Introduced in 2002 as a replacement for the aged Mirage sedan, the Mitsubishi Lancer came to market boasting upscale style and more rear-seat room than most of its rivals. Apart from that, there was really nothing that separated the Mitsubishi Lancer from the Civics, Corollas, Sentras and Elantras slugging it out in the economy sedan arena, especially since the only engine choice was a weak 120-horsepower four-cylinder. An effort was made (and still is today) to market the O-Z Rally as a sporty sedan, but with just the base engine, it remains all-show and no-go. For 2004, continuing its quest for young, active buyers, Mitsubishi introduced a new compact wagon known as the Sportback and brought out more powerful Ralliart versions of both the sedan and the wagon. For 2005, Mitsubishi discontinued the Sportback wagons, leaving only the sedans once again. The lone remaining Ralliart sedan model still offers 162 horsepower, quite a boost over the base 120.
Ralliart is Mitsubishi's international performance brand, engineered by the same people who worked on Mitsubishi's high-performance Lancer Evolution sedan. Mitsubishi uses the Ralliart sedan to grab a little market share in the econosport sedan and hatchback group. In service of this mission, the Lancer Ralliart has a sport-tuned suspension for tighter handling in the turns.
Despite their well-appointed interiors and smooth ride quality, the base, SE and O-Z Rally models handle a little too sloppily for our taste, and their lack of power doesn't help matters. The Lancer Ralliart, with its more potent motor, better suspension and standard safety features, is a much better choice. These aspects, combined with an attractive interior, make the 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer a pretty compelling small sedan.
The 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer sedan is available in four trim levels: ES, SE, O-Z Rally and Ralliart. ES sedans come with items like 15-inch wheels; air-conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; a tilt steering wheel; a height-adjustable driver seat; and a CD player. The SE adds alloy wheels, chrome door handles (inside and out), Alcantara seating, power sunroof, cruise control, keyless entry, intermittent wipers and six-speaker audio. The O-Z Rally trim adds O-Z Rally alloy wheels, ground effects, white-faced gauges, cruise control, a split-folding rear seat, keyless entry, unique interior trim and embroidered floor mats. Top-of-the-line Ralliart models add foglamps, lower body kit moldings, 16-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension and sport seats. The ES can be had with most of the O-Z's additional equipment through a convenience package, and O-Z Rally and Ralliart buyers can further upgrade with the Sun and Sound package, which provides a power sunroof and a 315-watt Infinity stereo.
The Lancer's interior is surprisingly stylish and constructed with quality materials. This car also has one of the roomiest cabins in its class. Rear-seat legroom, at 36.6 inches, comes close to what many midsize sedans offer. Ralliart models provide an all-black interior with carbonlike accents and sport bucket front seats.
The ES, SE and O-Z Rally sedans are powered by a 120-horsepower, 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder. The Ralliart sedan upgrades to a 2.4-liter engine tuned to produce 162 hp and 162 pound-feet of. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on all models, with a four-speed automatic available as an option.
Like its Galant sibling, the smooth-riding Mitsubishi Lancer does a fine job of isolating passengers from nasty jolts on the roadway. Base models provide adequate power around town, but highway travel will make you wish you had more than 120 hp. With 162 horses to go around, the Ralliart model is much more enjoyable, especially when equipped with the slick-shifting five-speed manual. Although standard Lancers offer modest handling capability, the sport-tuned Ralliart model has sharper reflexes and is fun to drive.
Antilock brakes and side airbags are standard on the Ralliart models, and optional on the ES, SE and O-Z Rally. In NHTSA crash testing, the 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer scored five (out of five) stars for driver and front-passenger protection in frontal impacts. In side-impact tests, the Lancer received a subpar two-star rating for front-occupant protection (without side airbags) and four stars for rear-occupant protection. In frontal-offset crash testing conducted by the IIHS, the Lancer received a "Good" rating (the highest possible). In IIHS side-impact testing, a Lancer without side airbags received a "Poor" rating (the lowest).
All 2006 Mitsubishi Lancers receive new front fascias, daytime running lamps, a front-seat occupant sensor for airbag deployment and new seat fabrics for 2006. The ES model gets new wheel covers and a rear stabilizer bar, while the Ralliart now features standard side-impact airbags. Antilock brakes become optional for the ES and O-Z Rally. Late in the model year, a new trim level -- the SE -- debuts. It slots between the ES and O-Z Rally.