A NEW, BUT OLDER CAR
Mitsubishi’s compact sedan, the Lancer, has been tooling around in the same basic configuration for a decade now, but for 2016 the Korean automaker decided to give it a freshening.
It starts with a nose job. Mitsubishi designers got rid of the open-mouth grille from last year’s model, and gave the front fascia a conventional bumper that provides a more grown-up look. Additionally, the ’16 model gets LED running lights, which brings it up to date, with others in its class.
Inside, buyers will find upgraded fabric on the seats, a redesigned console with a built-in USB port, and glossy black trim on the dash. A new touchscreen interface delivers decent graphics, and is very user friendly. Audio and navigation (optional) can be controlled by voice activation. A backup camera is standard except on the base model, however, no blind-spot warning, or other advanced safety features are available.
The Lancer’s cabin is airy and spacious for a compact sedan. Passengers up front have chair-like seating and excellent visibility, thanks to a large windshield and tall side glass. The driver gets a manual height adjuster, but there is no power option offered. Space in the back is surprisingly good. Six-footers there have sufficient head-and legroom. The trunk is about average in size for its class at 12.3 cubic feet.
Mitsubishi offers the Lancer in four levels of trim, ES, SE, SEL and GT. The Ralliart, with the turbo engine, is now kaput. The entry-level ES is not entirely bare bones. It comes with automatic AC, Bluetooth and voice control for the audio. The SE delivers upgrades, like alloy wheels, heated seats and satellite radio. The SEL ups the ante with leather upholstery, and the GT adds sporty features, like 18-inch wheels, a sport suspension and a rear-deck spoiler.
A 148 horsepower, 2.0-liter engine is standard on the base ES model, but most buyers will get a larger 2.4-liter mill that cranks out 168 horses. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard on the ES and GT, but again, most Lancers will be delivered with a continuously variable (automatic) transmission (CVT). The CVT has been revamped this year, and performs well enough, with no moaning when you stand on the go-pedal. However, gas mileage is below average for this small compact segment at 26-28 mpg. Yet, Mitsubishi offers the Lancer with optional all-wheel-drive. AWD is not something you’ll find on most of the competition.
Out on the road, the Lancer displays one notable flaw, a noisy cabin. It is not so bad around town, but on the freeway, it sounds like a mini hurricane. Otherwise, this car has credible road manners. The steering is precise and delivers good road feel. The suspension is well tuned for sure-footed handling, and the ride is compliant, without being mushy.
There is no question that the Lancer is a dated design. It’s like driving a new car that has sat in the garage for years. Yet at the same time, it still does almost everything reasonably well, except keeping the cabin quiet. And I suspect that the GT model, which I didn’t drive this time, might be very entertaining.
Lancer pricing starts at a very competitive $18, 405 for the base ES with a manual gearbox, and ranges up to $24,305 for the GT with automatic transmission. My test car, an SEL had a suggested retail price of $22,805.
Freshened This Year
Airy and Spacious Cabin
Decent Power, Handling, Ride