Lancer Sportback may be most underrated in class
"Sportback is middle-of-the-pack in its segment in terms of dimensions except for when it comes to room behind the front seats."
If everyone really does love the underdog, then the 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback has lot more going for it than you might think.
The Sportback is a rarely-talked-about model in Canada’s popular compact hatchback segment, but it’s a darn good vehicle regardless. It doesn’t do a lot of things spectacularly, but it does most things more than competently to make for a well-rounded package.
As you could probably guess from the name, the Sportback is essentially the five-door version of the Lancer sedan. The Sportback is slightly longer and has a bit more passenger volume, but the obvious advantage over the four-door Lancer is that it has oodles more cargo volume.
The Sportback is middle-of-the-pack in its segment in terms of dimensions except for when it comes to room behind the front seats. With the rear bench seats folded, Mitsubishi’s five-door offers room for the equivalent of 1,320 litres of stuff. I loaded it up with folding chairs, a sleeping bag, groceries, and more, and didn’t come close to seeing it break a sweat.
The Sportback seats fold nearly flat (flatter than those in the Volkswagen Golf), there’s no need to remove headrests (as you have to with the Kia Forte5), and they can be manipulated from the side or rear of the vehicle using simple latches (unlike just about every other vehicle in the segment).
Mitsubishi hasn’t forgotten about space for passengers, though, and while the Sportback doesn’t have quite as much room as competitors such as the Toyota Matrix or Forte5, there’s still plenty of space for up to four adults. All seats are supportive, and the ones in the rear feel angled back nicely for more comfort.
The Sportback still clearly lags behind others in the segment in terms of interior quality, though. It offers decent features such as Bluetooth, steering wheel audio controls, and an eco mode indicator, but even those things are being more and more commonplace, even on entry-level vehicles.
The materials inside, from the leather wrapping around the seats and steering wheel, to the plastic and fake carbon fibre on the dash, aren’t much to look at and don’t feel particularly nice to the touch.
It’s a little easier to forgive that when I feel how fun it is to drive the Sportback. Only the Golf possesses driving dynamics that are on par with the Mitsubishi’s. Considering this model doesn’t have any Ralliart badges adorning it, it’s great feeling steering that’s so direct and cornering that’s so flat.
The Sportback feels light on its wheels and the power on tap helps get this vehicle moving in a hurry from a standstill. Although continuously variable transmissions are typically known to steal any sort of muscle a vehicle possesses, the optional CVT in my tester is really pretty good. It helps keep fuel consumption in check, and I’m quite happy with how the Sportback accelerates.
During more typical everyday travels to and from the office in heavy traffic, the Sportback once again shines. The suspension is tight enough to make for fun driving, but is soft enough to make driving through road construction a breeze.
While the Sportback has all sorts of swoopy curves behind the C-pillar, things are more conservative ahead of that, making for excellent visibility. The Sportback is a great example of how a vehicle can look awesome without needing dramatic character lines or a sky-high beltline.
The Lancer Sportback without a doubt falls in the “underrated” category of vehicles. It hasn’t changed much since it debuted in 2009 and it may be easy to argue it’s starting to show its age somewhat, but the heart of a fun, affordable, and versatile is right there hiding in plain sight.
2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback
Trim level: GT
Price as tested (before taxes): $25,498
Options on test vehicle: Automatic transmission ($1,300)
Configuration: front engine/ front-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 2.0L 4-cyl./ continuously variable
Power/torque: 148 hp/ 145 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): regular (59L)
Fuel economy ratings: 8.3 L/100km city; 6.1 L/100km hwy
Observed fuel economy: 8.4 L/100km over 570 km
Warranties: 5 years/100,000 km (basic); 10 years/160,000 km (powertrain)
Competitors: Dodge Caliber; Ford Focus; Kia Forte5; Mazda3 Sport; Toyota Matrix; Volkswagen Golf
Strengths: versatility; handling; ride
Weaknesses: cheap interior; CVT