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Grudge Match: Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008)
 
The compact car segment has always been something of a societal barometer. In the past, it was the cheapest and simplest that always ruled, and then it became the most luxurious. Now, with the growing emphasis on the physical attributes (where a buffed up body equates to sexiness), sporty has become the yard stick by which the compact car is measured. In the crowded world of the compact segment, only two cars have provided an almost unapologetic approach towards the area of sportiness: the Mazda3 2.0 R and the all-new Mitsubishi Lancer EX. But which one succeeds as the sportiness compact car of all?

There’s a lot of hoopla surrounding the market introduction of the Lancer EX. And it should. There’s been a long wait for it to arrive. The new one doesn’t disappoint as it looks quick. In fact, much to the chagrin of Evolution owners, this one manages to look every bit like the Evo X, perhaps with the exception of the additional hood scoop. Whereas the Lancer looks like the rookie hotshot, the Mazda3 is the senior athlete. Despite being launched a full 3 years earlier than the Lancer, it still manages to look taut, sharp and beefy. Slight modifications were done to actually tone down the look including squaring off the bumpers and fog lamps. The net effect is a new refined, more endearing look. Both the lancer and the 3 look the sporty part, so ultimately the winner for exterior looks is down to personal taste. The Lancer does offer more bang for the buck, especially by providing standard 18-inch rubber with high-performance W-rated tires. Of course, there’s still the subject of the natty rear spoiler.

Exterior: TIE
Score: Lancer EX (1) / Mazda3 (1)

The sound the doors make when you open and close them are so similar that you’d immediately think they were separated at birth. Neither car offers a resounding solid chunk (it’s more tinny actually), but at least they give the perception that light-weight materials were used. In terms of design, both cars echo their exteriors by providing driver-centered interiors. Both use all-black interior schemes with, oddly, the same feel. Both offer large, easy-to-read gauges each with its own form of gimmickry. On one hand, the 3 has the now famous vertically-resting gauges bathed in red lighting, while the Lancer equalizes that with a multi-function LCD display that sandwiches the more traditionally oriented tachometer and speedometer. Both offer small diameter 3-spoke steering wheels with satellite audio switches, but the Lancer has the advantage by providing a much more comfortable thicker rim diameter. Despite having a deep glove box, the Lancer too has the advantage by providing much more useable cubby holes.

Interior: Lancer EX
Score Lancer EX (2) / Mazda3 (1)

Settling down in the driver’s seat can never be easier in either car. Both offer ample adjustment for the perfect driving position. However, the Mazda’s the winner by adding a telescopic steering column, which the Lancer lacks. In addition, the T-shaped cabin with the wide center console make reaching for secondary controls much easier in the 3 compared to the Lancer. Of course, this observation isn’t applicable to those with longer arms. If you’re one of the latter, the Lancer does offer easier to decipher controls than the Mazda. It takes a while to master the 3’s audio and climate controls, while the Lancer’s is straight-forward and simple. As a sporty compact car, both the 3 and the Lancer offer great outward visibility, but the 3 edges the Lancer mainly because the rear wing makes parking much more of a chore in the Mitsubishi.

Ergonomics: Lancer EX
Score: Lancer EX (3), Mazda3 (1)
While both of these cars offer a sporty demeanor, it shouldn’t be forgotten that they’re designed to ferry an additional 4 passengers during everyday driving. So, it’s also important to note the comfort and convenience both cars offer for their passengers. Once again, both cars feel like they’ve fallen from the same branch as the Lancer and the 3 put a premium on passenger space. Though both offer comfortable seating for 4 adults, squeezing in 5 isn’t highly recommended on long trips because neither offers flat rear floors nor kingly knee room. That said the Lancer does have a center-mounted headrest and three-point seat belt while the 3, on both accounts, do not. Both don’t offer class-leading space for humans, but the Mazda wins hands down when it comes to hauling stuff. The 3 offers an unobtrusive, deep flat trunk thanks to the use of a T-type spare. The Lancer loses out because the 10-inch subwoofer eats into the storage space as well as the 18-inch spare tire that protrudes from the trunk floor mat.

Space and Luggage: Mazda3
Score: Lancer EX (3), Mazda3 (2)

With its arrow-head profile, it’s easy to think that the Lancer would trounce the 3 in terms of performance. In truth, it’s fairly accurate to say both feel and behave similarly. In fact, we dare say that the Lancer benchmarked the 3, and in turn, produced a car that’s a close facsimile. On paper, the Lancer does offer the slight horsepower advantage (153 versus 147), but with a 95 kilogram penalty, it easily swings the favor back to Mazda. If performance were measured in drag strips, the Lancer would lose mainly because of the CVT’s failure to keep acceleration to a spirited level. The 3 feels much more obliging off the line thanks to its traditional 4-speed automatic gearbox. Once both cars pick up speed though, it’s harder to these two apart as both behave similarly.

