Mitsubishi Motors New Zealand have entered 2012 with a hiss and a roar. Almost their entire line-up has seen some changes and/or improvements.
The Lancer range, notably, has had some major alterations, especially so in the model line-up. It has been completely realigned by MMNZ. A few weeks ago I evaluated the VRX in these columns, another Lancer newcomer is the focus of this review, and it is the return of an old nameplate from years gone by - the SEi.
I've never owned a Lancer but a good friend of mine had an SEi; in fact, I think he had more than one at different times and they served him and his partner well. And there will be thousands of Kiwis who will relate to the SEi nameplate, the Lancer it represented had a fearful reputation for reliability and economy.
The new SEi sits at $36,990 in the marketplace and comes with a good level of fitment. Like its VRX stablemate it gets leather trim with heated front seats, electric driver's seat adjustment, keyless entry, cruise control, tilt and reach-adjustable steering column, variable intermittent wipers, rear view reversing camera, trip computer and Bluetooth/iPod/MP3/six-disc audio.
For safety there are no fewer than seven air bags, five overshoulder seat belts and ABS. It is aligned to traction and stability control, and Mitsubishi's trick new SmartBrake system which disengages throttle request if the accelerator pedal is pressed at the same time as the brake.
Unlike the VRX the SEi gets a 2-litre engine only. I'm not saying the SEi is underwhelming, it's just that the 127kW 2.4-litre unit in the VRX is a stunner and propels that car with a certain amount of urgency.
The 115kW and 201Nm 2-litre unit is still entirely adequate for the compact proportions of the Lancer and its 1335kg on-road weight, it is also willing, quiet and flexible. A lot of the latter is due to the way it works through a continuously variable automatic transmission. The CVT system which makes up the majority of Lancer sales here has been well tried and has proven to produce seamless gearing throughout the rev band, acceleration and subsequent speed is uninhibited.
The driver can take control over the CVT process, there's a manual override function which locks the gearing into six preset points. This is a handy function if, for example, you are travelling through hill country or for overtaking.
Interaction between the engine and gearbox is fluid and feisty. The engine is relatively busy, the area where maximum torque is developed means it hunts a little towards the top end of the rev band. Even so, it still provides respectable fuel usage statistics. According to Mitsubishi the SEi will return a 7.3-litre per 100km (39mpg) combined average figure.
My time with the test car ended with test/commute figures of 9.2l/100km (31mpg) which weren't that far distant. That was helped by a fabulous open road return of 6l/100km (47mpg) with the engine turning over at just 2000rpm at 100km/h in the tallest part of the gearing.
On the subject of figures, the SEi is also a relatively quick mover, the power-to-weight ratio works in favour of quick acceleration. Against the clock it will make 100km/h from a standstill in 9.1sec and will produce an overtaking time of 6.2sec to make 120km/h from 80km/h.
It is on the open road that the SEi is really in its element. That's not saying it isn't happy at city speeds, far from it, the Lancer has always been an adaptable car at all speeds and it fits into its original design ethos perfectly.
Suspended on a compliant front-strut/rear multiple link suspension arrangement, ride quality is well proportioned against the firmness needed to contain body movement when placed into a corner. The suspension isn't bothered by mid-corner bumps and ruts, while occupant comfort is well provided.
Providing the grip are 205/60 x 16in Yokohama Advan tyres and they offer good information back through the steering tiller. Directional accuracy is well provided and balance and control in a corner isn't hindered by what seems generous body movement.
The New Zealand car market is a battleground where all manufacturers have their time in the limelight. Mitsubishi are saying to the car buying public that they are here to be recognised and they have product which will cater for all wants and needs.