I guess growing up in one of the "Top 3" cities skewed my perceptions a bit. For years, I have heard that New York was a big, hard city, filled with traffic, congestion, wandering pedestrians and food carts. From my observations, there may be some truth to that statement, but I found New York City to be surprisingly navigable and actually moves along very efficiently for its size. Once you get past the constant horn honking, that is.
Taking into account the fact that over 8.3 million people occupy the metropolitan area, it is no surprise that most urban dwellers utilize transportation in the form of rails, two wheels or a taxicab. Those who do decide to navigate the maze of brick, glass and mortar call New York City, simply rely on the accelerator and their horn. It is no surprise to me that drivers (especially taxi drivers) in a densely populated environment like Midtown Manhattan want to be seen and clearly heard, but clearly that environment isn't the best place to truly test a vehicle, unless you are driving a MRAP.
Since Dollar Rent a Car was out of armored vehicles that day, I settled on a Mitsubishi Lancer ES and decided to head upstate. My first impressions regarding exterior styling was that the vehicle looked clean-cut and tidy in white. Considering that the current generation Lancer traces it 9th generation design back to 2007 (as a 2008 model), the minor trim changes throughout its run have allowed the vehicle age well. Similarly, the interior was very straightforward with simple lines, clean curves and monotone color pattern. To be blunt- functional, but a bit plain.
Utilizing the controls of the straightforwardly designed interior, obtaining a good seating position (a very important thing) was quite effortless and soon I found myself heading North on I-278. After a short ride on the tollway, I soon found another reason why most urban dwellers don't drive- $7.50 tolls could easily reek havoc on your bank account. Despite the debit from my wallet, I decided to use the toll lane to conduct my own personal, real-world, acceleration test.
With a light chirp of the tires I was off. 60 mph came in a reasonable amount of time (0-60 claimed at 8.1 seconds), but the CVT transmission numbed the experience. In fact, when trying to do some simple 40-60mph merging/passing tests in traffic, I found the CVT tended to lag while finding the correct ratio, as the 148hp 2.0 litre engine desperately looked for torque. Needless to say, my limp attempt at a pass and merge resulted caused a fellow motorist to honk at me. Go figure.
Once I settled into my lane, cruising along at 60 mph was uneventful. With the cruise control set, the engine quieted down to a muffled whirring, the CVT played nicely and didn't illicit the typical drone (common of a lot of those type of transmissions) and wind noise was pronounced, but not overly obnoxious. This type of driving made my transition from I-278 and up the Bronx Parkway a decent experience.
Moving further away from the city, I made my way onto the Sprainbrook Parkway and decided to give the 2.0 liter CVT combination another test. When floored from 60 mph in a straight line, the MIVEC engine quickly awoke and was eager to deliver power, but the CVT transmission curbed its enthusiasm. In spite of the poker faced transmission, power delivery was fairly smooth and linear, however I felt a traditional transmission would have made this engine feel more alive.
Switching over to the 9A provided me with some curves to throw at the suspension and steering, with hopes that it could take my mind off of the non-harmonious engine and transmission duet. As I entered the first set of moderate curves, I couldn't help but notice that the Lancer 's sporty suspension effortlessly kept it in the lane and offered confident amounts of grip. As I kicked up the speed going into tighter corners, the Lancer still held it's ground in spite of some moderate body roll. This corner exercise also made for a good test of the steering components.
As confident as the Lancer's body was going into corners, the steering robbed as much joy for the experience as did that anemic CVT transmission. Steering was direct, but lacked the feedback and linear build up needed to make driving this car a more rewarding experience. Being a persistent person, I kept pushing on and pushing through more curves and corners as I headed into the Hudson River Valley, in search of that driving reward.
Arriving at my destination of George's Island Park in Montrose, NY left me with a good feeling. Not because driving the Lancer gave me hope that a handsome, small car under 20k could be amazing (no, it didn't sad to say), but rather because I was about to do the best thing I could with this car- Admire it from a parking spot. I truly wanted to be captivated by the magic that Mitsubishi was noted for putting into their cars. I wanted to believe the pain in my lower back was created by the seats of the 737 and not the lack of lumbar support of the nicely bolstered seats. I wanted to believe there was still a Japanese company who built all of their cars with passion as a standard feature. I wanted to believe the Lancer was nothing short of amazing... It wasn't sad to say, but at least the view of the valley was quite lovely.