Mitsubishi Lancer History
2012 Mitsubishi Lancer SE AWD - Driven, July 2012Enlarge Photo
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The Mitsubishi Lancer is a compact four-door sedan or five-door "Sportback" hatchback. The Lancer's current models consists of vehicles that are priced very affordably, yet offer sportier driving dynamics than many of the other cars in the segment.
For more information, including specs, pictures, and features, see our full review of the 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer.
The competitive set for the Lancer is extensive, and it currently includes the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra, and Nissan Sentra, among others. Higher-performance Ralliart and Evolution models top the lineup, going after their own separate competitive set, including the Subaru WRX, the Mazdaspeed3, the Volkswagen GTI, and now the Ford Focus ST.The Mitsubishi Lancer name dates back to the 1970s in Mitsubishi's home Japan market, and had established a good performance reputation in other markets, but even as recently as through the 1990s—when Mitsubishi was taking top stage in WRC rally racing—the automaker sold a homely, more stripped-down version of the Lancer, called the Mirage in the U.S.
Beginning in 2002, Mitsubishi finally brought the last-generation version over with the name Lancer, and from the beginning gave it more of a performance emphasis—in look if not specs—with a sporty O-Z Rally edition. These Lancer models ride and handle quite well and have a reasonably roomy interior compared to other cars its size, but their handicap is the boomy 120-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which struggles with the automatic transmission and is only adequate with the five-speed manual. The 162-hp, 2.4-liter four that was introduced in 2004 with the Ralliart edition gave the Lancer more satisfying performance, thanks to a specially tuned suspension and other upgrades. In 2004 only, a boxy Sportback wagon version was offered.
For 2008, Mitsubishi rolled out the current Lancer, which from its sharklike front end to the more aggressive stance and powertrain upgrades looks and feels a lot more exciting than its predecessor. Base SE and ES models are powered by a 152-hp, 2.0-liter four, but the GTS gets a 168-hp, 2.4-liter version. The top-of-the-line, sporty GTS emulates the Ralliart and Evolution in all but actual performance; while it's perky, it doesn't accelerate like a performance car. Lancer models come with either a five-speed manual transmission or a CVT automatic; we'd recommend the manual as the CVT causes the base model especially to be more noisy and sluggish. GTS models with the CVT get steering-wheel paddle-shifters and six simulated gears, redeem it somewhat.
A new Lancer Sportback model was introduced in 2010. Offering all the same features as the Lancer GTS sedan but instead a convenient five-door hatchback body style, the Sportback has a slightly lower cargo floor than the sedan, and of course the seats fold flat. Going into 2011, availability of the hatchback was expanded to ES trims, then the 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer lineup gained a sporty GT model replacing the GTS. An SE model also introduced all-wheel drive but with the 2.4-liter non-turbo engine;in 2012 we drove the Lancer SE and found it a worthy, albeit uninspired, rival to the Subaru Impreza.
With the current-generation versions now entering their sixth year in the 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer, these models are all due for a significant refresh at this point. While we're not yet sure about the Lancer lineup itself, on-again, off-again speculation persists that the next-generation Evo will get a high-performance hybrid powertrain, but at last check Mitsubishi told us that a next-generation Evo might not be in the cards at all.
Both the Lancer Evolution and Lancer Ralliart models have been covered in previous years by a separate model review. While the Ralliart, which has a 237-hp, turbocharged engine, has a lot in common with the Lancer GTS, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is significantly different structurally, among other ways.