In the real world with all its twists and bends, both offer inseparable levels of handling and performance. The Mazda could have won this aspect, but engineers revised the steering and suspension geometry on the 3 to give it a more comfort-oriented ride this time around. In turn, this equalizes the playing field in terms of handling. If one has to be overly critical in this matter, the 3 still manages to be more fun through a corner than the Lancer. Both cars ride on the firm side, absorbing ruts and rough roads well while keeping a much planted feel. The Mitsubishi has the advantage in NVH insulation, but the 3 modulates itself on uneven road surfaces better. Both are also dead even in terms of fuel economy: exactly 9.0 km/L.


Performance: Mazda3
Score: Lancer EX (3), Mazda3 (3)

With a price costing north of a million pesos, it’s not exactly cheap owning either of these cars. But both offer excellent bang-for-the-buck value by kitting their respective cars like luxury cars. On the top-range models, both offer automatic on/off HID headlamps, a complete aerodynamic kit, large alloys (17’s or 18’s depending on the car), automatic climate control and a 60/40 split-fold rear seat. At 1.089-million pesos, the much more seasoned Mazda3 comes with much more toys: leather seats, rain-sensing wipers and a moon roof. Meanwhile, the completely built-up (CBU) Lancer EX weighs in at a heftier 1.125-million pesos but does offer the security of 7 airbags (as opposed to the 3’s dual airbags) and the heart-thumping bass of its standard 650-watt 9-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system.

Value for Money: TIE
Score: Lancer EX (4), Mazda3 (4)

At this point, it’s immediately clear that these cars are much more similar than they are different. Though both come from different car makes, both cars are heavily influenced by their company’s sporty DNA. In turn, they translate into well-built, driver-focused compact sedans that can liven you up whether you’re bringing your kids to school or as you blast your worries away on a mountainous road. Objectively, at least in this comparison, both cars end in a dramatic, and perhaps, controversial tie.

By Ulysses Ang | Photos by Ulysses Ang

Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008) Grudge Match:  Mitsubishi Lancer vs. Mazda3 (2008)

 

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White Collared Brawl: Honda Accord and BMW 523i (2001)
March 12, 2001
Bus Driving 101: Mercedes-Benz MB100 (2001)
March 12, 2001
Everyday Transport: Toyota Corolla (2001)
February 5, 2001
Beautiful Day: Toyota RAV4 (2001)
February 5, 2001
Civilized Monster: Ford Explorer (2000)
December 18, 2000
Empty Space: Mitsubishi Spacegear (2000)
November 18, 2000
First Class Effort: Hyundai Starex (2000)
November 18, 2000
Service Please! Nissan Cefiro Classic Long-Term Test Update (1998)
November 18, 2000
Astra La Vista: Opel Astra (2000)
September 18, 2000
Old World Brute: Nissan Patrol Safari
September 18, 2000
Newly Hatched: Toyota Echo (2000)
September 18, 2000
Goodbye Beetle: Toyota Echo (2000)
August 15, 2000
Steer Flick'n Good: Audi A4 (2000)
July 9, 2000
No Lucky Stars: Ford Taurus GL (1998)
June 11, 2000
Simply Bulletproof: The Honda Accord VTi-L Long-Term Test Update (1998)
June 11, 2000
Still Life: Mitsubishi Lancer (2000)
May 13, 2000
Living with America: Ford F150 (2000)
April 16, 2000
Civic Minded: Honda Civic (2000)
February 20, 2000
Ford Lynx Ghia (2000) Driven
January 18, 2000
White Lightning: Honda Civic (1999)
December 18, 1999
The Lost World: Volkswagen Polo Classic (1998)
December 12, 1999
Against All Odds: Mazda 323 (1999)
September 29, 1999
Warp Speed Transport: Nissan Sentra Super Saloon (1995)
August 30, 1999
Complete Change of Mind: Nissan Cefiro (1997) Long-Term Test Update
August 30, 1999
Honda City LXi (1999)
July 12, 1999
Alternative Nature: Mitsubishi Galant (1999)
June 20, 1999
The Bavarian Delight: BMW 328Ci (1999)
May 15, 1999
Alpha and Omega: Opel 2.5 V6 Omega (1999)
February 5, 1999
Opel Vectra (2.0 (1999) Driven
January 1, 1999
The Daily Nightmare: Nissan Cefiro (1998)
December 1, 1998
VTEC with a Vengeance: Honda Accord (1998)
November 10, 1998