Thursday, January 15, 2015

Review: 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer GT

2015 Mitsubishi Lancer GT sedan

In the 1980s and 1990s Mitsubishi had a host of interesting, fun cars that were different but still intriguing. There were enthusiast vehicles such as the turbocharged, RWD Starion; the turbocharged 4G63T-powered FWD and AWD Eclipse; and the fire-breathing twin-turbo 3000GT VR-4. There were funky, practical hatchbacks and wagons, such as the Expo LRV (available with AWD) and the Mirage (which was also available with a turbo). There were rugged, true SUVs, such as the Montero and even the Montero Sport. Today’s Mitsubishi lineup is a bit harder to get excited about. Yes, the fire-breathing turbocharged AWD EVO is still around—at least until the end of the year—and the Outlander and compact Outlander Sport are actually quite good, although not exactly titillating. Of course, the new Mirage is out, but it’s quite rudimentary—even if it is available in fuchsia. Finally, there’s the aging Lancer sedan. It’s available in FWD or AWD and has horsepower ratings ranging from a tepid 148 to a gusty 237, it’s still showing its age, especially against the latest crop of compact cars. Our test model is the GT, which features the 2.4-liter engine making 168 hp, and it’s mated to a CVT.

Lancer GT spoilerThe Mitsubishi Lancer hasn’t had a major refresh since 2008, meaning it’s showing its age. When it debuted in 2008, it was an attractive package and a nice follow-up to the generation before it, which was quite popular. (Remember the prolific Lancer OZ-edition?) But seven years after its introduction, is it still a competitive compact?

In the styling department, the Lancer GT still maintains a handsome, classic compact sedan appearance. While it does appear to lag a bit behind recently restyled compacts like the Mazda3, Ford Focus, or Toyota Corolla, it’s still not a bad looking sedan. It just looks like an eight-year-old design. The EVO-like front grille, angular taillights, and crisp styling offer an attractive shape. In particular, I really like the small trunk spoiler, sporty side skirts, and 18” wheels. And while it might not be a head turner, hardly anyone would call it offensive. There are little things here and there that seem to be cost-cutting measures. For example, the button to open the trunk is a retrofitted keyhole with black rubber button. It looks cheap.

Mitsubishi Lancer GT interior

The interior has much of the same feel as the exterior. Inoffensive, mid-2000s styling; non-groundbreaking looks; mid-pack interior material quality. To my surprise, the Lancer didn’t have any rattles to speak of, felt solid and well built, and was overall a comfortable place. It seems to be put together better than the Lancer SE we tested back in 2012. There are a few other areas you can tell the company definitely cut cost. Firstly, there’s a lot of road noise; some added sound deadening would be a nice improvement. Also, the sun visors felt ultra-cheap; reminiscent of the Mirage we tested. Just the overall feel is a bit less interesting; less inviting than some of the newer compacts on the market. But there is one aspect we love: the stereo.

Like most higher-end Mitsubishi trim levels, this one had the incredible Rockford Fosgate stereo, pumping out a semi-insane 710 watts. There’s a big subwoofer in the trunk and the Dolby Surround Sound is great. Mitsubishi definitely wins in the loud stereo category. A bit more sound deadening material would be appreciated in this aspect, too, as there was some trunk rattle when the bass hits. One annoyance: The USB port is located in a super-secret location. You have to open the glovebox, and there's a very small little door that opens up to plug your device. Why it's way over there I have no clue. The car also showcases Mitsubishi’s seven-inch touch-screen headunit with navigation, which worked admirably. Other goodies included heated leather seats (although the on/off switches were a bit hard to get to), HID headlights, a power sunroof, and a few other bits which were included in the pricey $5,150 Touring package. By the way, we did really like the rain-sensing windshield wipers. This is a feature we’d like to see in more small cars.

This GT model is powered by Mitsubishi’s 4B12 2.4-liter MIVEC four-cylinder making 168 hp and 167 ft/lbs of torque. While a five-speed manual is available, ours was mated to the company’s CVT. The car can be manual “shifted” into simulated gears using either the gear selector or steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. However, there’s little reason to use them. The 4B12 makes a fair bit of noise under full throttle, and being paired to a CVT, which is prone to droning under acceleration, doesn’t help. The transmission does make good use of the power on hand, and I never felt like the vehicle was wheezy or underpowered. An EVO it isn’t, but power is ample, albeit noisy.

2015 Mitsubishi Lancer GT driving

In addition to driving the Lancer GT around Portland for a few days, we also took it up to Seattle, some 165 miles. The highway ride is comfortable, although also noisy, partially due to the lower-profile 215/45/18 tires. I also found the tires to offer up satisfactory grip in spirited cornering, but the suspension does lean a significant amount despite the sedan’s GT moniker. While the car isn’t necessarily exciting to drive, it isn’t bad, either. It just feels, well, a bit dated. Speaking of, the fuel economy numbers are also looking like they were from an earlier era. While many compact cars these days are rated in the 30s in the city and over 40 MPG on the highway, the Lancer, even with a CVT, can only muster up a rating of 23 city, 26 combined, and 30 highway. There are scads of much larger and more powerful vehicles that get superior fuel economy. Frugal, the Lancer isn’t.

Speaking of not being frugal, our 2015 Lancer GT had a sticker price of $27,555, which includes $810 worth of destination. This seems quite pricey for what you get. You can get a much faster, sportier Honda Civic Si sedan for about that price; you can also get a more modern and refined Civic EX-L, too. In fact you can pick up a host of other more modern, more efficient, and sportier cars for the same price or less. Effectively, the Lancer GT is simply outclassed by more recently redesigned rides.

2015 Mitsubishi Lancer GT rear shot

If you have your heart set on a Lancer, you could do worse. It’s not a bad car, it just feels dated. I can’t imagine Mitsubishi will keep the car as-is for much longer, it has to either get a makeover—or the axe—shortly.

I’m cheering for Mitsubishi, after all, our family owned multiple Mitsubishis up until 1997. The company increased sales more than 25% in 2014, and hopefully it’ll continue to grow and offer more modern, efficient, and competitive cars in the near future. C-segment sedans are still a bread-and-butter item on the U.S. auto market, but to be successful, you need to be on top of your game. Unfortunately, for Mitsubishi, the Lancer GT feels like it’s been playing all nine innings, and is in need of a relief pitcher.

THE BASICS: 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer GT
MSRP As Tested: $27,555
Engine: DOHC 2.4-liter I4 16V MIVEC
Transmission: CVT w/manual shifting capability
Horsepower: 168
Torque: 167 lbs/ft
Curb Weight: 3,032 lbs.
Wheelbase: 103.7"
Overall Length: 180"
Suspension: F: MacPherson strut with 21 mm stabilizer bar
R: Multi-link type with 18 mm stabilizer bar
Brakes: F: Disc w/ABS
R: Disc w/ABS
Wheels: 18" alloy
Tires: 215/45R18
Fuel Economy (MPG): 23 city, 26 combined, 30 highway
Fuel Type: Regular unleaded (87 octane)

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