The Mitsubishi Lancer is 10 years old, and unfortunately, it’s showing its age. It is by far the oldest compact sedan in its class, which includes the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Honda Civic, and Chevy Cruze, among others. And except for the all-wheel drive feature, and a modest price, the other models have passed this Lancer by in terms of interior quality, refinement, gas mileage, and styling.
The base engine in the front-wheel-drive ES model is a 148-horsepower 2.0 inline 4, with either a 5-speed manual or optional CVT automatic transmission. The gas mileage just cracks the 30 mpg combined figure.
Three mid-level trims, the ES 2.4 AWC, the SE 2.4 AWC, and the SEL 2.4 AWC (our test car version) come with a 2.4-liter inline 4 that makes 169 horsepower and 167 ft. lbs. of torque, and that peaks at 4100 rpm, too close to the 6000 rpm redline. That engine is mated to a rather noisy “6-speed” CVT transmission. This engine is rated for an anemic 23 mpg City, and 31 Highway mleage, with a combined 26 mpg, leaving it at the bottom of the competition.
Off the line performance is good, but when trying to pass on a two lane, or accelerating onto the highway, you can feel some dead spots in the uneven power delivery. And without paddle shifters to hold a gear, it can make for some sloppy corner exits if driving aggressively. And it is buzzy, as you move up the rev range.
Despite the hard ride quality, the Lancer drives fairly well, and feels a bit sportier than some of the other cars in the class, but it doesn’t excite like the Mazda 3 does. And it’s noisier. Still it feels stable and corners without much body lean. The brakes are up to snuff as well.
The cabin disappoints. It’s looks clean and simple enough, and is nicely laid out, but the materials look and feel cheap. Other competitors have done a better job. The standard seating surfaces on this trim level are leather, (and they are heated) but I found the seat bottom to be park-bench stiff, and uncomfortable after only a few minutes. The interior room is adequate both front and rear, and the tall roofline provides decent headroom, but again other cars in the class feel larger.
Standard features on our test model, which came with no options, include Auto on/off halogen headlights, LED Running Lights, Fog Lights, 16” alloy wheels, Leather & Heated Seats, Automatic Climate Control, Leather Wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, Tilt Wheel, 6.1” soft touch screen, Bluetooth, Back Up Camera, Passive Keyless entry, Steering Wheel mounted controls for radio, phone and cruise control. They also show a long list of items on the window sticker that most companies wouldn’t even bother to make note of, like front cupholders, driver’s seatback pocket, and 12-volt outlet. And I found a couple of the other features curious to include when other seemingly more important amenities are absent. Those include Automatic Dimming Rearview Mirror, Rain Sensing Wipers, and Heated Side-View Mirrors. I’d gladly trade those in for Blind Spot Monitors, or Lane Departure Warnings. I can turn on my own wipers, and flip the tab to dim my rearview mirror at night.
Styling-wise, the Lancer seems dated. More upright and boxy, rather than the sleek wedge look you’ll find on the Hyundai Elantra, or Ford Focus for example. The 2016 model has a revised front end, with its split front grill, and more muted shark nose styling. But there in nothing that is eye catching or has any visual impact.
The base Lancer ES 2.0 starts at $17,599, and with the automatic transmission, you can add another $1,000. Our test car, the 2.4 SEL AWC stickers for a thrifty $21,995, and with Destination charges, the bottom line is only $22,805. That price point is the main attraction to this car.
I can usually find something in every test car that is endearing, or pleasantly surprising. Not so much with the Lancer. It isn’t a bad car, it just isn’t at all exciting. The best thing that can be said for it, is that the price is very competitive, and it would be hard to find another sedan in the price range that offers all-wheel-drive.
Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman has been a motor journalist for over 30 years, reviewing automobile, as well as motorcycle ride reviews and accessory reviews.
His car articles have appeared in Robb Report Magazine, Autoguide.com, Car-Revs-Daily.com and other media. His work has also appeared in Road Bike Magazine, Motorcycle Tour and Cruiser, SpeedTV.com, MotorcycleUSA.com and others.
As motorcycle columnist for The Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, the paper became the only major circulation newspaper in the country to have a separate weekly section devoted to motorcycles. Later he wrote a weekly column for Cyclefocus Magazine.