The Colt Lancer
Impressively fast and eminently practical
THE rally-inspired Turbocharged version of the well-known Colt Lancer is a most exciting proposition, yet it is a perfectly road-usable four-door family saloon. Its performance, particularly in respect of straight-line acceleration, is inspiring indeed. Ford advertises, and rightly, that their Capri 2.8i goes like lightning. But this 1,997 c.c. Colt Lancer Turbo outpaces that excellent Ford injection coupe in almost all accelerative exercises. From 0-60 m.p.h. it is more than a second quicker, over a s.s. 1/4-mile the Japanese car gets there over half-a-second sooner, and it is the same with most of the intermediate-speed pick-up figures, except that the Colt should be in fourth, not filth, gear, the latter a refinement Ford has not yet introduced. Couple this lightning acceleration with the Colt’s top speed of 124 m.p.h., which is admittedly a few m.p.h. slower than a flat-out Capri 2.8i can achieve, and its docile running under less intense circumstances. and this compact Lancer Turbo represents a very fine all-round car.
Turbocharging has boosted the power output from the 85 x 88 mm. four-cylinder engine to a respectable 168 (DIN) b.h.p. at a modest 5,500 r.p.m. (you to ‘into the red” at 6,000 r.p.m.), and the torque developed at 3.500 r.p.m is 181 ft./lb., by the same test-house measurement. The engine has an iron cylinder block and an alloy head with belt-driven o.h.-camshaft. The turbocharger is fed by Mitsubishi-Bosch fuel-injection, electronically controlled, there are five main bearings, and to humour the boost-pressure the compression-ratio is lowered to 7.6 to I. Otherwise. this Colt Lancer reminded me of the not-too-recently-discontinued rear-drive Ford Escort. Except, of course, that the proud turbocharged version has a rear spoiler, a deep front air dam with vents to the brakes and a useful front tow-hook, reverse-read dayglow “2000 Turbo” decal on that air dam, and other outward reminders that this is not a car to be trifled with.
This exceedingly quick Colt is like any other modern small saloon. The seats are comfortable, in spite of a shallow cushion in the driver’s seat, the instrumentation is easy to read, except tor the little Turbo boost-gauge down on the central console, the clutch light, the gear charge nice and only moderately notchy, and the amenities admirable. The engine started at once, hot or cold, but the auto-choke causes it to idle for a while at around 1,500 r.p.m., before it settles down at 750 r.p.m. You can either use the aforesaid quite exceptional acceleration (0-100 m.p.h. in 18.7 sec., 70 to 90 m.p.h. in top gear in 5.3 sec., are but two eyebrow-raising examples) for exhilarating “squirts” along straight roads or employ it for safe, very useable, passing in hunched traffic. The engine is but a four cylinder, but its balance is helped by Colt’s unusual counter-nitrating balance weights geared to the crankshaft, and although there is a resonant period low down the rev-scale and some roughness, as speed increases this becomes a notably smooth-running power-unit. The urge comes in from about 3,500 r.p.m. and thereafter the pick-up, as I have said, is enormously impressive, and most enioyable! Provided the engine is permitted to get its revs., power is released in a smooth flow, with no noticeable turbo-lag.
A car of this performance requires other complementary factors to render it pleasant to drive. The Lancer’s suspension, with a live back axle sprung on coil springs, damped with gas-filled struts and located by no fewer than four trailing-links, and front springing by MacPherson struts, gives some up and down liveliness, and the rougher roads can induce some rear-end dance; but on the whole the Turbo Lancer is easy to control, with only mild understeer into corners. The manual recirculating-ball steering with a small four-spoke wheel is geared four turns, lock-to-lock, and is perfectly acceptable. The servo disc / drum braking likewise, these being light and responsive.
