7JP-546-E (ii)

Matt Prior at Autocropley has wondered if cars are becoming less practical. I have another question…

Mitsubiishi Lancer

Mr Prior is chiefly concerned about the practical impact of size. He thinks many cars are too wide for European conditions. Before I read the article I thought maybe he would write about the fact some large cars have surprisingly small loadbays, have hatches compromised by goofy lamp shapes or have cant rails that are angled so shallowly that you bang your head getting in to the car.  He didn’t actually mention any of those things, or that rear-centre armrests are becoming a thing of the past. That’s why this Mitsubishi is here.

Mitsubishi Lancer rear seats and armrest


For me, a practical car is one that is also suitable for more than short journeys. Rear passengers require a comfortable seating posture during anything but a very short trip. It’s not so pleasant to have one arm dangling by your side while the other is resting like a king on the door-mounted armrest.

Put another way, being able to sit with both elbows at rest is one of the rather lovely aspects of sitting in the back of car. It makes one feel at ease and almost ministerial if the car is spacious enough. The centre arm-rest also allows you to brace yourself during cornering. That makes for a less tiring journey.

The photo above shows that Mitsubishi thought about this and felt a rear-centre armrest would be a necessary courtesy. In contrast, many similarly sized cars in the same period have abandoned them. The Opel Astra saloon didn’t have one in its last iteration or second last, which is perplexing as it’s otherwise a very fine compact saloon.

Over at Alfa Romeo, you can get a Giulia without the feature. Some say it’s available but I’ve yet to see an example with one fitted. It’s pretty much the same for all lower-medium cars though there might be a few exceptions I have not had a chance to look at yet.

The question is why manufacturers are choosing to leave out a feature which has been to all purposes standard in all medium-sized cars for about twenty years. Going further back, even large cars like the Granada and Rekord didn’t have them as standard and they became the norm. The feature migrated down the classes so that even buyers of quite modest cars could enjoy something which ought to be mandatory – after all, any decent sitting room has armchairs and not armless chairs. That’s how seated people feel most comfortable.

One argument is to do with 60:40 split seats. I don’t buy this as it is perfectly possible to fit an armrest into the larger portion of the seat back. Safety belts for the middle passenger can be roof mounted as I have seen in many recent cars. Peugeot managed to get the inertia reel into the seat back of the 406 as long ago as 1996. It can be done.

Which brings me back to the Mitsubishi. This version appeared in 2007 and only bowed out in 2017. Along with its old school fittings (the arm-rest) it had an old-school range of engines: 1.5., 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 litre petrols. You really know where you stand with this car. In some markets it even came with a 2.4 litre engine and four-wheel drive (the Evo version, I expect).

It didn’t get very positive reviews: Richard Bremer at Autcropley summed it up as Despite quite a long list of things to carp about – lightly – this Lancer certainly isn’t without appeal. Buyers looking for excitement are advised to look elsewhere, but it’s certainly a better all-rounder than the Mazda 3 it’s aimed at. That said, the Focus, as ever, has got it licked.” No, the Focus didn’t have a rear centre arm-rest. Nor did the contemporary Astra or Megane.

Car magazine was more charitable: “The Lancer’s new platform, shared with the Outlander and co-developed with the former DaimlerChrysler corporation is well engineered, the standard kit is impressive and the styling has gone from oh dear to oh my! “

And they summed it up with this: It’s by no-means a class-leading car, but Mitsubishi has been smart to proposition the Lancer between classes – it’s Vectra/Mondeo sized but its pricing is more Astra/Focus league. You need to try a Focus or a Civic before you commit yourself to the Mitsubishi, but if you want something just that little bit different, the Lancer is indeed worth a look.”  That brings up, again, the topic of in-betweeny cars which we were discussing this week.

Just for being so resolutely practical, the Lancer comes across as a very charming kind of car, if you can see past the grey character it exudes. Therein lies also the problem for many consumers who, returning to Matt Prior’s article, prefer something more ostentatious and loaded with ever more kit rather than vehicles that get the basics right.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

20 thoughts on “7JP-546-E (ii)”

  1. At launch, it had a (then) state-of-the-art transmission, and many engines were similarly advanced. The car drove and road better than the equivalent Mazda 3s – some may even say it looked better. The proportions certainly were. Still terribly sad to see MMC go!

