Mitsubishi has allowed much of its North American product portfolio to become stale. Compared to high-profile competition like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, the Lancer stands in the shadows of giants. There have been cases in the automotive world when David toppled Goliath, but is this one of those situations?
Engine: 2.4L four-cylinder with 168 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque.
Fuel Economy: 22 MPG City, 29 highway and 25 MPG combined.
Price: SE AWC starts at $21,805 or $23,755 as tested.
For 2015 Mitsubishi revised its equipment packages to try and keep the Lancer fresh. I drove a mid-range SE AWC model that gets newly designed 16-inch two-tone alloy wheels, upgraded infotainment, high contrast gauges with a color display between them, an upgraded audio system, fog lights and a body-color front bumper for 2015. All of the additions are welcome, but none of them are game changers.
Is the Mitsu Worth More?
The big deal with this particular model is that it offers all-wheel drive at the lowest price point in the Lancer lineup, a worthy talking point considering some of its biggest competitors don’t even have an option for four-wheel power. For a base price of $21,805, including delivery you can get into an all-wheel drive Lancer that comes equipped with options including a touchscreen and heated front seats. Our model however had the $1,950 deluxe package that adds a sunroof, keyless entry, 16-inch alloy wheels, some soft touch materials on the doors and one last option that really shows the car’s age: rear drum brakes.
Worse still, Subaru owns the affordable all-wheel drive market by selling the Impreza for a base price of about $18,000. That means you can get into a newer, better all-wheel drive compact sedan for even less.
Power for the SE AWC model comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 168 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque. This particular model can only be had with a CVT, though a five-speed manual transmission is available on most of the Lancer lineup.
Trouble is, the powertrain is totally underwhelming. The CVT offers the typical rubber band feeling. It loves to rev up to high RPM and stay there while the speedometer slowly chases after it. The sound emitted is a typical four pot buzz and thanks to the nature of the CVT the annoying noise is prolonged especially when accelerating to merge onto the freeway.
Nothing about this powertrain even comes close to the competition. Oversized paddle shifters try and offer a semblance of shifting, but they merely throw the tachometer around with little of that jump in engine speed translating to appreciably increased power.
The fuel economy returned from the Lancer also doesn’t compare to its main competitor, although it did keep up with its advertised numbers. Rated at 22 mpg in the city, 29 on the highway and 25 combined, our week with the car returned 24 mpg combined. You may think that all-wheel drive is to blame, but the Impreza manages a combined rating of 31 mpg, also with a CVT.
The Lancer lineup is best known for the Evo performance version and you might be tempted to assume some of the Evo’s sporty characteristics are shared in this model, but that isn’t true at all.
A direct steering setup that offers a good amount of feedback is a definite positive point and stands out as sportier than most others in the segment. That can be attributed to its hydraulic power steering, one of the few advantages of the Lancer’s age. But body roll and understeer are the name of the game when it comes to the handling. It doesn’t seem to relish being flung into corners and its slightly taller dimensions leave it feeling top heavy.
Super all-wheel control – Mitsubishi’s name for its all-wheel drive system – does help in this department, but it didn’t push the overall nature of the Lancer any closer to being a true performance car like the Evo. And to top it all off, wind and tire noise is obtrusive, leaving the Lancer unpleasant to drive for any extended period of time.
The story doesn’t improve much with the interior. If there is one virtue of the Lancer’s passenger compartment, it has to be its simple layout. There is nothing confusing about the controls in this car and that’s a compliment in today’s age of unnecessarily complicated, button-laden cabins.
Simple doesn’t have to mean cheap, but in this case it does. Black plastic makes up the entire dash and much of the door panels while the cloth seats offer a particularly lackluster tactile feel.
Despite the lack of nice materials, comfort in the front seat is acceptable, though the rear seats are quite tight. With 36.1 inches of legroom, the back seat is squeeze for an adult, but is useable in a pinch. That is slightly larger than the Impreza, but compared to the Corolla’s 41.4 inches of rear legroom the back of Lancer doesn’t sound so good. The Corolla also manages to pack a slightly larger trunk.
A 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system comes standard on the SE AWC tester, offering some modern feel to the aging compact. However, the tech powering the screen was prone to lag and even the graphics look outdated.
Even if most aspects of the Lancer are underwhelming, it still has a handsome body. You might disagree with me, but I want to compliment Mitsubishi for coming up with a design that hasn’t gone stale after being on sale for the better part of a decade.
If you’re in the market for a cheap, all-wheel drive compact sedan, choices are limited. Subaru and Mitsubishi are the only two automakers offering cars that fit the bill, and unfortunately the Subaru stands out as the ultimately better choice. If you’re willing to forgo all-wheel drive, everything in this car from ride comfort to road noise to usable space, pales in comparison to pretty much every other compact car.