The more things change, the more they stay the same. This phase pretty much describes the latest Mitsubishi Lancer. For all intents and purposes, the Lancer really hasn’t changed all that much since its last semi-major refresh in 2008. Sure, there have been some minor styling changes, some tweaks, and refinements. However, it’s pretty much the same car as it was nearly a decade ago. This is unheard of in the hyper-competitive compact class, which is led by titans such as the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, and Nissan Sentra. They get regular refreshes, updates, and changes. But not the Lancer; it plods along the straight and narrow resisting change more than a republican at a Bernie Sanders rally. So how come the Lancer is able to hang on?
Let’s put things in perspective first. In 2015, Mitsubishi sold 17,691 Lancers. For comparison’s sake, Honda sold more than twice that amount of Civics in April, 2016 alone. Lancer isn’t big on volume. But perhaps it knows its niche. In the ’16 Lancer press release, the Japanese automaker refers to the car as “value-oriented,” which it is. Our top-of-the-line Lancer SEL 2.4 AWC (aka all-wheel control, aka all-wheel drive) had a sticker price of just over $22,000. That includes leather, cruise, proximity keyless entry, rearview camera, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rearview mirror, a CVT, and alloy wheels. And let’s face it: So long as your credit score is in the triple digits, no one is paying full retail for a Lancer. I’m guessing you could pick this car up for nearly $20,000 if not less.
I’ll say this: I don’t know what the changes are, but this iteration of the AWD Lancer felt like it was bolted together much better than the 2012 Lancer SE model we tested. Despite the lower-grade materials (including some of the cheapest sun visors on the market and rear door panels that feel like the back of a cop car … not that I know what that’s like), it felt like it was bolted together solidly with minimal rattles. That being said, there’s plenty of road noise to be had. A friend who was sitting in the back seat said it sounded like he was riding in the trunk. There’s a fair amount of engine noise, too. Quiet, the Lancer is not.
|The Lancer SEL 2.4 AWC features selectable all-wheel drive.|
On the road, the Lancer rides surprisingly soft, almost floaty. And while comfortable in a straight line, it’s also a marshmallow in the corners. There’s lots of body roll and, coupled with fairly slow hydraulic steering, the Lancer isn’t a handler. The 205/60/16 tires also don't do much for the handling. (If you want the sporty model, you'll need to go to the GT trim level, but you miss out on the AWD.) There’s no doubt in my mind that the car would be great in the snow or on a long road trip on the Interstate. However, it does not excel in the twisties. A driver’s car it ain’t.
One thing Mitsubishi tends to under emphasize is its cars’ outstanding warranties. There’s a bumper-to-bumper five year, 60,000 miles warranty; a 10 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty; and roadside assistance for five years with unlimited mileage. That’s pretty darn good. For what it’s worth, even the entry-level Mirage has this warranty. So if you can’t count on a refined interior and state-of-the-art styling, you can count on Mitsubishi to stand behind the car. Plus, Lancer has been a “Top Safety Pick” from the IIHS for the past seven years.
You might save cash on the initial purchase of a Lancer, but its fuel economy isn’t terribly economical with a rating of just 23 MPG city and 31 highway. This is easily bested by the Subaru Impreza, which gets 28 city and 37 highway. Over the seven days I had the Lancer, I averaged 28 MPG.
Really, the only other affordable AWD sedan on the North American market is the Subaru Impreza, and it’s quite good. But there are always the Mitsubishi faithful, those who can’t see themselves in a Subaru, and those who simply want to be different. For those people, the Lancer is there—and almost unchanged for a decade.
|THE BASICS: 2016 Mitsubishi Lancer SEL 2.4 AWC|
|MSRP As Tested:||$22,805|
|Engine:||2.4-liter MIVEC DOHC 4 cylinder|
|Curb Weight:||3,142 lbs.|
|Suspension:||F: MacPherson Struts, 20 mm stabilizer bar |
R: Multi-Link Rear, 18 mm stabilizer bar
|Brakes:||F: Disc w/ABS |
R: Disc w/ABS
|Fuel Economy (MPG):||23 city, 26 combined, 31 highway|
|Fuel Type:||Regular 87 octane|