The deeply-hooded instrument panel before the driver contains speedometer with decimal trip and total odometers, tachometer, heat, fuel. oil-pressure and alternator-charge gauges, casually calibrated, with a digital clock boxed into the centre of the fascia. The slow-to-read but steady-needled fuel-gauge was irritating, because it nudged the “empty” line when the 11-gallon tank was nearly half full — so after using the Lancer Turbo’s magnificent performance to set up rather remarkable average speeds, we were forced to re-fuel after about 170 miles or thereabouts. However, there is a fuel-low-level light and thus the owner of this fascinating car need not be curbed in this way. Indeed, there is even a warning light to tell you when the windscreen-washer bottle needs replenishing.
The gaitered gear lever has fifth-gear location on the right, forward opposite reverse, the latter gear engaged by depressing the lever, so there is no difficulty over gear engagement, and the lever’s lateral movements are minimal. Two substantial steering column stalk controls work the lamps with a twist-action from the right one, the labelled screen-wiper permutations from the left-hand one, turns being signalled with the r.h. stalk, with the horn-push part of the steering wheel spokes. Instrument lighting can be fully dimmed or doused with a fascia knob and a very big knob on the extreme right of the panel looks after the rear fog-lamps and is such that these can hardly be overlooked, so that Colt drivers should not be among those morons who use such rear illumination when there is no fog about. . . . A neat push-on, push-off button controls rear-window heating and there is a typical Japanese, much captioned, four-lever heater ventilator control, which gives good combinations of occupants’ requirements, five pages of the instruction-book explaining how to accomplish this. A full set of rear-view mirrors is provided and stowages include front-door pockets, a non-lockable cubby with a slide-catch. I.h. underfascia shelf, an open well and coin-carrier on the central console, and two open protruding dishes before the driver. There is a lipped shelf on top of the dash and the cubby lid has a flap-concealed recess for some mysterious purpose. The Japanese must carry a lot of parcels!
The boot, which needs a key to open it, looks small, because the covered spare wheel is mounted vertically on its front wall, but it is nearly as capacious as that of the Ford Capri with its rear seats up. The test car was on 185 / 65 HR14 Pirelli P6 Cinturato radial-ply tubeless tyres. Recessed anti-dazzle vizors, cigarette lighter, clutch foot-rest, lever-set adjustable steering-column rake, hazard warning-lamp switch on the steering-column. Stanley halogen headlamps (but not the high-mounted Hella lamps of the earlier cars), velour upholstery and adjustable front-seat squabs are all part of the package, and the Turbocharged Lancer has an increased radiator capacity, an oil-cooler, and an aluminised exhaust system. I liked the black paint finish, and the good-looking alloy wheels. The internal door handles are a fraction far back, causing some drivers to try to open the driver’s door by pushing on the surround and the slide-control for this seat is at the side. The driver’s mat tended to ruck up. If the doors are opened when the ‘car’s lights are on, a warning-light shows, which seems adequate, and to me preferable to the Mazda bell or the Mercedes-Benz buzzer. Room in the Colt’s back compartment is adequate if not generous and the interior practical but not exactly plush.
Heavy fuel thirst might well be expected, as a penalty of the Lancer Turbo’s splendid performance, so I was pleased to obtain 26.5 m.p.g. on an average-fast long cross-country journey and 21.2 m.p.g. on a faster dash, four up, the overall consumption, after some rather fast driving, did 23.3 m.p.g.; careful users might do 29 m.p.g. The fuel-filler is on the near-side, covered by a lockable flap. The rear-hinged bonnet lid requires propping open. Its release is on the correct side within the car. The oil dip-stick removes easily but was difficult to reinsert in its tube. The number plates are high set, perhaps an inheritance from rally participation.
This very enjoyable Colt Lancer Turbo scorns expensively priced at £8,899, especially as it lacks central door-locking, electric windows, etc. But before you condemn it as too costly, drive it! You will then find that your journey times are appreciably reduced, I think, at the expense ol some driver-concentration. This super-quick Colt usually wants to be 20 m.p.h. faster than it should be on A-roads and it does 100 m.p.h. all too easily if shown a Motorway! If you want one, sales are handled in this country by the Colt Company Ltd, Spitalgate Lane, Cirencester, Glos. — W.B.