Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Review: 2016 Mitsubishi Lancer SEL 2.4 AWC - Same as it Ever Was (Almost)

2016 Mitsubishi Lancer SEL 2.4 AWC

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.

2016 Mitsubishi Lancer SEL 2.4 AWC has a revised front fascia.
For 2016, Mitsubishi is attempting to make the Lancer more appealing, at least on the outside, by offering a revised front fascia that includes LED daytime running lights, and a sleeker look. But that’s pretty much it for changes.

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.

Selectable all-wheel drive control
The Lancer SEL 2.4 AWC features selectable all-wheel drive.
With 168 horsepower and 167 ft/lbs of torque, the Lancer has enough power to get out of its own way. It also has 20 more ponies than its arch nemesis, the Subaru Impreza. Just don’t expect those horses to be smooth and silent. The only transmission available is a CVT, and at full-throttle it and the typical CVT behavior, the car sounds like a hair dryer. Speaking of drivetrain, the Lancer’s AWC system can be operated in 2WD, four-wheel drive, or four-wheel drive “lock” that’ll lock up the center differential—a nice feature in sand or snow.

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.

The 2016 Lancer's interior
If you were to take the car on a longer trip, it does have cruise, which is great, and the trunk is plenty big. Mercedes and I had a day shopping that included purchases such as a jerry can, fertilizer, motor oil, clothes, and more. And before this site gets flagged for domestic threats stemming from our shopping list, I can tell you that the trunk swallowed it all easily. If, however, you were on a long road trip and relegated to the back seat, you might be a bit cramped. And those all-plastic door panels do reinforce the idea you’re in an aging, value-engineered vehicle.

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
Transmission: CVT
Horsepower: 168
Torque: 167 lb/ft
Curb Weight: 3,142 lbs.
Wheelbase: 103.7
Overall Length: 182.1"
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
Wheels: 16" alloys
Tires: 205/60/16 All-Season
Fuel Economy (MPG): 23 city, 26 combined, 31 highway
Fuel Type: Regular 87 octane


Socarboy said...

It will be interesting to see what happens to Mitsubishi over the next couple of years since Nissan is getting a 1/3 of the company. It is my opinion that Nissan will assimilate Mitsu much like Toyota acquired Daihatsu

Unknown said...

I’m happy they aren't thinking of changing that front grill. It's signature of the Lancer look! I don't really se very much of a difference with the pictures here though so perhaps it'll be a good idea to pull up images of the past iterations for comparison?

Andy Lilienthal said...

Good idea, Webb. For comparison's sake:

Review: 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer SE: An Impreza fighter or an unknown AWD?

Review: 2015 Mitsubishi Lancer GT

Review: 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart—A practical rally car for the streets