Mitsubishi Lancer: Price is Right

by the Car Family

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There are very few cars priced in the mid-$15.000 range that offer the cargo space, handling, fuel mileage, looks, and frisky nature of the new Lancer sedan. On the other hand, the interior is dull and Mitsubishi’s quality numbers aren’t up to some others hence the reassurance of its superior warranty. What we consistently noticed is that the Lancer attracts a lot of youthful attention based on its looks. We also noted that the five speed manual transmission is excellent with fairly short throws, but the small pedals and the rather high dead pedal are going to bother those who have large feet. The reason is that the dead pedal is too close to the clutch. The heating is a tad slow, but the vent are easy to position for an even flow of air.

There are some other shortcomings that need to be corrected by Mitsubishi as well. The stereo and heating controls are too small and too close to the dash to be easily grasped if you are wearing even thin gloves. Our test car did have redundant audio controls on the steering wheel and we would go with this option. Finally, when you use the remote to unlock the trunk the lid barely comes open. The result is that you are going to get your hands dirty and annoyed if you are carrying a heavy package. Finally, the spoiler on our vehicle blocked the rear vision a great deal and, honestly, served very little purpose in a vehicle that is clearly not meant for high speed scampers.

Dad’s view: It was easy to get over 33 mpg on the road and in urban crawl that only figure only fell to 28 mpg so the Lancer is fairly thrifty. The front-wheel-drive Lancer ES we evaluated had the more upscale 2.4 liter engine that makes a respectable 168-hp. You can order a five speed manual, which was outstanding,or a continuously variable automatic transmission. There are other versions of this vehicle from the Ralliart which as all wheel drive and a turbocharged 237-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that uses a six-speed automatic transmission. And, of course, the AWD Lancer Evolution with its famous turbocharged 291-hp 2.0-liter engine. We felt that the ES was the best model for family use, although we have not tested any of the Sportback versions.

The brakes are ventilated discs in front and drums in the back. They work well, but don’t push the limits. The steering is light and gives good feedback, and the Lancer is quite capable of making driving enjoyable if you don’t mistake it for its hell bent brother, the turbocharged Evolution.

Driving the Lancer is a mixture of fun and frugality. The engine is a bit gruff, but willing to provide a lot of grunt when equipped with the manual transmission. It handles very well, but the suspension does not like to be treated vigorously. If you want to run canyons upgrade the tires. My best advise is to buy this Mitsubishi for what it is, and that is basic transportation with a hint of fun.

Mom’s view: It has been a long time since we heard such a thin, tinny sound when a door was shut, but this Mitsubishi had this disconcerting sound. Every time we closed the door we were reminded that this is a price leader. Even the inside was a bit of a downer. The small fonts, remarkably difficult to grasp audio control knobs, and the dark plastic conspired to take away from the handy storage areas and less is more interior styling. It isn’t unpleasant and the seats, although a bit thin, are comfortable. The visibility in all direction is good, sans the rear spoiler, and I dearly loved its playful nature. This is a car that could be many things to a family from gathering admiring looks, to passing gas stations.

The trunk is of a good size, but when you use the remote to open it only pops up about a half of an inch. Worse, the rear bumper is nearly always dirty. You can order the optional rear spoiler that sticks up a far bit from the trunk and it makes a great place to grab when opening and closing the trunk. I really don’t see any other use for this on a car clearly designed as a daily driver.

Safety wise, despite the thin sound you hear when closing the doors, the Lancer has done well in crash testing and even the rollover rating was excellent. Mitsubishi offers seven airbags including dual-stage front, side and head curtain air bags, a knee bag, anti-lock brakes with traction control and an antiskid system. There are child seat anchors and an emergency release inside the trunk.

Driving the standard transmission is easy and enables you to obtain the most from the four cylinder engine. Although not aggressive off the line, the Lancer ES acquits itself quite well on the highway and around town. Overall, I found the seats fairly comfortable and the ride a bit stiff, but not something that you couldn’t get used to in a short while. If you can get this Lancer at a good price, have faith in the dealership, and are willing to ignore some of its shortcomings, this is a good vehicle to test. It has a lot of competition, but it is more fun to drive and the exterior is certainly more funworthy.

Young working male’s view: The sound system wasn’t too bad and the stereo reception quite good considering the cost of the Lancer. The optional touch-screen GPS and a 30-gigabyte hard drive for storage are good points and the audio system is quite adequate. You can also order Bluetooth compatibility, and a FAST Key entry system permits keyless entry and ignition. Our test vehicle had these and the the 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate sound system and a sunroof as part of the Sun and Sound Package. The base unit is a stereo with a single CD player, 140 watt rating, and four speakers. Get the upgrade.

Young working woman’s view: Reliability is one area of concern with Mitsubishi Lancer’s, according to some of the studies published. Our vehicle was trouble free, but the tinny sound of the doors and the lightness of many items gave us some pause. Nevertheless, the vehicle does come with a fine warranty that features a five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper limited warranty.

As for style, the Lancer has plenty, but a little more warmth inside would be appreciated. The dull black plastic, small gauges, and thin seats are livable, but don’t shout “buy me” to the upwardly mobile. I like the idea that the Lancer is available as a Sportback, which is a 4-door hatchback,

The base engine is a 152-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that works well with the manual transmission and a bit less well with the continuously variable automatic. The reason is that the engine can be noisy with the CVT as that transmission keeps the car on task all the time. The GTS model has 168-horsepower, 2.4-liter four. If you live in the mountains or want a bit more acceleration this may be the model, but I found the standard engine just fine.

The backseats are fairly comfortable, but there isn’t much legroom or headroom. Two average sized adults would find it adequate. The ride is not as quiet as that of the competition, but they don’t have the handling of the Lancer.

The one touch power windows are the norm for this category of vehicle and the Lancer also has an adjustable steering wheel, a remote trunk release, and 12 volt power outlets making it more competitive.

Family conference: This is a price vehicle. If you like the Lancer and the dealership is willing to negotiate you could own an entertaining sedan that is youthful in looks and its handling. The model to own is the ES with an abundance of options especially the valuable ancillary steering wheel stereo controls. You also get such necessities as air conditioning and better brakes among other niceties. Regardless, you have the reassurance of that warranty.

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