    1. Mitsubishi is a peculiar company. I don´t think they made an obviously bad car – sometimes ordinary but never so downright rubbish you will think of an example in 10 seconds. Clearly they don´t do much for many people and haven´t for a long time. Insanity is sometimes doing the same thing over and over even when it doesn´t work (some call that practicing) and Mitsubishi held tight to a course of making cars that were well-engineered and unattractive. They are like Subaru without the USP of boxer engines and 4WD. Yet all Mitsubishi had to do was warm up the entire range a bit – it´s the same old formular I offer every time. It´s not that MMC lack chassis tuning talent but they spent it all on an specialty car the Evo which has sold well to those who like them and overshadowed the others cars entirely. Still, they keep putting in the rear centre armress. I imagine Mitsubishi Towers has calendars where it says 1989 and they still do everything (though well) using mainframes and Rotring pens. Who is it in the corporation who says “just hold on, we´ll do another 7 years of apparently unremarkable cars….it´s sure to turn around…”?

    2. I have to be a bit careful what I say about MMC for professional reasons, however I will state the material fact that the current Mirage is, by absolutely any objective metric you care to mention, hopelessly uncompetitive. It’s that thing we all like to believe doesn’t exist: a truly bad modern car.

  2. Inexplicably the Giulia QF does not seem to come equipped with a rear arm rest. The standard models most certainly do (and directional air vents for rear passengers too, which is almost as important).

  3. It’s a rather lovely piece of design with a fundamental rightness to it, isn’t it? Only the badge kills its appeal. Imagine it being from a Euro brand, we would discuss it as the last of the great [fill in brand name] saloons.

    1. Yes, it´s a neat and well proportioned saloon that might once have been right for Peugeot. It looks like a possible Peugeot 307 saloon. The slanty lamps are a bit Peugeot and the car is calm and sober.

    2. Personally I think the wheelbase is too short and the rear lamps look like they were thrown at the car from some distance.

      Mind you, it is tricky to make a compact four door look good. The Giulia is no doubt considerably longer than this.

  4. As car dashboards and front interior quality and materials improve, the back is often neglected. I won’t deny the reality that cars are driven with one person on board for the majority of the time, but it is a negative evolution.

    In the back, my mid-spec 156 provided soft plastic and leather door inlays on the doors and wheelarcher, an armrest and controllable air vents. And, obviously, a 12V plug and complementary ashtrays in each door. But no cupholders.

    I agree with the author that every car bar city runabouts should provide armrests, preferably combined with a ski hatch aboven it.

    1. Having no armrest in the back is like have a totally empty guest room. “It´s not as if we have visitors very much. So what if they sleep on the floor – it´s only a night or two after all.”

    2. I wouldn’t say completely empty. It’s more like it has a bed without mattress.

  5. My Forester has fold down central armrest, fold out cubby with two cup holders and variable rake for the rear back rest. These (combined with the large transmission tunnel) make a very comfortable back seat for two and a very uncomfortable middle third. In a previous Saab 900 our dog was most appreciative of the ski hatch between the rear seat and the boot.

  6. I generally agree about the central armrest. All but my very first car had it, and rear passengers always appreciate it.
    However, if you want to seat three, things start to look a bit different. For us three kids in the back of our family car thirty years back, the completely flat bench of a CX Break (Safari for you out there on the islands) was perfect. Three real, usable places, no transmission tunnel at all. The XM that followed was a major step back in this regard. It had a tunnel, prepared for a 4WD version that never came, and a much more shaped seat. Great for the window passengers, but very bad for the person in the centre.

    1. Oddly in the 70s three kids was more likely than two. Now two sprogs are more likely but the rear arm-rest is gone.
      As owner of an XM and two kids, I can testify there is no problem with the rear seats.

    2. Now it’s clear why armrests disappear. All the young folk around here start having three kids again. Three is the new two.

      (Not that middle places are getting any more comfortable, though)

  7. I tried to do a quick survey in the work car park at lunchtime but couldn’t see a thing for all the blacked-out rear windows on most cars there.

  8. I wonder if this is a US versus EU difference?

    Out of all the Sedan cars I’ve owned, I can’t think of any of them NOT having a fold down center armrest. Even the very basic Toyota Yaris sedan had one.

    However, my Chevrolet Sonic LTZ is a top level car, a hatchback, and does NOT have one.

  9. Also, the Lancer was actually a pretty decent car. It sold OK in the US, and the US cars got a non-Evo 4WD option, as well. (Offered with the “Warm” Ralliart, or a more basic version as well)

    The problem is that Mitsubishi simply did not update it with a new model. All of it’s competitors went through two model cycles, and the old Lancer just kept on going.

  10. I think Lancers sold in “alright” quantities outside of Europe, and I believe one might quite easily find more MMC followers than Subaru followers, especially for regions with more temperate climates where AWD is not high up on the considerations list.

    No doubt a “peculiar company” (as Richard would describe them). Their engineering accomplishments were plentiful. But perhaps they really were too out of touch with reality. After their demise, I once read an article mentioning how their R&D and HQ offices were far apart in terms of geography and culture, leading to this distinct bipolar nature in their cars: fanciful tech, married to a boring/soul-less package.

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