One look at the Lancer Sportback and you might think that after styling the athletic and appealing Lancer Saloon, Mitsubishi’s designers suddenly ran short of talent. The hatch is a bit of an eyesore, but we’d better get accustomed to its awkward lines - because four-door C-segment saloons aren’t exactly popular in Europe, Mitsubishi needed a hatchback version to compete. The company believes the five-door model will account for the vast proportion of Lancers sold in the UK.
So how different is it from the saloon?
It’s identical up to and including the rear doors. But to incorporate the hatchback, the roof drops away coupe-style at the rear, giving the car a stubby tail that’s out of proportion to the loner bonnet. And the awkwardly tacked-on roof spoiler completes a look that to our eyes bears more than a passing resemblance to the new-look Subaru Impreza.
Not a great start then. Is the payoff massive versatility?
The boot is 288-litres – not great compared to the saloon’s 400-litres. But the hatch does have a false floor so that with a quick and easy pull of a lever, the rear seats flop forward and fold flat to create a vast 1394-litre loadbay. The wide-opening tailgate also means access is also much easier than the saloon, with its narrow aperture and higher lip. There’s also seating for five, as there should be for a car that’s got the same footprint as a Mercedes C-Class. There’s adequate head and leg-room but rear foot space is tight.
Interiors have never been Mitsubishi’s strong suit...
True – and although better than previous generation Lancers the Sportback still lags way behind European rivals. The dashboard redefines the word bland. The materials feel hard and scratchy enough to file your nails on, while the faux carbonfibre highlights look horribly aftermarket. It is at least decently equipped, with all models fitted with electric windows and mirrors, air-con, alloy wheels, remote locking and keyless entry.
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What about the engines?
The entry-level 1.5-litre is the surprise of the bunch. It’s smooth, refined and feels surprisingly gutsy considering its modest 109bhp output. The 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine is poky enough for a car this size with a healthy amount of mid-range torque, but it’s not the most refined unit – there whole cabin reverberates to the motor’s clattery idle and there’s plenty of ignition clatter on the go.
Buyers looking for a well priced and decently equipped alternative to the Ford Focus and its more familiar rivals should give the Lancer a look. Beneath its bodywork the Sportback is mechanically identical to its saloon sister car – which means a talented chassis with engaging handling and a decent ride quality. Only that horribly low-rent interior lets it down. It may not be as striking as the saloon, but the hatchback is certainly the more versatile.