A generation old but still fighting
Walking through a crowded parking lot one late night, I was having a hard time finding our silver all-wheel-drive 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer 2.4 among all the many different shapes and colors in the dimly lit parking lot. Finally, I saw the car’s narrow, high-mounted, inward-slanting taillights peering at me from a distance and knew that was it. What other compact sedan has a rear end like that? After a push of the small rubber unlock button on the edge of the door handle, I entered the Lancer and immediately got transported back to when I first sat down in my new 2005 Subaru Impreza. With the Mitsubishi’s basic instrument cluster and the small 6.1-inch touchscreen perched on what looks like an aftermarket head unit, the car brought back a warm feeling inside.
First sold in the North American market as a 2008 model, the Mitsubishi Lancer is outdated. This compact sedan was designed in another time period, and it shows. Competitors such as the recently redesigned Subaru Impreza, the Hyundai Elantra (redesigned for the 2017 model year), the Honda Civic (redesigned for the 2016 model year), and the Toyota Corolla (refreshed for the 2017 model year) have all been modernized more than once. Yes, the Lancer was refreshed for the 2016 model year, but the changes haven’t improved the sedan enough.
The 2017 Lancer looks as modern as any car from the outside, but hop inside, and it’s a different story. Immediately you notice the head unit with a CD player slot above a screen that’s smaller than those offered on competitors. Look down at the center console, and you see a very basic shifter and shifter surround, a classic pull-up parking brake handle, a few switches, and a very small storage compartment. Reach for the push-start ignition, and you will be surprised to find a black, plastic grip you twist to start the car. As the car sparks to life, you are greeted by a large speedometer and tachometer, but a low-resolution display screen sits in the middle of the two.
Start driving the Lancer, and you immediately notice the lack of sound deadening as suspension, road, and engine noise create their own symphony, which can fortunately be drowned out by the optional Rockford Fosgate sound system. Speaking of engine noise, the car is very quiet at idle, the noise only exacerbated by the CVT. However, the engine note can be forgiven because most cars in this segment fail to deliver a decent sound. As expected, the infotainment system is outdated and slow, but you can still connect your phone through Bluetooth and conduct voice commands via the FUSE Hands-Free Link system. Active safety features such as automatic braking and blind-spot alert have recently trickled down into this segment but are not available in the Lancer.
Over the years, many modern compact cars have ironed out most of the above issues. Driver information and infotainment display screens have grown in size with increased resolution. Infotainment systems are now faster and offer smartphone connectivity through features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with HDMI outlets. SiriusXM satellite radio was a nice option in the Lancer, but in our tester, the system kept cutting out. Modern center consoles now offer more interior storage and cupholders that at least have a cover and some rubber lining. Even in a moderately priced compact car, the driver should not be able to hear the sound of the rear strut compressing over bumps.
Despite these faults, the 2017 Lancer is not all bad. The Mitsubishi offers a feature no other compact car has—and it’s by far my favorite on the Lancer—the drive mode selector, which works in conjunction with Mitsubishi’s All-Wheel Control (AWC) all-wheel-drive system. It might sound like an Eco and Sport mode, but it’s much better. The drive mode selector allows you to switch between front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive with the flip of a switch. The driver has a choice of three modes: 2WD for economical driving on dry roads or freeways, 4WD AUTO for enhanced traction by automatically distributing power between the front and rear axles according to the driving conditions, and 4WD Lock for routing more power to the rear wheels for maximum traction on slippery surfaces such as snow-covered roads or sand. When driving the car in heavy traffic or on the highway in dry conditions, I made sure the Lancer was on 2WD for better fuel economy. The few times I escaped L.A. traffic or went carving canyon roads, 4WD Auto made the driving experience much more entertaining due to the increased traction and confidence. This feature definitely increases the fun factor for this little sedan, and more important, its safety for when you need the extra traction.
The Lancer provides good acceleration for around-town driving. Our tester came equipped with the optional 168-hp, 167-lb-ft of torque 2.4-liter I-4 mated to a CVT. When tested, the 3,221-pound (1,461 kg) Lancer hit 60 mph in a respectable 7.8 seconds; its all-wheel-drive rival, the 152-hp Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport, took a significantly longer 9.0 seconds to hit 60 mph. The 174-hp, turbocharged, front-drive Honda Civic Touring managed its 0–60-mph run in an impressive 6.8 seconds, and the aged but still popular 132-hp, front-drive 2016 Toyota Corolla Special Edition received a much slower 9.8-second time.
The Lancer ran our figure-eight course in 27.6 seconds, the exact same as the Subaru Impreza, faster than the Corolla’s 28.3-second time, and only slightly slower than the Honda Civic’s 27.4-second time. Coming to a stop from 60 mph took the Lancer 122 feet, a bit longer than the Impreza’s 118 and Civic’s 120 feet but much shorter than the Corolla’s 131 feet.
The Lancer might have the handling chops and braking power to keep up with fresher competition, but the platform shows its age in crash test evaluations. The 2017 Subaru Impreza, Honda Civic, and Toyota Corolla all received the highest five-star overall rating from the NHTSA, but the 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer received a four-star overall rating. Fuel economy is another area where the Mitsubishi shows its age. With a combined city/highway rating of 26 mpg (9 L/100km), the part-time all-wheel-drive version of the Lancer lags behind the full-time all-wheel-drive Impreza’s 32 mpg (7.3 L/100km) combined driving. Either way, this compact Mitsubishi provides sporty handling, a decent ride, adequate braking feel, a somewhat vague steering feel (there is much worse), and good exterior visibility.
The Lancer has a starting price of $18,630 USD, slightly lower than the Subaru Impreza ($19,215 USD), Honda Civic ($19,615 USD), and Toyota Corolla ($19,385 USD). We tested the Lancer SEL 2.4 AWC, the top trim with the available SEL Sun and Sound package, which includes a power sunroof and a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate premium audio system. Other options include 18-inch wheels, LED running lights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, leather seats, heated front seats, a 6.1-inch touchscreen, and the FUSE Hands-Free Link system with Bluetooth and a USB port.
As I was driving the Lancer on a sunny California ocean highway with the sunroof open and the Rockford Fosgate system thumping along, I forgave a lot of the sedan’s shortcomings and felt it was a very honest car. For those who need an A-to-B car with fun handling, an adequate ride, and good power, the Lancer will get the job done. Much to the disbelief of my peers who called the Lancer a museum piece, I enjoyed my time with the sedan. It’s a simple car with an old charm that doesn’t try to be anything it’s not.
With the Mitsubishi Lancer’s future after the 2017 model year unclear, it’s about time to put this scrappy long-running Japanese car to rest. As I walked away from the Lancer for what might be the last time, I caught myself looking back, getting that same warm feeling inside once again. It might be nostalgia, but it’s still a good feeling, and that’s what counts.
|2017 Mitsubishi Lancer SEL AWC|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$24,430|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||2.4L/168-hp/167-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||Cont variable auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,221 lb (59/41%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||182.1 x 69.4 x 58.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.8 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.0 sec @ 87.7 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||122 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.83 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.6 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||23/30/26 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||147/112 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.75 lb/mile|