Approaching its 40th birthday, the Mitsubishi Lancer has been sold around the world with about a dozen different names, Lancer Fiore to Mirage Saloon to Dodge Colt. Now in its ninth generation since its 1973 debut, the Lancer under its various badges has sold more than six million units.

For 2011, a more entry level ES trim joined its sedan and hatchback siblings at a base price of about $2,000 less than last year’s model. The reduced price was prompted by the influx of top-notch small cars available from almost every manufacturer.

The Weekly Driver Test Drive

The Lancer Sportback ES has a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine, but its exterior appearance makes it look like a more powerful and appreciably sportier car. It isn’t.

In this instance, appearances are deceiving. The Sportback is functional and its well-designed hatchback gives it an edge over others in the same category.

But every time I drove the Lancer, it felt underpowered. Was I in the wrong gear? Was the brake still engaged?

The Lancer’s handsome exterior is also oddly matched with an ordinary, plastic-dominated interior.

Yet, there are positives. The base ES includes standard 16-inch steel wheels, rocker-sill bodywork extensions, air-conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry, a tilt-only steering wheel with audio controls, full power accessories, a trip computer, a 60/40-split rear seat with a center armrest and a four-speaker CD/MP3 stereo with an auxiliary audio jack.

Likes:

Easy access to functional hatchback with good cargo space.

Smooth, confident handling.

Handsome, sleek exterior design. Looks expensive.

Good warranty.

Dislikes:

Quality of interior materials questionable.

Lots of seemingly unnecessary gadgetry.

Non-telescopic steering wheel.

Sub-par acceleration.

Facts & Figures: 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback ES

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, 9.0 seconds
Airbags: Front and rear head airbags, dual front side-mounted airbags, driver knee airbag.
Antilock brakes: standard.
First aid kit: not available.
Fuel economy: 25 mpg (city), 32 mpg (highway).
Government Safety Ratings (five star ratings): Driver frontal impact (five stars), Front passenger frontal impact (four stars), driver and front passenger side impact (five stars), rear passengers side impact (four stars).
Horsepower: 148
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (full line range): $15,195-$28,095.
Manufacturer’s Web site: www.mitsubishicars.com.
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 5 years/60,000 miles; Powertrain, 10 years/100,000 miles; Corrosion, 7 years/100,000 miles.

What Others Say:

“The 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback is a good car in concept. But when compared to competing hatchbacks like the Mazda 3, Subaru Impreza and Volkswagen GTI, it typically trails in terms of performance, cargo capacity and value.” —- Edmunds.com.

“Although the Lancer feels well-built where it counts most, the interior styling, materials and noise levels don’t convey the same sense of refinement delivered by competitors like the MAZDA3 or Honda Civic.” —- Kelley Blue Book.

“You just can’t go from an Evo anything to a non-Evo anything else and find it nearly as inspiring. It was like dating Pamela Anderson for a while and then going out with Pamela Anderson’s lesser-known half-sister, Gladys. Gladys is reliable and roomy, if a little soft. But she’s no Pamela.” —- AutoWeek.

What The Wife Says:

“The hatchback is easy to operate and has a lot of space, and the front seats are very comfortable.”

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“The are lots of small cars on the market, but with choices including the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta and Mazda 3, the Mitsubishi Lancer, while adequate, doesn’t distinguish itself with the exception of its sleek exterior styling.”

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