. Grand Vitara holds a generous, 24.9 cubic feet of gear in back with capacity expandable to 68.9 cu.-ft. when you fold down the split rear seats. (Source: Get Off the Road, Motor Matters)
ASK AUTO DOCTOR: The “service soon” engine light came on in my pickup truck so I took it to the Nissan dealer. They found a small animal had eaten a plastic line that is part of the evaporation fuel system. They said the warranty does not cover against animals eating the plastic tubing or wiring. Is this true? Answer: You’re not the only person to have small animal damage to a vehicle. The dealer and manufacturer are not liable for critter problems. Check with your local hardware store for any products they have to deter small animals. (Source: Ask the Auto Doctor, Motor Matters)
2011 FORD FIESTA: Ford is marketing Fiesta’s safety features, which will appeal to buyers of any age. There are seven airbags in the Fiesta, including a passenger side-curtain airbag and driver-side knee airbag, both unusual in vehicles of this size and class. “This is not a cheap car with trade-offs for size,” Fiesta’s chief engineer Steve Pintar said. He calls the Fiesta a “game changer” for Ford, which is now focusing on smaller, fuel efficient family cars, including the Focus, which are being manufactured and sold globally. (Source: FreeWheeling, Motor Matters)
Copyright, Motor Matters, 2010