Regarding the headline. Let's assume that you are not in the middle of the Sahara. Let's further assume that you're talking about a brand-new 2002 sedan that you've seen. And so you are wondering if it is, indeed, a Mitsubishi Mirage. Marcel Millot, manager, Product Strategy for Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America, says straight out, "This is not a Mirage replacement." The Mirage coupe will continue...for a year. The 2002 Lancer—a name that is widely recognized in other parts of the world—is a vehicle onto itself. And for those Americans who are fans of the international World Rally Championship series and are consequently familiar with the Lancer Evolution rally car (which has been modified for street use in places including Europe and is known as the EVO VII), the good news is that the 2002 Lancer is essentially the same structure as the EVO (without all the fancy bits and reinforcements to the body-in-white); the bad news is that it isn't the EVO, which isn't available in the U.S.—at least not yet.
Under the hood. There's an SOHC 2.0-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine that provides 120 hp at 5,500 rpm and 130 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,250 rpm. The block is aluminum. The head is aluminum. A few interesting points about the way things are designed under there. There is a snorkel at the leading edge of the hood. Its purpose is to draw in cold air from above the radiator. Typically, hot air from within the engine compartment is used for combustion. The cold air helps provide a denser fuel charge in the cylinders. The equal-length intake manifold is designed so that there is plenty of air available even at low speeds, thereby helping provide good low-end torque. The multi-point fuel injector system is set up such that the injector mount angle provides a straight shot at the intake valve opening. Not only does this minimize the build-up of gasoline on the intake port, but it also makes for a quieter, smoother running engine. It also helps cold starts. Speaking of straightening things: the exhaust piping is comparatively straightened to reduce back pressure. As there is a racing heritage associated with the Lancer, there is a touch of the track (or, actually, the off-road course) under the hood: a steel girdle interconnects the crankshaft bearing caps in order to strengthen the bottom end of the block. (The engine, incidentally, can be mated with a five-speed manual in the ES and O·Z Rally trim levels; a four-speed automatic with a controller that tailors shift points to the type of driver is available on all trim levels, including the LS model, in the middle of the other two.)
The body. Steel. There has been plenty of attention paid to (1) making the car safe and (2) providing a rigid structure. As for the former, Mitsubishi engineers have implemented what is called "RISE," or "Refined Impact Safety Evolution." What this actually means is building a stronger structure. For example, in order to provide more tailored structural elements, mash seam welding is employed. Consequently, there is the ability to tailor the steel components by adding or subtracting several sheets of steel in order to achieve crash energy absorption in some areas and crash energy resistance in others. For example, the front frame rails are processed with mash seam welding. Beefier body elements include a front cross member connecting the frame rails; a lower dash-panel cross member; a tow board reinforcement that works with the lower dash panel cross member to keep the cabin floor from deforming in a frontal collision; a front floor side member that ties together the front frame rails and side sills, which are of a larger cross section; a reinforced A-pillar; a floor-mounted cross member between the reinforced B-pillars that, with the B-pillar to B-pillar roof bow, forms a lateral ring around the passenger compartment; a floor-mounted cross member below the rear seat; wrapped-pipe design door beams (there are double beams in the rear doors). And there is more. Suffice it to say that the overall design and construction result in a vehicle that provides 50% more rigidity and 60% more bending resistance than the previous model. (The 2002 is actually the 6th generation Lancer. And while Mitsubishi may seem like a comparatively new brand in the U.S. as compared with, say, Toyota and Honda, the company has actually been building cars for more than 80 years.)
Beyond welding. In addition to spot welding, adhesive bonding is used on the Lancer. The front and rear roof rails, side outer panel, and A-, B- and C-pillars are bonded together at the roof. The reason: increased torsional strength. The same is true for the rear panel between the taillights and the rear quarter panels.
Smarter. The engine and automatic transmission controllers are combined into a single processor. The purpose: to speed reaction time.
Fit & finish. People still slam the doors when they're checking out a new car. Mitsubishi engineers have enhanced the results by employing both resin bushings in the door hinges for smoother opening and closing and dampers in the door latches for a solid sound. As for the finish, low-molecular weight acrylic/melamine resins are used, which helps reduce emissions in the paint process.
Quieter. This may be the quietest small car we've ever driven. The extensive use of insulating materials is one major reason why. As in: foam blown into the A-, B- and C-pillars, A-pillar base ahead of the front door, and the upper rear wheel housing; urethane foam blocks in the B-pillar at floor level and in the lower inner door structures; felt lining in the dashboard, below the cabin carpeting, on the underside of the rear seat, in the inner door panels, in the rear roof pillars, and on the parcel shelf. The dash panel is a sandwich of steel and foamed asphalt. The rear floor cross member is rolled steel covered with epoxy foam. And the cabin floor, center floor tunnel and trunk floor are all sound dampened with asphalt sheets. There are two liquid-filled engine mounts. Even the main fuel lines are decoupled from the cabin floor with cushioned mounts to attenuate any disturbing sounds.
Pricing. Although not firm when we drove the Lancer, it is expected to be in the $14,000 to $18,000 range.