NOT QUITE THERE YET
This may be the last year for the current generation Mitsubishi Lancer, a redesigned version is due in 2015. Lancer sales in the U.S. have been disappointing in recent years, less than 20,000 cars annually. For 2014, Mitsubishi has injected some upgrades in the Lancer to enhance its appeal.
A blunt, open-mouthed grille distinguishes the Lancer’s styling from other compact sedans in its class. Tacked on side sills and a rear-deck spoiler are designed to add a sporty touch, but seem a bit dated now. However, new alloy wheels do actually enhance the appearance on 2014 models.
The interior is a mixed bag. The understated dash is cleanly designed, and the piano black accents on my test car were attractive, but the hard plastic on the dash was real turn-off. Other things, like flimsy visors felt cheap. Yet, upgraded upholstery, a new touchscreen for the radio and a standard rearview camera are welcome improvements.
The Lancer offers a good amount of space in the cabin. Front passengers have comfortable seats and good visibility. Those in the rear have decent head- and legroom. However, the trunk is a bit tight at just 12.3 cu-ft. If you order the Rockford-Fosgate stereo, which puts a subwoofer in the trunk, the capacity shrinks even further.
The Lancer comes in five versions. The most celebrated is the Lancer Evolution that’s the darling of street racers. Right behind it is the Ralliart, which some describe as “Evo Light.” Then comes the mainstream Lancers, the ES, SE and GT, which are the subject of this review. The ES is the entry model. It’s not bare bones, but is modestly equipped with power locks/windows/mirrors, AC and four-speaker audio. Next up the ladder is the SE with more standard equipment, like all-wheel drive, satellite radio and voice-activated controls. Above that is the GT, which tops the list with keyless entry/start, automatic AC and 18-inch wheels. My test car was a GT.
Mitsubishi offers the mainstream Lancers with two engine choices. A 2.0-liter motor, which is only available on the ES, delivers 138 horsepower. The SE and GT get a bigger 2.4-liter power plant that pumps out 168 horses. Both four-cylinder engines are available with a five-speed manual transmission, or a continuously variable automatic (CVT.) My test car had the CVT, and it was not quick to respond to the gas pedal. Furthermore, the powertrain gave off a “mooing” sound upon acceleration. Fortunately, the CVT has a six-step manual shift mode with paddles on the steering column. Using the paddles, the Lancer felt more energetic. Sixty mph was doable in about eight seconds.
The best feature of my test car was its handling. The GT gets a sport-tuned suspension, which gives it a sure-footed feel on twisty roads. The steering has some heft to it, and is precise in placing the Lancer where you want it. The brakes respond well in panic stops, bringing the Lancer down from speed securely. But the ride is a bit stiff, and not as compliant as some others in its segment.
Lancer prices start at $17,990 for the ES five-speed, and range up to $22,240 for the GT with an automatic. My GT test car, with optional leather, premium audio, navigation, sunroof and heated front seats had a sticker price of $27,390.
It’s no secret that Mitsubishi Motors has been struggling in the U.S. the last several years. Times when Mitsubishi sales numbered over 100,000 cars a year are just memories now. Mainstream Lancers are not as advanced as others in its class, and so they don’t compete well. Hopefully, next year’s Lancers will change things for the better.