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NEW ORLEANS, La. – They call it the Big Easy, not so politely but for good reason. You don’t come to New Orleans to get away from something -- you come here to get away with something. Choose your passion, flesh or food or other fantasy, and the city, rotting amiably under a veil of humidity and laissez-faire inertia, hands you the reins to excess without even checking your ID.
Apropos of nothing, Mitsubishi invited a handful of us here to drive the new Lancer, the new anchor in the entry-level end of their lineup, a car they see as fulsome with sales potential as Bourbon Street is with hurricane shops and come-ons to see live “acts of love.”
Consider its competition – the Honda Civic, the Nissan Sentra and the Toyota Corolla – and you’ll see why Mitsubishi spent a year readying the Lancer for the U.S. market after it had already gone on sale in Japan. It’s not just brutal in this market niche, it’s cannibalistic. There’s almost no room for errors of marketing.
Consider, also, that Mitsubishi studiously avoids comparing its new car to the Ford Focus, the stylish, roomy piece that’s all but usurped the Civic’s place in the hearts of racer brats and third-car connoisseurs everywhere. Maybe the benchmark has moved – or maybe they consider the new Lancer a step above.
2002 Mitsubishi Lancer LSEnlarge Photo
Bottom feeder no more
One thing is certain: you won’t catch any Mitsu execs pointing to Daewoos and Kias as potential competition. Mitsubishi says that, with the new Lancer, they’re leaving the low end of the totem pole to Korea, Inc. The existing Mirage four-door will be axed, and the two-door coupe will be sold for one more year before pushing the company out of the sub-$10,000 market. Instead of a lowball bargain, they’re selling the new Lancer as a compact car with a big cabin and race-ready attributes from its fierce Evo VII rally-car brethren.